It may be called the Blackwater River, but Donnie Sisk says to him it’s more of a brown coffee color.
He dipped his kayak paddle in it many times as he set out recently on what he calls an “adventure ironman” — 60 miles hiking, 60 miles biking and 60 miles kayaking.
Not only that, he drank the brown water of the Baldwin County river — with the help of a filter. And all along the way, Sisk said, he thought of people in other parts of the world who don’t have the luxury of a filter to make their drinking water clean.
According to Neverthirst, a Birmingham-based organization that works to bring clean water and the gospel to places in need around the world, more than 785 million of the world’s 7 billion people are living without access to clean, safe drinking water.
“On one of the Neverthirst videos, there’s a young man and a young woman holding glasses of water, and one is clear and one is brown,” Sisk related, noting that the brown water is what people in their corner of the world drank before they got a water filter.
“Every paddle of the miles we paddled, I was reminded of that brown water.”
The purpose of the 60-60-60 for his 60th birthday was to help, starting with raising $10,000 to provide bio-sand filters for two villages in India through Neverthirst.
Athletics and missions
Sisk, who is associate pastor of recreation and outreach for First Baptist Church in Pelham, has taken on similar ventures in years past. He did a 100-mile bike ride to raise money for missions work in Honduras, and a 100-mile hike to raise money to help build a church in Kentucky. He also did a 50-50-50 for his 50th birthday.
His latest trip in late October took six days. He went with a friend who goes by the hiker name “Crow,” and the two camped at Blackwater River State Park.
The effort wasn’t without obstacles.
First, Sisk lost a new paddle. Then, as they paddled, they came across several massive trees that had fallen across the river.
“We had to get out of the boat and walk up a sandy hill and carry both kayaks anywhere from 50 to 100 yards to put them back in the water,” he said.
But God continued to make a way for them to finish. A massive rainstorm predicted for the third day held off until they finished biking and hiking that day.
Sisk was so tired that night, he slept right through the storm in his hammock. And when he and Crow woke up the next morning, they found that the rain had brought the river to flood stage, which made Sisk grateful they had already completed the paddling portion.
“I realized God had smiled on us,” he said.
At the end of the week, he and Crow had more than the satisfaction of finishing an “adventure ironman” — they had the joy of knowing they changed someone’s world, Sisk said.
They were also able to share their faith with other hikers along the way.
“I will tell you, it was very satisfying,” Sisk said of the trip. “When all those things get to come together, it’s a great day.”
He acknowledged that he might never get to visit the villages in India where the filters would be used, but he said he knows God allowed him to be a part of the people’s lives.
“I’m praying that as they receive clean water, they will also recognize their need for Living Water,” Sisk said.