In 1989, while hiking in Yellowstone National Park, I had an encounter with the Lord. On a mountain top, He told me to train missionaries using the NOLS pattern of wilderness education and call it “Mountain Gateway.” Now, not only do we train missionaries using that pattern, but we also use it to grow other believers in their leadership skills and facilitate transformation on short backpacking expeditions.
Wilderness Intensives have been in my heart since I was a child. Wandering around the woods in rural Alabama fostered a deep love in my heart for the wilderness. Jesus often went alone to the mountain to pray, and my times of solitude with the Lord in the woods have proven to be the best place to listen, learn, and grow. The wilderness forces you outside of your comfort zone. It develops your tolerance for adversity and uncertainty and your appreciation for God’s creation.
In July, Jacob and I led a Wilderness Intensive for missionaries, pastors, and their kids. We had the common ground of living with the daily choice to be sold out for Jesus and it was refreshing for all of us to get away in the wilderness with those who have a similar calling. It was so good for the missionary kids who were there to listen to stories from other missionaries. We were able to experience the majesty of God without the constant pull of our ministry responsibilities. We knew there would be calls and texts waiting on us when we got back, but those were put out of our minds for a few days so we could dedicate time to focusing solely on our Creator.
When we came out of the backcountry, I rejoiced to hear the team say things like, “I want to do this every year,” “I cannot believe how beautiful this is,” and “I will use that lesson to teach others for the rest of my life.” Jesus touched each of us and we made connections on this trip that will impact nations for the Kingdom of God. This is what happens when you take the time to silence the distractions in your life to focus on JESUS. You find Him and He transforms you. (Jeremiah 29:13)