Nik Wallenda: Witness on the Wire
Nik Wallenda, the seventh generation of the legendary Great Wallendas, holds a number of Guinness world records on the high wire. In June, he became the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls. Wallenda spoke with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., where he was performing with his family.
evangel: You’re an outspoken Christian. Talk about what Jesus Christ means to you.
WALLENDA: He means everything to me. I believe He is the One who opened the doors of opportunity I have had in my life. I’m blessed to have a family name that is known around the world for walking wires. But God has opened the doors for me, including being the first person to walk across Niagara Falls. I believe that God opened these doors for a higher purpose.
evangel: You have a rich family heritage on the high wire. But you also have a rich spiritual heritage.
WALLENDA: I was born and raised in church, and I gave my life to Christ when I was 4 years old.
I’m very much about letting people know that I am real. I like them to realize there is something different about me. For instance, throughout the entire process of getting permission to cross Niagara Falls, I dealt with many high-ranking officials. Very often I would get the comment, “There’s something different about you.” It’s amazing how God will open that door to be able to witness to people.
While I was finishing the Niagara Falls walk, I gave praise to God, thanking Him for the success of making it to the other side. It was an amazing opportunity for me, the fact that ABC left my microphone on the entire time. My words of praise were just so natural, and I think that is what affected a lot of people around the world.
evangel: You’ve said that a person can be a minister while doing something other than preaching or pastoring a church. That’s a powerful Christian truth.
WALLENDA: ?I think that one of the blessings of being a layman is that people can relate to you even more. You are not paid to preach and, therefore, they relate to that.
I think about the challenges of getting across that wire, and the challenges people face every day — cancer or any other battle. Either way, the challenge is focusing on getting to the other end.
So often we say, “I don’t understand this, God. This doesn’t make sense.” That’s when we need to remember what Scripture says, that we lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5,6). It’s about His ways, not our ways.
evangel: Before you made the walk across Niagara Falls, you gathered in a prayer circle with family and friends. Could you take us inside that circle?
WALLENDA: My pastor comes to most of the events that I do, and he was there as well. We did a big prayer with the support teams, and then a prayer with just the family. It’s always very emotional.
My 11-year-old son started to cry as I said goodbye to him right after that prayer. That reaction was unique because this is so normal to my family. They see me walking on the wire, and that’s just what I do. But I think because there was so much attention — over 500 media outlets from around the world — he heard again and again how dangerous this was.
I know there is a danger involved with what I do, but I also train very hard. For Niagara Falls I trained in wind speeds up to 55 mph and heavier mist than what I experienced out there over the Falls. So I knew I had prepared for the worst case I would experience out on that wire.
If I let all the media discussion about danger play into my mind, it actually could be debilitating to me. I think the media talk really played into my son’s mind. So it was very hard for him to say goodbye to his father as I was about to take this walk into history.
evangel: Is there ever any fear in your family?
WALLENDA: You call it fear; I call it respect. I walk up to the edge of a 10-story building, look over the edge, and say, “Wow, that’s a long way down. That would hurt if I fell. It could kill me.”
I turn that into respect. We don’t let fear overcome us. I respect the fact that what I do is dangerous, but I train very hard to make sure that we can do it in the safest way possible.
My great-grandfather lost his life [from a fall in 1978] when he was 73 years old. The truth is he should have retired sooner. There is a time when we have to retire; that is what we have learned from that accident. It was also a rigging issue that initially caused him to go down on the wire. He sat on the wire, as we are all taught to do. As long as we are in the right physical condition, we can grab that wire and hold on. He just didn’t have the strength to hold on. We’ve learned there is a certain protocol we have to meet physically in order to go up on the wire.
evangel: Take us into your thoughts as you were going across the Falls.
WALLENDA: This is actually one of the most popular questions I receive: “How do you stay calm and peaceful?”
God provides the peace that passes all understanding. That’s how I stay calm and peaceful. I don’t do yoga. I don’t meditate. I don’t do any of that. I trust in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. He brings me peace.
I am not in any way being foolish or testing God. This is something I’ve trained very hard for. I want to make sure people know I am not testing God, but I trust God and believe He has given me the ability and presented me with opportunities such as Niagara Falls.
I have received thousands of emails from believers and non-believers saying, “You’ve inspired me.” One recent email said, “I haven’t gone to church in 30 years, and after seeing that, can you help me find a church in my area?” It’s such a cool opportunity. Those are the things that make it all worthwhile.
Every walk that I take I praise God. Often I sing praise and worship songs because it keeps me calm and focused, and very, very peaceful.
evangel: You’ve talked about how the challenges you’ve faced could be applied to other people’s challenges. What advice would you give to Christians going through a challenge?
WALLENDA: I would say that Jesus is our Savior. He’s our Jehovah Jireh, our provider. He’s there for us. He is everything.
I think that it’s important to focus on “the other end.” After every trial that I’ve dealt with, and I’ve been through several of them, I always look back once I get to the other side and say, “Wow! That’s what made me who I am today. That’s what carved me into the man that I am and drew me closer to God.”
I think it’s important for people to realize that even through the storm, He’ll lift us up on His wings. It’s always about trusting in Him.
evangel: Christians are thrilled that the eyes of the world are upon a believer who is very vocal about his faith. What would you say to someone who has not made that step to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
WALLENDA: It’s the best decision you’ll ever make. It’s the most important decision I ever made, and it has carved me into the man I am today.
Throughout the trials of life, I told my wife that I couldn’t have made it as a man without Jesus Christ in my life — without Somebody to cast those cares upon. I would encourage everyone to cast your cares upon Him. He cares for us. He cared for us first. He has changed my life, and He can change yours.
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