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The History of Canyon Ministries




In 1980, Tom Vail took what would be a life-changing vacation – a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.  Two years later, he left his corporate job managing the data center for a Fortune 500 Company to become a rafting guide.

For the next 15 years, Tom led trips through the Grand Canyon and taught natural (evolutionary) processes over millions of years were responsible for forming the exquisite and varied rock layers found in the Grand Canyon.

One day in July 1994, a lady went on a Grand Canyon rafting trip, and Tom was one of her guides.  Little did he know that she would be the one doing the guiding.

Tom & Paula Vail

Tom & Paula Vail

On that second night of the trip, she started her ministry on his lost soul, planting seeds which would flourish into a “new birth.”  After the trip, she sent Tom a Bible that traveled with him to the Himalayas in Pakistan.  It was there, through reading God’s Word, that Tom accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.  She led him to Christ, and the following year he led her down the aisle.  That lady became Mrs. Paula Vail.

A year later, while living in North Carolina, another seed was planted which germinated into Canyon Ministries, with its first trip through the canyon in 1997.  Click here to watch a video interview of Tom by Evidence Press, about the start of Canyon Ministries.  Since that time, Canyon Ministries has had the privilege of sharing the canyon with thousands of people on river trips and rim tours.  Tom has also written two books on the Grand Canyon from a Biblical perspective.  His books have been carried in multiple national park bookstores, and are also currently available at places like the National Geographic Visitor Center just outside the park.

The Albert Family

The Albert Family

But time (and roughly 300 river trips) ages the body.  So in 2013, Jon Albert was brought on as the Canyon Ministries Executive Director.  Jon, Kathleen, and their kids Miranda, Monte, and Melodie moved from Minnesota to the Flagstaff area to take the helm of the ministry.  Jon was the Senior Pastor of a church in Kimble, MN and operated an outdoor ministry called Glory View.

Under Jon’s direction, while still providing river trips, the ministry expanded to include Biblically-based tours of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.  Since then, our annual reach has grown nearly ten-fold, serving over 2,000 guests at the Grand Canyon each year.

Not only do we focus our efforts on the apologetics and building up the believer, but we also strive to show the love of Christ to all we encounter at the Grand Canyon.  Park rangers have told us our buses and people are one of the most consistent groups they see, and they always enjoy chatting with our extra-friendly guides.  This is a testimony of the incredible things God is doing in and through the lives of people we encounter on a daily basis.  As we continue following the direction God leads, we can only imagine what He has in store for the future.


All this, as a result of one woman’s faithfulness in sharing the Gospel with a lost river guide.