Bear Grylls: God’s Ultimate Survivor
He has trekked the perilous jungles of South America, mountaineered the arctic tundras of Greenland and consumed countless worms, scorpions and bitter shrubs in the Saharan Desert. He has swum across hippo-infested waters and been attacked by wild animals. He is tough. He is adventurous. He is Bear Grylls – media phenomenon and ‘Ultimate Survivor’.
A devastating accident…
Christened Edward Michael Grylls by his British parents, Eddie (37) was nicknamed ‘Teddy’ at primary school, which later shortened to ‘Bear’ (not a very manly origin, but almost prophetic when one considers his wild adventures!). Having spent his youth climbing cliffs on the Isle of Wight with his politician father, Bear dreamed of protecting his country and exploring the world.
This determined soldier went on to serve in the British Special Forces, where he was trained in unarmed combat, desert and winter warfare, combat survival, medics, parachuting, signals, evasive driving, climbing and explosives. However, after three years, Bear’s time in the Forces ended abruptly with a parachuting accident.
“In 1996, I suffered a freefall parachuting accident in Zambia when my canopy ripped at 4 900 metres. It was partially opened and I landed on my back, crushing three vertebrae.”
Lying in hospital, the doctors said Bear came within a ‘whisper’ of paralysis and that his long road to recovery excluded any physical activity for years to come. Bear was devastated. ”I remember lying there during those long 18 months of recovery; my dream of climbing Everest felt a million miles away…I remember looking at the pictures my late father had given me of Everest years earlier, and taking them down. I dismissed the dream as something childish…”
Though he felt defeated at the time, Bear refused to give up on his ambitions and with his trademark determination and positivity, started walking within months. Two years later, at 23, Bear went on to climb Everest, setting a Guinness World Record for being the youngest Briton to summit this ominous mountain. “I came away from Everest a very grateful, pretty broken person, never wanting to return. Four of my teammates had been killed: two from falling and two from the cold. It’s a big bad mountain. I still feel that way.”
The making of a celebrity
Having followed his summit and picked up Bear’s autobiography, The Discovery Channel approached him to do a TV show aimed at teaching viewers basic survival skills in remote locations. At first Bear was not convinced and turned them down three times. But eventually after a bit of encouragement from his wife Shara, Bear decided TV was a good platform to do what he loved, raise awareness for charities (like the Scouts) and earn a living.
To say that Bear’s popularity skyrocketed after filming his first series, ‘Man vs Wild’, would be an understatement!
Man vs Wild
Within months of broadcast, Bear became an international celebrity, motivational speaker and the most admired man in the UK (declared by a national British poll amongst teenagers). Bear later signed on as an ALPHA spokesperson too. Bear had known the Lord from a young age, but it was in tough survival situations that he really came to trust and rely on God. And his TV show has afforded him many opportunities to share this faith with others.
“As a child, I never questioned the existence of God. I had a really natural faith. I knew God existed; I felt loved, and [my faith] was there. But I lost it. I met Christians as I grew older, but they seemed judgemental and boring. I thought, ‘I don’t want that,’ and I walked right away from it.”
Bear thought his life was OK until his teen years when some close friends suddenly abandoned him. “It’s so easy to be brave when everything’s OK, but real bravery is being OK when everything else is not.” Sitting alone one day, Bear began to pray. “I wanted that same faith and friendship with God that I had known as a young boy. I wanted that freedom again. I remember saying to God, “If You’re there, will You be that Friend to me again? Amen.”
That was the end of Bear’s simple prayer, and the start of a lifelong relationship with Jesus. Years after that conversation with God, Bear and Shara attended an ALPHA course, where they settled the ‘big’ questions of life. (ALPHA is an evangelistic course adapted by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the UK, which has a global reach and has seen 12 million attendees hear of living faith in Christ).
A private and some-what shy person, Bear was not always outspoken about his faith. But he was drawn to ALPHA because of its simple, non-threatening approach to Christianity. “Alpha was a really good excuse for me to ask questions, about God and His plan for humanity and me. It was easy and it was fun.” Bear and Shara soon signed on as spokespeople for ALPHA and are passionate about spreading the Good News to all people, including those in prison (where Bear sometimes does motivational talks).
Fearless and full of faith
Though his TV contract is relatively strict when it comes to speaking about religious matters, Bear has a natural and gentle way of bringing across his beliefs. In one particular episode, Bear was in Patagonia trying to start a fire (without much success) by rubbing two sticks together. Wet, cold and tired, it took Bear 30 minutes to generate enough friction for a small spark to light the tinder, and during this tedious process he shared his thoughts on life saying:
“I think the magic of places like this is that everything slows down and life becomes much more rural. Those things that keep you going in life suddenly become much more prominent. For me, certainly that’s my Christian Faith. [It] is a big part of that and it’s helped me through so many difficult and often quite lonely times. Some say Christianity is a crutch. I say it may be so, but it is also my backbone.” And boy, does Bear need backbone for some of the stunts he does! Whether it is parachuting out of a moving plane into the barren Australian Outback (Bear has a fear of heights) or sailing in the swamps of Indonesia (after the 2006 tsunami hit) in a rotting Zebra carcass, Bear puts his money where his mouth is (literally) to bring the viewer a ‘realistic’ experience.
“Ordinarily I exercise six times a week and eat as healthily as possible, avoiding processed food, meat and dairy, but out in the wild, I have been forced to forage for whatever food is available. My worst experiences include eating frozen Yak eyeballs, goats testicles and maggots the size of a baby’s hand.”
A team of best friends
Although he is respected, Bear has not been free of controversy. Critics have accused him of faking many of the scenarios on his shows, of having a team of experts helping behind the scenes and of staying in hotels during filming. In response to the allegations, Bear is quick to acknowledge the efforts of his team who undertake every adventure with him.
“There are generally about four or five of us on a shoot – including a cameraman, sound man, director and our rope safety guy to get the crew in positions to film on cliff faces. They are all trained climbers and we share many experiences (like eating maggots!). On overnight shoots, the crew sometimes retreat to a nearby hotel, but I always spend the time out in the wild. We are all best friends and those camera guys, are the real heroes of the show!”
The toughest challenge…
Bear does extensive preparation before every series, but he also relies on the expert knowledge of several researchers who check out the landscape, fauna and flora and how to defend oneself against predators – very handy when he is charged by a rhino or attacked by a black bear.
Filming takes place for about seven months a year, and this is actually the most challenging part of what Bear does. “Being away from my family for months at a time is very difficult. But fortunately I have a very understanding wife, and my boys (Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry) don’t mind me being away, as long as I camp and fish with them.”
For now, Bear has some time to spend with the family (he takes July and August off every year) on their barge on the River Thames (in the centre of London) or at their country house in Wales. And downtime is certainly needed, as Bear is always in demand for TV interviews, men’s magazine shoots, military functions, product endorsements, motivational talks and book signings (he is currently working on a new book and feature film).
Bear is a living example of God’s grace and how one is able to survive whatever life throws at you. For Bear, Phillipians 4:13 gives him the encouragement he needs to endure every tough situation. He also takes comfort from Psalm 73:23, knowing that God is in control. “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand…”
by Jackie Georgiou