‘Go west, young man…’ was the charge for western expansion in eighteenth century America. Something about pioneers and blazing a new trail always intrigued me. Maybe it was the hours upon hours that I watched ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or played ‘Oregon Trail’ in the days of fat TVs and rounded computer screens. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from the Ingalls, like how to clean a cooking pan with dirt, and that fallen eye glasses can reflect the sun and start a fire in the prairie. Oregon Trail definitely prepared me for knowing how to fix a broken axle or how to keep from falling ill to dysentery. There was no doubt in my mind that the west was wild, and that I could face the many challenges it presented.
All preparations and dreaming aside, I have come to understand that God will call on His people to take action and pioneer out of the gifts He’s given, even in the most humanly state. There’s no better place to realize your human state than in the wilderness. All the conveniences of life are stripped away, and suddenly you are subject to the natural elements that surround you. I remember my very first wilderness trip, APEX (Appalachian Extreme), with Young Life when I was 16 years old. We did everything from backpacking to friction rock-climbing, canoeing, and mountain biking. However, it wasn’t the thrill of these excursions that made me love it all. One night we had to do a ‘solo’, sleeping on our own with no tent covering, and a fair distance from the other students and leaders in the group. All I could think about in the first 2 hours of trying to actually sleep were the bugs that were probably crawling in my ears, nose, and down my sleeping bag in between my toes. It was all I could do to hold back shrieking, ‘Buggies!’, recessing back to my 3-year-old self. It wasn’t until I settled into a prayer, “God, I know you’re here, be with me,” that the tingling sensations stopped and I could soak in the beauty around me. Looking up to see pinholes of light through the pitch black sky, I was reminded of the vastness that surrounded me and who created it all. He who created it called me into it. This was the place I found God to be my Creator as well as my friend.
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Exodus 3:1-6)
It was the journey of life after that took me into leading these same types of trips for teenagers my junior year of college, female students on women’s wilderness weekends while interning at Campus House, and many a backcountry trek down south or out west with friends. These were the times I realized my humanity and God’s deity, yet He was calling me to lead others to find Him in His creation. Just like Moses, ‘a sojourner in a foreign land’ (Exodus 2:22), God calls on the weak to lead.
When the opportunity seemingly came out of the blue to work with YWAM in Montana, just in time to visit during our honeymoon near Glacier National Park, it was clear that God was calling us to where we most feel connected to our Creator, out west. We take the charge, ready and willing to blaze a new trail as God leads, but simply respond to the call ‘Go west.’ by saying ‘Here I am.’