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More than just Chacos and granola...

April 29, 2012 | Caitlin Newell

When I was in 7th grade, I researched schools that would get me a degree to be a national park ranger.  I was all about it.  I wanted to wear those green shirts, and hike in hefty boots, and educate all of America about my park.  After a few weeks of researching schools and understanding that it is an incredibly hard profession to take, I backed off the NPS trolley.  But the dream – that never died.

And it strikes me ironically, now, as I prepare to work in a national park for a few months, how all of that passion went unrealized for almost a decade, only to be seen again, more officially, in the basement of a Lutheran church, 4 hours from my college (which, by the way, does not offer a program on National Park Service), in flat, cold, and windy Illinois.

Training for ACMNP was something I had been looking forward to for months.  I marked it on my calendar, I talked about it with my friends, and I planned ahead of time who to carpool with.  All of this time had me forming some odd expectations.  For some reason, when I walked through those doors, I expected to see the L.L. Bean catalogue in person.  I expected lots of Chaco’s, maybe, and definitely granola. But I didn’t get that.

Instead, what greeted my eager eyes was a lot of people just like me.  Students who knew a great opportunity when they saw one.  Instead of sitting on logs and comparing near death experiences, we sat in the basement, at tables, and enjoyed burritos.

The desire to protect began young.

I heard multiple times, from those I sat near who had done this ministry before, and from Rachel and Danielle, who led our training, that the major part of this ministry is relational.  The day to day living with people, and being the face of Jesus to those who don’t get to see him.

Relational ministry – like working as a team to present a Sunday morning worship service.  Relational ministry – like standing together and reading the Apostle’s Creed.  Relational ministry – like chatting over lunch about what park you will be working at, what job you will be doing, and how you don’t know what to expect.

I suppose it is slightly ironic that, although during training we spent a lot of time going through our training manual about the importance of relational ministry, we were actually living it out as we sat, ate, and compared prospective summers.

Training served as that first taste of something bigger – the whiff from the restaurant as you walk towards the door, the first warm day of spring that is surrounded by so many cold ones, or the 30-second preview of your favorite show that will return next season.

It wasn’t enough to satiate my curiosity and desire to be in my park.  It wasn’t supposed to be.

It was that first step I needed to take from still seeing all of this as 2,300 miles away.  My 7th grade brain still keeps seeing mountains and rushing rivers and sunsets that poets dream of.  But now, because of training, my 21 year old brain competes.  It inserts people climbing the mountains, and friends skipping rocks on the rushing rivers, and companions writing poems of the sunset as they sit beside me.

Training may not have been filled with granola, Chaco’s, and L.L.Bean – but it sure made 2,300 miles seem less far from home.

Here’s to a summer of building relationships, one dinner and laugh at a time.

"The most important thing that I learned this summer was to project the imago dei and to recognize it in others and embrace them for who they are."
– Brett, Princeton Theology Seminary 2011

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