My time serving with ACMNP was an incredibly rewarding, uplifting, and formative experience. I served on the Estes Park Team at Rocky Mountain National Park in Summer 2017 with team members that I adore. I had just finished a gap year after graduating from undergraduate school at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC and was looking for a unique summer opportunity before I started my graduate school program at East Carolina University. I ended up applying for ACMNP and had my first experience ever living outside of North Carolina and far away from and friends and family. During my gap year before ACMNP I had been struggling with depression, which I am very open and comfortable talking about. I wanted to serve with ACMNP for some time to work on my mental health and grow closer to God after feeling distant for a while in an environment that I knew would be very healing for me personally: in nature and ministry. ACMNP was the perfect opportunity for me and left me with a lifetime of experiences that I could write a book on.
One Sunday in July, it was my turn to speak again at our service and give the message. My first time speaking earlier that summer was a little rough, so I knew I would do better and feel more comfortable. I decided that I would give my story from over the past couple years since I started college and how I had grown and challenged myself in my faith and connecting it to my mental health. I was expecting our usual number of people for each service, so anywhere between 0 and 10 people, with 4-6 being the average.
Only six people showed up to the first service, but two of them were a photographer and reporter from the The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs who decided to write and publish an article on ACMNP. No pressure right?
The service went really well though and it was great getting to talk about ACMNP and help spread the word about this amazing ministry to the reporter and photographer. Then it was time for the second service. At first there were only 4 people, but five minutes before the service started a giant group of 60 college-aged young adults from various campus ministries from around the country showed up. I was amazed (and slightly overwhelmed initially) at the sight of 64 strangers sitting down staring at my team and I. As you can imagine, that was the best service we had as far singing and music; it was a joyful noise indeed. After the music I stood up front alone with 64 faces looking at me, but I was overcome by a calmness and gave my story. Following the conclusion of the service, several people approached me and thanked me for sharing, but one individual came up to me and told me that they related to my story so much and that it meant a lot to them to hear. We ended dup talking for about 20 minutes. The whole experience was encouraging, unforgettable, and holy. I have included a picture of me speaking at this service below.
One unique aspect about my placement at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO was that I was able to develop professionally through my job as well. I had the immense pleasure of being able to serve as an Inclusion Counselor for the YMCA’s Day Camp. As an inclusion counselor, my job was to include children with diverse needs in activities and groups and accommodate their needs. I met so many amazing children and got to know several regulars and their families over the summer pretty well. I even connected with a family so much that they decided to attend a few of our worships throughout the summer. In addition, I was able to experience relational ministry with fellow Day Camp staff who were there with other Christian organizations as well. We would have our own worship services sometimes and they would attend our ACMNP services.
There is nothing like living at a National Park, where you can wake up, see a massive elk (for the 1000th time), and decide that you want to go on a hike or drive in the park. The national parks are natural cathedrals where I and many others have gone to for escape, healing, and reconnection. My experience at Rocky Mountain National Park, with ACMNP, and as an inclusion counselor have impacted me deeply and will stay with me the rest of my life. I am forever thankful for the opportunity that ACMNP gave me and for the relationships I made with my teammates and fellow day camp staff.
-Austin C., Rocky Mountain National Park, 2017
The Lord said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”