My husband Bill and I have enjoyed camping in Shenandoah National Park, mostly at Loft Mountain Campground, for many years. Whenever we were camping over a weekend we attended the worship services conducted by ACMNP team members. We loved worshipping at the amphitheater at Loft and dreamed of one day being able to live and work and conduct services in that beautiful place. When my husband retired early in 2015 we immediately sent an application in and were accepted and placed at Loft Mountain. Both of us were overjoyed but I was also a little apprehensive. First, I have never liked speaking before crowds, but mostly because I loved living near our grown children and grandchildren and would miss celebrating birthdays and our granddaughter’s high school graduation. I was also excited and looked forward to this new adventure. We loved meeting all the teams at the training in Colorado and bonded quickly with the Shenandoah team.
They were all college students but accepted these old people with grace. The training prepared me practically and I left feeling more confident about my part in conducting Sunday services.
We quickly adapted to life in the park. Since we love the outdoors, most of our non-working hours would be spent on various trails. The AT was right outside our living quarters and became a familiar place to unwind. It is amazing how quickly we bonded with our dorm mates; living in community quickly makes strangers more like family. I loved working in the gift shop as I met people from all over the world who were coming to drive the beautiful Skyline Drive or hike the many trails. Because I was familiar with the park I loved recommending hikes that would be enjoyable. And miracle of miracles, I loved leading worship on Sundays! Bill worked in the camp store and enjoyed interacting with the campers. He had more opportunities to invite people to our services than I did as he would often be asked how he came to work in the park and he could share about ACMNP. Bill also loved sharing suggestions for hikes and then hearing about their experiences on the trails. We loved being a part of ACMNP at Loft so much that we returned the following year and made even more friendships.
In our two years in the park we discovered that there are many broken people in the world. I had to learn to love people who had very different lifestyles than mine. I had to face down my prejudices and judgmental attitudes and just love as Jesus loves. I used my love of cooking to share meals with others. I learned that I could not expect people who don’t know Jesus to have the same lifestyle as those who do. I became “Mom” to both the younger workers at Loft and to the college students working in the other areas of Shenandoah It was often hard being away from our family and friends as we missed being a part of their lives. But God met us in those moments and showed us that this world is not our home, we are ambassadors for Jesus looking to spread the good news of His love for the broken. After two years serving in the park we now serve on the Ministry Support Committee and have found great joy in encouraging the teams now serving. We hope to one day again live and work in the park but trust that God will put us wherever we are needed. Those seasons in the park opened my eyes to a hurting world and made me more purposeful in reaching out to those who are in need of Jesus.
Denise & Bill T., Shenandoah National Park, 2015 & 2016
The Lord said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”