A Story Of A Radically Impacted Life
The magnanimous Steven Butwell is a former Surfing The Nations staff member who unremittingly served both locally and internationally from September of 2008 until October of 2009. Not only is he an eloquent and captivating writer, but currently resides in southern California impacting countless lives through addiction counseling. We are inordinately grateful for the bountiful ways he has impacted and poured into every individual that he encounters. It is an honor to have him share his awe-inspiring journey.
I have heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If a picture is worth that many words, what about the memory that it encapsulates? Memories are found in that picture, but the memory of what the picture is capturing is the real story. If I just snap a photo and there is no memory attached to it, then what is that picture worth to me? Nothing. It’s just a photo, and it can mean whatever you want it to mean. I have a picture in my head, it’s a picture of me on my first international trip to Indonesia with a team of youngsters, and Surfing the Nations. An endeavor that I did not anticipate, nor plan, was going to radically shift the course of the rest of my life. When I was in my early twenties (I am 33 now) I was lost, and unsure of the direction I needed, even wanted to head in life. I indulged in the party atmosphere overzealously. This path continued until I was challenged by a friend to go to Indonesia and a voice awoke in me. I recall my friend saying: “You should go to Indonesia with me”. I immediately thought: “Yeah, right”. A few days later I was laying in bed and audibly heard a voice speak: “Indonesia”. I responded: “You make it happen. I have no money”. Keep in mind, I was required to raise $3,000.00 to cover all expenses for the trip. I ended up raising $4,000. I think I was supposed to go, and the voice was right. While in Indonesia with Surfing the Nations a new level of compassion and a need to help and meet needs, whether spiritually, monetary or material, for human beings came upon me. Once the thirty-day stint concluded, I traveled back home to California and was compelled to move all out to Hawaii. The overwhelming urge and calling drove me out of my lease (conveniently it was ended anyway), gave my two weeks a very lucrative bartending position, and gave away everything I owned except for a suitcase of clothes. I purchased a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Honolulu. And after the fact, I called Cindy Bauer and said: “I am coming to Hawaii to work for Surfing the Nations”. She responded quietly “We know”. I boarded the airplane, and thus began my three-month training in humanitarian work in September of 2008. What followed was Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Molokai, Sri Lanka and countless tales of Feeding the Hungry on Oahu.
In April of 2009, I made the decision to move to Sri Lanka. Now, you have to understand, prior to this commitment I had heard a friend share her experience in Sri Lanka and talk about the terrible heat, the spiders, the snakes, and of course, the thieving monkeys. I remember only choosing to hear the negatives of the presentation and I said, “I am never going there”. I traveled with an Aussie, a regular Crocodile Dundee, Andy Lister. We undertook what began as a 3-month commitment, yet ended up a 6-month endeavor. Sri Lanka presented countless opportunities for conversation, experiencing different culture, hearing and learning about new beliefs held by longtime residents, learning Tamil, civil warfare coming to an end, monkey warfare, death threats, insane bus rides, teaching young Tamil children English, writing, reading, and mentoring of the younger Sri Lankan generation, specifically a special young man named Babu. Countless relationships were forged and valuable memories solidified. Families and friends that were made during that time still remain intact a decade later. Times that molded and shaped me into the man that I am today. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to travel to this amazing country and experience the local culture and people that lived it. Assuredly, many photos and videos were taken, but it’s the memories that give them substance and meaning.
My time at Surfing the Nations taught me a valuable lesson in humility and service. It’s easy to get into the mindset, especially in our younger years, that all is about us. Often we need the guidance of others who have gone ahead of us to help steer us in the right direction. Surfing the Nations offered that to me and helped me to embrace my gifts and unleash my compassion. Not to mention the lifelong friendships that were established there, that still remains to this day.
I am confident there are more stories out there to be told and experiences to be heard. I am of the mind that if my brother’s and sister’s who shared similar life-altering experiences through the vehicle of STN share their stories, that perhaps someone may be impacted to make the leap into serving via the vehicle of Surfing the Nations. If I can nudge, not push, someone in the way of serving the community at STN and around Wahiawa and Oahu, awesome.
I am betting that there are more stories out there from my STN alumni that can be shared, and impact a life. Put your fingers to the keyboard and write it, you may be surprised what ends up on the page, and whose life it could move in the direction of serving and finding a purpose, if not their own.