Jesus front and center in lost hiker coverage

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As Jill Shankles prayed for her missing husband, Ryan, the camera from the San Diego NBC affiliate KNSD rolled tape. The news crew and several others were covering a prayer vigil in honor of three Southern California men lost in the mountains of San Bernardino.

The cameras were also there the next morning when the hikers were found after helicopters spotted their daytime fire. The tape was still rolling as the hikers talked about the rescue, their faith Christ and how they used a Jesus is Lord banner to stay warm.

Print and web stories carried the photo of the Jesus is Lord banner from an earlier expedition, and in some news articles "Jesus is Lord" was featured in headlines. Local TV stations featured their story, complete with references to Jesus, at the top of the their newscasts.

"I was happy to see that they didn't edit out Jesus," said Ron Ohst, pastor of Grace Chapel of the Coast in Oceanside, Calif., where the men are members. "They left the prayer meeting intact. I think they did a fair job of reporting everything that was going on."

All of the interest in the hikers prompted the church to host a celebration gathering on May 9, two days after the rescue. They also opened up the Sunday worship service to let the men share their testimonies.

"We're doing whatever we can to get people who might be interested in the story to come and hear the story," Ohst said. "Out of that it's an easy jump to the God who seeks and saves the lost. There are also the stories that we will never hear of people at the water cooler. They will have one opportunity after another to share the gospel out of it."

While the incident provided a great avenue for evangelism, Ohst said it was also a good bonding experience for the church.

"We just operated the way we always operate," the pastor said. "We take our struggles, our trials, our fears to the Lord and to His Word, and lean heavily on the Word and pray according to the promises. We try to stay out of fear and in faith and trusting the sovereignty of God all through it."

He said living out trials and struggles with one another can become a practical reminder to rely on the Lord.

"If He does a miracle, He's there with us," Ohst said. "If He doesn't give a miracle and then just gives us the strength to go through a difficult time, He's with us. Either way, we win."

Jill Shankels said she was also awed by how quickly the story spread as offers of prayer came in from across the globe. Even more so, she said she was blessed at how open the media was in covering their faith.

"I'm like, 'Jesus is getting headlines," she said. "I was really happy that even in the midst of it God was being glorified."

Several days after his rescue, Ryan Shankels was still trying to sift through all of the emails, calls and texts that were sent on his behalf, stunned that their ordeal generated so much publicity.

"I'm blown away by how much the name of Jesus has been in other articles," he said. "It was really amazing to see how much exposure Jesus' name got.

"It's like you have to go through a trial to see your faith increase. The most important thing is we want the name of Jesus to be glorified, and that's what we've seen here."

As long as there is media interest, the Shankles said they will gladly share their testimony, but on their terms.

"We are not going to filter it," he said.