Growing up, my family and I took road trips during the summer as our vacations. These road trips primarily included visiting the National Parks. I always remember enjoying the times we got to camp and explore the parks. Each park is different from the rest and offers something unique to see when visiting. As I got older, I always dreamed of continuing to visit the parks, but the thought of getting the chance to live in one never even crossed my mind.
It was the fall semester of my sophomore year. I had just gotten out of class and was contemplating whether I was going to attend chapel or head back to my room for a quick nap before having my next class. Little did I know that my plans for the upcoming summer were about to change.
Before the message was given at chapel, a speaker would discuss upcoming events or announcements occurring on campus that week. I was sitting in the pew again contemplating why I had not gone back for a quick nap when the speaker began discussing a ministry representative that was going to be in the Student Union for the day. The speaker, an individual that had participated in the ministry the previous summer, began talking about her experience and what the ministry involved. The ministry is called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (or ACMNP). As soon as she mentioned the name, she had my utmost attention. Anything that involves the parks has always sparked my interest.
Immediately after chapel, I ran to the Student Union to learn more information. I think I was still in shock about the idea and did not fully understand the fact that by participating in the ministry would mean living far from home for the entire summer. I learned how ACMNP is a ministry that places worship teams within the National Parks (yes I know, the name says it all). The ministry is voluntary but guarantees a job at one of the park's locations. There are many job opportunities available, such as housekeeping, food service, or retail. On the weekends, teams put on worship services at their designated locations for the campers and employees staying in the park. When applying, the participant has the option of choosing three parks where they’d like to be placed.
After finishing class that day, I thought about the idea of participating in the ministry. The thought of living and working in a National Park for a summer sounded like a dream to me. However, the idea of being away from home for the summer finally hit me. Up until that time, I had always been a homebody. School was only about 45 minutes away from home where I knew I at least had the option of going home for the weekends. This would not be the case since all of the parks I had considered were far out west.
After a lot of thinking, I thought I would at least apply to see if I would be accepted. I thought worst-case scenario, I could always say no. I applied in November and sure enough, on my birthday in March, I received an email saying I had been accepted to participate in the ministry in Yellowstone National Park that summer. I accepted the position that night and will forever be thankful that I did.
As I am writing this, I think about what would have happened if I had decided to turn down the opportunity. Moving away and living in Yellowstone was the best thing I have ever done for myself. Besides moving to college, choosing to move away to Yellowstone was the first of many times I was needing to step farther out of my comfort zone than I ever had before. I think its safe to say that if I hadn’t chosen to go to Yellowstone, I most likely wouldn’t have decided to make a big move. Which means I probably wouldn’t be here in Florida today! Our experiences in life build on each other and ultimately lead to where we are today. I will forever be thankful for that summer I lived in Yellowstone where I met life long friends, explored God’s creation, and grew in ways I didn’t think possible.