National Lutheran News

Lutheran youth worker missing

Native of Stillwater, Minnesota, disappeared while climbing a mountain in Idaho.

The youth director for an ELCA congregation in Ogden, Utah, serving this summer as a camp counselor at a Lutheran camp in Idaho, went mountain climbing one Saturday in July and never came back.

Jon Francis, youth ministry director at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ogden, was serving as assistant program director this summer at Luther Heights Bible Camp near Ketchum, Idaho.

The 24-year-old Still-water, Minnesota, native and graduate of Augustana Col-lege, Sioux Falls, South Da-kota, went mountain climbing alone, on his own time, on Saturday, July 15 in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.

An experienced hiker, scrambler and technical climber, Francis had previously reached the summits of twelve peaks in the region. On July 15 he hiked to the top of Grand Mogul, elevation 9,733 feet, near Stanley, Idaho.

Around noon he left an entry in the logbook at the mountain’s summit. It read, “7-15-06. Jon Francis, LHBC (Luther Heights Bible Camp) and Ogden, Utah. Climbed avalanche field to east face and east ridge. Great times bouldering! All glory to God for the climb and the beautiful Sawtooths!”

Francis had told co-workers at Luther Heights that he expected to be back by 6:00 p.m. When he did not return to the church camp, a rescue effort was organized. Search teams dispatched by the Custer County Sheriff’s office combed the area on Sunday and Monday.

After the second day, when no sign of Francis was found, search teams were pulled back. His family continued the search until the following Sunday, July 23. Searchers who came to assist in the effort included members of Jon’s college track team from Augustana, friends from Luther Heights and others from South Dakota, Utah, California and Minnesota. Experienced mountaineeers and trackers came from Seattle, Wash-ington, and Salem, Oregon, as well as from four communities in Idaho.

Francis had evidently been a disciple of Tom Lopez whose publication, Idaho, a Climbing Guide: Climbs, Scrambles and Hikes gave essential information for successfully scaling the area’s peaks.

The hiker, who likely followed Lopez’ suggestions for reaching the summit, may have chosen a different route for his descent.

On the evening of July 23, a worship service was held at Redfish Lake, near the Grand Mogul hiking area, at which Jon’s life and memory were celebrated.

The Francis family has established a Web site, www. jonfrancis.org. In an essay which appears there, a family member explained that Jon had been “in superb physical condition because of his years of training as a long distance runner, collegiate athlete and hiker.”

His parents, David and Linda Francis, are members of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Stillwater, Minnesota. David is running for the Minnesota State Senate on the Democratic ticket.