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Worshiping in the great outdoors


WORLD Radio - Worshiping in the great outdoors

A ministry offers worship services in National Parks around the country

Photo courtesy of Jenny Rough

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 1st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Romans 1 verse 20 says God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen. Ever since the creation of the world, we can see His eternal power and divine nature in the things that He has made: quite literally, the world and everything in it!

BROWN: WORLD reporter Jenny Rough brings us a story about worshiping God in the great outdoors.

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: At 8 a.m. on a Sunday in November, the temperature at Zion National Park lingers around 35 degrees. Over by the park’s outdoor amphitheater, Josiah Gleason and Victoria Heric stand shivering in the wind. A couple of park visitors huddle in the front row.

GLEASON: Okay! Hi, everybody. My name is Josiah Gleason.

HERIC: And I’m Victoria.

GLEASON: And today we’re going to be leading you guys in worship and leading you in a message…

Gleason and Heric both have jobs at Zion National Park for the winter season. In their free time, they serve as volunteers with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. A-C-M-N-P.

The ministry has been around for over 70 years. Lauren Eisenhart-Purvis is the placement coordinator.

LAUREN EISENHART-PURIVS: We were started in 1951 to minister to people who are living and working in national parks. Because most national parks are pretty remote.

Eisenhart-Purvis assembles teams for the parks. Usually students who want to work outdoors for a season.

EISENHART-PURVIS: So typically during the summer we'll have anywhere from 175 to 250 team members serving with us. Our winter season is a lot smaller.

The ministry has older volunteers, too. Amos Smith is the program coordinator.

AMOS SMITH: We have people in their 30s to 40s. We have people that are retired and doing this now, after they've retired, and just driving around their RVs to go to different parks and be a part of this ministry.

But most volunteers are college-age.

GLEASON: The first song is “Indescribable” on page 26...

AUDIO: [Strumming guitar]

Josiah Gleason is on a semester break so he can work at Zion. Victoria Heric is extending a gap year.

For their first organized Sunday service of the winter season, Gleason opens with music. Heric says a prayer…

HERIC: Dear Jesus, thank you for a cold yet beautiful day in your wonderful creation, God. I just pray that…

…then she reads a chapter from the Bible: Joshua 2.

HERIC: Chapter 2. Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men…

In the backdrop, majestic red rock canyons display their beauty and strength.

Coordinator Amos Smith says the outdoor setting draws awareness to the fact that God has created amazing places for His people to gather.

SMITH: Because you step outside and you're just seeing some of the most beautiful things in the world and there is something healing about that that just kind of slows life down just a little bit. And maybe gives you a different perspective on your own life and the people around you.

He says the longing to be in a life-giving environment is a big reason so many people visit national parks.

SMITH: A lot of people are just searching for something beautiful, something good.

Weather can pose a problem. A sandstorm rolling in at Death Valley. An unexpected thunderstorm at Everglades. But that’s not the greatest challenge.

SMITH: The biggest obstacle and barrier is just people knowing, people knowing that it's there, that it's available.

As government entities, the parks stay impartial. It’s up to ministry volunteers to invite others.

ACMNP is the only formal national park ministry. But it’s not uncommon for Christians to come together to worship outside.

Mark Disbrow is a pastor in Southwest Colorado. In the early 2000s, he went on a handful of trips to Africa. He noticed that many churches there would meet in a field or under a tree. As an outdoor enthusiast, he loved that environment. When he returned to the States, he felt called to plant a church.

MARK DISBROW: And I just was asking myself, why can't we do it like they do in Africa? Just set up a church service outdoors somewhere. And, worship God. We can reach people that really don't want to go into a building, and we can reach the unchurched by finding them at campgrounds and rock climbing spots and things like that.

For two and a half years, Disbrow did just that. Sunday mornings, he and some friends would put out food, set up chairs, and start inviting people.

DISBROW: And you know, you'd be surprised. You go around in a campground and you start inviting people to come, somebody's going to be a musician. There’s some songs that everybody knows, like “Amazing Grace.”

Weekend camping trips can be a great way to bond with family and friends. And Disbrow says it can be done without missing church.

DISBROW: When they pull into a campground, go up and inquire if there's church services here on Sunday because many campgrounds do have a little more of a formal program.

Amos Smith says that nature has a way of affecting our hearts and souls.

SMITH: Sometimes stepping into those places that are beyond what you can own or control opens the door, I think, for people to be able to hear God in a totally new way. Seeing people experience something like the Grand Canyon, like the Rocky Mountains, like Glacier National Park and are blown away by it. And when that happens, the walls and the guards come down and what God has been trying to say to them oftentimes is now the moment where they're able to finally hear it.

GLEESON: Indescribable, uncontainable. You placed the stars in the sky, and you know them by name. You are amazing God.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough in Zion National Park.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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