Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The sky was streaked with brilliant colors of pink and orange. And the darkness of the night was just now becoming the light of the day. It was 5:30 in the morning and we woke up to the beautiful sound of our canoe guide Britt. It was time to pack up our belongings, get our camp chores finished, and eat breakfast before loading up our canoes for another day of paddling and portaging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This morning, the mosquitos were fierce. And so we sat on rocks by the water to eat our breakfast. In the water, near our campsite, stood a lone pine tree on a small rocky island. It was the iconic picture someone might often see of the Boundary Waters. This lone tree on a rocky island. It is the image of strength. How can this lone tree stand amidst the thundering rain, the crashing waves, and the heat of the sun alone? There must be strength at its roots. Something about the tree lets it stand alone individually.
But when I reflected on the past few days in the Boundary Waters, I didn’t see the lone tree on a rocky island as the iconic picture anymore. There were indeed moments when each of us had to call upon our own individual inner strength and courage to get through the next task or adventure. But we also discovered that there was inner strength to be found in working as a team and discovering the presence of God alongside us. We also learned that we are part of a bigger circle. We are part of the entire creation working together and that we are only a part of the comings and goings in the Boundary Waters, both animals, plants, and humans.
We travelled the Red Rock Loop, from Seagull Lake, through Alpine Lake, Red Rock Lake, Saganaga Lake as well as a few other lakes, and eventually returning back to Seagull Lake. We tried canoe sailing, climbed a huge rock wall with harnesses and belayed by another guide from the camp. We saw a bear and eagles, loons diving, and lived through storms of mosquitos and gnats. And we had an experience with a leech too. And then there was the riffle – mini rapids to go through. These adventures we did together, bearing each other in love and encouragement. Finding inner strength and courage, willing to risk and imagine, because we discovered each other’s strengths as well as the strengths of our team. And each night, we would gather in our tents and reflect upon these words from the Book of Joshua, chapter 1 verse 9: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
I saw God in the wilderness sunsets, sunrises, lakes and my friends whom I was with, singing songs with each other, laughing and telling funny jokes. I would like to take home the beauty and creation God has given us, what he provided for us and his grace upon us. On my first portage, I was scared of carrying a Duluth pack on my back and carrying a canoe. My friends kept cheering me on by saying “You can do this. Believe in yourself and what you can accomplish.” When those words were spoken, I felt that I can do it and I listened to my friends and it came true. I did carry a Duluth pack and a canoe for ten rods on one of our portages. Thank you God for all that you have given me to come on this Mission Trip and learning how to be courageous, working hard with the best of my abilities and saying that I can do it.
Many times in life, we are challenged. It might seem weird but it is always for a reason. God wants us to know about our inner strength. Inner strength is what we are good at and can do. Not everyone is good at everything. Some people are better at one thing and not so good at another. For example we played a game called “Oatmeal.” You combine three items and try to make good oatmeal like tree, lake, leaf. You have figure out the secret to making good oatmeal. Some people got it right away but others needed hints, but together in a group we are good at everything. If we are not pushed and challenged then we will never know how strong we are. Like with the Riffle. A riffle is like a mini rapids, a fast flowing current in a narrow space. We had three canoes. The first two made it through the riffle but one canoe could not make it. So two people from one of the other canoes came and pulled the canoe through the riffle. The people in that one canoe were not as strong as the others so the others came back and pulled the canoe and the people inside safely across. It’s like God, if we can’t make it through the challenges of life, then God pulls us safely through.
The riffle was very challenging for our group because it was extremely windy that day. Most of us had never experienced anything like this before. It took a couple of tries for two of the canoes to get through. But one of the canes couldn’t get all the way through and just kept getting pushed back by the wind and the current. So two members of the group were able to help the other canoe by pulling it the rest of the way through. Without everyone’s encouraging words, the paddle through the riffle would have been very different. Later that day, we would have to go through that same riffle again. And this time, everyone made it through on the first try!
On the first day of paddling, I tried steering in the canoe. And, well, it didn’t go so well. We made a joke that I was the best at running away from a moose because when I was steering, I was going in a zigzag formation. And typically, that’s how you would run away from a moose. I would have just given up trying to paddle and steer. But my friends kept giving me advice and helpful tips and saying that I was doing great. Without team work, I wouldn’t have kept going.
In the Boundary Waters, we learned a lot about ourselves and working as a team. Teamwork was a vital part of our days on trail. If we wanted to get anywhere, we had to either hike or canoe. Canoeing requires two people to paddle, one in the front and one in the back. The person in the back steers and relies on the person in front to tell them where to go and if there are any rocks in the way. Teamwork is also required when portaging a canoe. Three people lift it out of the water and one of them takes it up the portage. Without teamwork, it would take much longer to get around and be a lot harder to portage.
During one of our Bible studies, we learned about something called the Big Circle. On trail, what you pack is all you have. If you forget something or lose something, that’s it. There’s a story about a man and his wife who went out on trail for a week. They had their bags packed and were out on the water when they realized that they didn’t have any rope. It was too late to turn back, so they resigned themselves to going without it. They paddled some more until they reached a portage. At that portage they met two men coming back from a fishing trip. They talked for a while before the couple mentioned that they didn’t have any rope. Without hesitation, one of the men grabbed some rope out of their pack and gave it to them, knowing that it would never be returned. That is the Big Circle. That couple later had the chance to offer another group of canoers directions, continuing the circle. In the Boundary Waters people help and get help from each other, because it’s sometimes a life or death situation. Being part of the Big Circle is a lot like teamwork in a way.
We had many experiences on our trip. We saw God everywhere. In the lakes, forests, animals and other travelers. We also see God working through us and helping us discover our inner strength. When we did portages, we were either carrying metal canoes between 60 and 70 pounds or Duluth packs that were between 30 and 40 pounds. We took three canoes on our trip. Jean, Disciple and The Staff. I always rode in The Staff, and portaged it as often as I could. Before we left, Britt taught us how to portage and said that the Jean was the lightest canoe, so the duffer would always ride there. She then told us after we got off trail that The Staff was the heaviest, almost 80 pounds. The whole trip I believed that the Disciple was the heaviest. If I had known that before going on trail, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. I discovered my own inner strength at that moment, knowing that I had carried The Staff as far as I had.
During the entire week, whether we were paddling or portaging, or sleeping in a tent during a thunderstorm at Gooseberry Falls State Park, or volunteering to help the camp haul installation from the driveway to the main island and to the new construction site, or to help maintain trails and fire-wise the island, we worked together as a team. Each individual found their own inner strength and courage. And each individual discovered that a team can do so much more than one person can do alone.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, the author tells that even though some are called to be evangelists, or prophets, or teachers, or countless other vocations, and that each one of us has our own spiritual gifts, passions, and inner strength, all together, we make up a team. And in that team, we bear each other’s burdens and we do so with love and encouragement. For together, we have one faith, one Lord, and one baptism. Together, God is present among us. Pushing us, encouraging us, and loving us as part of this immense team – a circle wider than we can even imagine. Today, may your inner strength be a gift to someone else. By bearing and loving and encouraging them in all things. God be present with you and widen your circle. For you are not a lone tree on a rocky island. You are part of a larger team helping each other through the muddy portages and the ripples of life.
Praise be to God! Amen.