2016 was my busiest year yet of ministry with Frontier Fellowship. I visited seven countries and many towns and cities in 11 US states. By summer’s end, I was exhausted and wanted some time alone with God to get my head and heart realigned. So I made a three-day, 26-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail in my home state of Virginia.
It had been 10 years since I last took a hike like that. I had forgotten how demanding it is to walk 8–10 miles per day carrying a 35-pound backpack up and down steep and sometimes treacherous terrain. But it was good to feel my heart pumping and to purge my system of clutter during the three days of quiet on the trail.
Trails are marked with signs that hikers call “blazes”—white or blue stripes about five inches long—painted vertically on tree trunks along the trail. These blazes are like road signs that assure you you’re on the right path. They’re essential at certain points when the path takes a turn or isn’t well worn. The problem is these blazes fade over time with exposure to the elements or as tree bark expands and insects gnaw at the paint. Sometimes the trail markings are few and far between.
At the end of the third day on an 11-mile trek, tired and thirsty, crossing back and forth over a stream several times, I began to fear I’d lost the trail. I saw no blazes on the trees for a long time. I was on a trail I’d never hiked before, so it wasn’t familiar to me. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt when I finally saw a blue blaze on a tree marking the trail and how elated I was a few minutes later when I saw the roof of the campsite shelter come into view.
When my wife, Laurie, and I go to church, we enter a place of worship with a congregation that began in 1835. Traditions of worship have changed over time, but there’s continuity, a tradition we’ve come to expect. There’s a well-worn path.
When we engage in frontier mission we enter, by definition, into uncharted territory. We go to people who don’t have a tradition of worshipping Jesus. It can seem like walking down an unmarked trail in the woods. That might terrify you, or it might thrill you. Or both.
But it’s not true that we’re in the wilderness without a trail to follow. No matter where we go, Jesus goes ahead of us. He blazes the trail. He is the trail. Jesus marks the path with signs for us. He is the sign. At Bethlehem an angel announced good news of great joy for all people: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Jesus is the Way. He is the light, the blazing light that always goes before us, and if we’ll follow Him, He’ll show us the way.
—Donald Marsden, Associate Director