Summer is the heart of our ministry, and as each summer comes to a close we take time to reflect. Summer trail guide, Trisha Haugen shares her thoughts on what it was like leading canoe groups through the Boundary Waters this summer.
Since re-entering society after a summer as a trail guide at Adventurous Christians, I have been asked many times what my favorite part was. This question is a difficult one to answer, since it’s hard to consider all at once and rank what seems like a lifetime of moments, each precious in different ways. It is easy for me to explain the night I spent watching the northern lights from the dock with my fellow staff, tell of the day I saw four moose on the Frost River, or recount a portage entirely covered in the largest wild blueberries I’ve ever seen. It’s slightly more difficult, but still manageable, to share more abstract achievements, such as discovering new territory, building relationships, and seeing myself and students become physically and spiritually stronger. It’s confusing to people who haven’t experienced it when I say I loved paddling in the pouring rain, crying with a camper on a difficult portage, capsizing in rapids, and getting lost in a swamp. While all of these things were wonderful, I don’t think any of them truly claim the title of “the highlight of my summer.” I think the best part of my summer was a state of mind and a feeling more than anything else. It was the experience of being close to Christ in mind, heart, and body through the work I was doing and the unexplainable sense of purpose, fellowship, and peace that it brought.
Day-to-day life on earth is full of challenges, regardless of who and where you are or what you’re doing, though most people spend most of their time and energy trying to limit and eliminate challenges. Canoe camping is funny in the sense that it’s a conscious choice to lean into challenge. When you strip a day down to eating, packing up, moving from point A to point B, setting up, praying, and sleeping, it simultaneously gets so much simpler and so much more difficult. Making your bed does not just mean pulling your covers back up; it involves rolling up a sleeping bag, deflating a sleeping pad, putting bags in bags in bags in bags, and tearing down your temporary house. Cooking pasta doesn’t mean just putting a pot to boil on the stove; it involves foraging for sticks and birchbark, starting a fire, canoeing out for water, and ultimately results in scrubbing soot off a pot at the end of the week. These little challenges make the sleep all the sweeter and the pasta all the tastier. They also build confidence, teach us about ourselves, and make us appreciate the privileges of life in society all the more.
Some challenges are still more than you bargained for. One in particular from this summer stands out to me. I was on trail with a group, and it was our second to last day. We had experienced a couple good days of travel before and were enjoying a tailwind which pushed us toward our destination of Seagull lake faster than we intended. When we arrived though, we found that the wind had created 2’ waves on the large lake and had driven groups to settle into sites earlier than normal. Our group feared that we would not find an open site on the busy lake and opted to shoot the center in hopes of finding rest and lunch sooner. Out in the middle, though, I began praying as the whitecaps proved to be more than I anticipated. Sure enough, one of our canoes tipped, putting two of our crew members and gear in 100 feet of water. I didn’t fear for their safety, as they were wearing life jackets and the wind would eventually blow them to our destination, but emotions ran high throughout the group as my canoe tried to turn around to rescue them, and the rest of our group got to an island a ¼ mile away and watched on helplessly, praying for an angel to come save us. Sure enough, God delivered. As my canoe partner and I fought the wind back to our soggy comrades, another canoe launched from an island behind them. Three friends camping nearby had heard the commotion and came to help. They helped us pull our friends into canoes and dragged the swamped boat to shore where it could be safely turned over and reloaded. No one was hurt and no gear was lost except for a baseball cap. When thinking of the event, it’s easy for me to stew on what I could have done differently to avoid the situation, but I am also struck by the ways that God used it for good. While it was stressful for everyone in the group, in processing it together later, it was incredible to hear how God taught different lessons to each of us. From discovering God’s active presence, to contemplating the roles God has called them to, and recognizing the power of prayer, I saw many members of the group take next steps in their faith journeys, big and small. This is a challenge I never wished for the group, but it’s the one that God gave us, and for that, I am grateful.
This summer God continued to show me more and more about His love for us. It’s not always easy working with high schoolers. I mean usually they’re wonderful, but (like people) sometimes they’re distracted, clumsy, tired, defiant, timid, or dramatic. Despite their humanness and my own frustration with it at points, I found that I cared so deeply for all the students I met and got to lead. When students struggled to steer, I gave them more direction, not because I was mad at them for steering wrong, but because I wanted them to succeed. When I allowed students to do difficult tasks without my help, it wasn’t because I was lazy, but because I wanted them to have independence and space to grow. Through these interactions, God continued to show me his care and heart for me as my ultimate guide. When I require correction or am moving through a difficult season that causes me to grow, His actions towards me are not rooted in resentment or condemnation, but in love and guidance. It may not always feel good to be called to trust His plan when the way seems unclear, or to be entrusted with responsibility I didn’t ask for, but He is teaching me that He does these things for my good and for the good of those around me, because He loves His kids.
When I think of this summer, I think of Aslan’s lesson to Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia: “It is hard for you, little one, but things never happen the same way twice.” Last summer on staff at AC was absolutely incredible, and I had hoped for another summer just like it. I prayed so hard that God would let me come back and was so grateful when He did. This summer brought many new challenges that I could not have anticipated, but it also brought new joys and growth. I am so grateful that God allowed me to walk with Him again in this ministry and for all the experience, confidence, and love I received through it.