I met my husband on a wagon train that traveled across the United States in 1976. It was an outreach under the umbrella of Youth With A Mission, a bicentennial celebration with an important message: “If my people which are called by my name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then would I hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.
I was in charge of Night Watch. I posted the roster every evening so everyone could see when they had to take their hour in the night and walk around camp to make sure the horses and mules were safe, and protect our supplies from thieves and wild animals.
Woody was the wagon master. He was 30–so he was pretty old–and in his wisdom, knew boundaries needed to be in place to ensure we weren’t sidetracked. YWAM’s summer of service rule of “no relationships” was in place. He didn’t want people to come to our evening shows and see a bunch of kids hanging onto each other like a bunch of hippies. This wasn’t a free love kind of mission. But, unlike the Summer of Service, this wasn’t just a 6 week mission, and eligible young ladies were noticing eligible young men and vice-versa as we cared for the animals, traveled on the wagons, did the chores around camp, fellowshipped and prayed together, and practiced for the evening shows full of skits and songs.
We had already traveled over four months. Despite the “no relationship rule”, several relationships were budding. Donnie had caught my eye as I rode my horse beside his wagon, and when he walked he grabbed my ankle as I rode past forcing me to slow the pace of my horse. We were getting to know each other. He was in charge of the harness and all the leatherwork, so he spent the evenings mending it, often late into the night. While the rest of us put on a show for the audiences that gathered, he made tooled leather bracelets for the children. I came around the “leather shop” every time I could, and we were enjoying the times we worked together. I was afraid that Woody would not be happy about this budding relationship, and he had a couple “enforcers” that we particularly tried to avoid. Most of the romances were discrete–nobody wanted to be rebellious–and yet it just seemed God was doing something in our hearts.
As we made our way from Birmingham Alabama to Chattanooga Tennessee, we traveled through the northwest corner of Georgia. The advance team had gotten permission from the KOA campground owners to circle our wagons and rest the horses and mules. There were showers, something we didn’t take for granted, and Woody needed a day away just to enjoy his wife and infant daughter.
After morning chores and lunch clean-up, Woody declared, “Everybody has the rest of the day off,” and he disappeared into his motorhome with a handwritten sign on the door, “Do not disturb – don’t knock – nobody in here can help you today.”It took a minute for that to sink in. Here we were at a beautiful “Kampgrounds of America” campground with an amazing forest full of hiking trails. Becky and Larry looked at me. “Did he mean, ‘off’ in its fullest meaning?”
I looked at Donnie. “I think so.” Each of the couples decided the same; Woody was tired of keeping us corralled, and today we were sure he gave us a pass and were allowed go on a date.
Most of the wagoneers decided to go on a hike. We started up the trail in a group. Not far up the mountain, a tree had fallen across the path, and the trunk lay across the path at shin level. I commented, “Oh, that would hurt!” We stepped over it and continued on our way.
Two by two, couples dropped off and took a side trail so they could talk and be together. A beautiful babbling brook cascaded down the mountain, and Donnie took my hand and we leaped across the rocks and climbed the boulders until we reached the brook, then carefully chose the stepping stones to keep from getting wet until we were sitting in the middle of the river as the water rapidly swirled its channel around our perch.
We sat in the middle of the brook for the remainder of the day talking about our lives, telling about our encounter with Jesus Christ and what moved us to do what we do. As dusk started to close in, we watched the rest of our group heading down the mountain. We climbed off the boulder and started moving in the direction of the path. As we got to the bank of the river, the night closed in. It was a little light until suddenly…it wasn’t. I don’t mean it was dark in the normal sense of dark, not midnight-blue-almost-black-dark, it was black dark, dark-dark, like D.A.R.K. dark.
The mountain terrain was carved by Mother Nature, and even in daylight, it had been a challenge getting to the brook. We lost our sense of direction and only knew we had to go away from the brook and down the mountain. We had to find the trail, but cliffs and huge boulders made it too dangerous to move. I couldn’t even see Donnie. I couldn’t see the outline of the trees on the starless sky. Suddenly fear overtook me. The woods had to be full of bears and mountain lions and other fearful wild animals.
Donnie exclaimed, “I don’t even have my knife!”
“Why did you say that?” I immediately regretted asking. “No, don’t tell me. Remember that you said that. I’m going to ask you when we get back to the camp.” I didn’t want him to confirm my fears. We tried to move, but it seemed impossible to find our next step.
“Honey, we have two choices. We can stay here until morning, go right to Woody, tell him what happened and probably get kicked off the wagon train, or we can risk breaking our necks and try to get back to camp.”
The wake-up call started at 4:30. Each morning we gathered around the campfire for prayer and an inspirational word from one of the adults. It wouldn’t start getting light until much later. There wasn’t a chance we could get back in time if we waited for the sun.
“Let’s risk breaking our necks – it can’t be worse than Woody’s disappointment. We have to try.”
I suddenly remembered in horror, “I didn’t post night watch yet! People are going to start looking for me to see if they are on. And Susan is sleeping in my wagon tonight! She will tell Woody because everyone will go to my wagon when they realize night watch isn’t posted! We don’t have all night! We have to get back now!”
“Okay then. We need to make sure every step we take is solid before putting our weight into it. Take my hand”. I reached toward his voice until he found my hand.
We had both been praying for God to help us, but we were reluctant to formally pray. I mean, we did this to ourselves. Donnie said, “I think we need to pray together.”
We thanked God for the wonderful day and that we were able to spend the day enjoying the beauty of His creation. I declared, “Your word is a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105) – and God – we need your light now more than ever before.” We prayed for protection, careful not to spell out the things we needed to be protected from. I still didn’t want to think about bears or other wild animals.
As dark as the night was, it just seemed to get darker. We slid down a boulder, and reached for the next, inching away from the brook in the direction we had last seen the path. We crawled, and reached with our arms, stretched our legs to find the next solid landing. We came to a large tree and pulled ourselves up. In the starless night, we looked around hoping for the slightest shadow to guide us.
“What in the world is that?” Donnie asked. “Look down there.” Several feet away, and down a steep slope we saw little lights, like fireflies, but on the rocks, naturally occurring glow in the dark minerals. We slid down the embankment and reached the lights.
Donnie stomped his foot. “This is solid – I think this is the path! Look, the lights lead down this way.” We started following the lights, and in the pitch black night started moving freely – the lights lead us until we were confident that we were on the right path. Soon the little lights were no longer decorating the side of the roadway, but we no longer needed the guidance. It was like God had led us to the path and we could walk confidently, even in the darkness. We were praising God for His help, and so grateful that we were on the right path.
Suddenly Donnie stopped. “This isn’t the path. I think we lost it. The ground is soft.” He held my hand as he looked around in the black night, feeling the ground with his boot trying to find the solid path. He whispered, “God, you showed us once, please show us again.”
“Oh look!” I exclaimed as I tugged him in the opposite direction. “The path is over there.” The little lights once again lined a portion of the trail and once we confirmed it was the path, we practically ran down the mountain, totally trusting each step as it landed on the solid path.
Suddenly his firm grip on my hand pulled back and he stopped. “Wait! Remember that tree that lay across the path?” We carefully inched forward, and right there just a few feet from where he had stopped me was that log, still at shin level.
“How did you know it was there!?” I exclaimed. “Oh yeah, never mind.” I had already seen Donnie’s devotion to Jesus and how he just seemed to have an open communication with the Holy Spirit.
We stepped over the log and started running. It wasn’t far now, and soon we heard the others quietly talking around the campfire. The glow of the campground lights was like a drink of fresh water to our eyes, and I felt a rush of intense relief. God had just delivered us from every wild thing out there.
We strolled into camp. It was only 10:00pm – Curtis, Laurie, Greg, Jimmy, Larry as well as others recognized we hadn’t gotten back to camp and were waiting for us, hoping they wouldn’t have to send out a search party. They were discussing whether they should tell Woody we were missing. They were relieved we were safe and enough were willing to take an hour watch at this short notice to finish the night.
I looked at Donnie in the soft glow of the campfire. “Okay – I need to ask you this. Why did you need a knife?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. The exact moment you said that I had just had the same thought. Talk about the devil’s lies to get us scared.”
“Or God’s warning. That’s about the time we prayed,” he answered. “It doesn’t matter. Whether it was a lie of the devil or a warning from God, we were in a battle and needed to pray. Jesus was already there, but he wanted to hear from us.”
How many times have you been in “that place”? Everything is dark, you don’t know which way to turn. It feels hopeless. You’ve encountered Jesus Christ, and you know He truly died for your sins and you put your trust in him, everything seemed to fall in place at first. As you grew in the Lord and lived your life wanting to please God and witness to your family, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. Then you encountered difficult times, sometimes impossible times where relationships were broken, finances overwhelmed you, and loss of a loved one; maybe you even did something that you shouldn’t have done and the consequences of that action were insurmountable. Maybe you were going to lose your job, maybe you did.
In that dark night, and in the darkest times of our life, God wants us to trust. Donnie and I were in a dangerous place with possible wild animals, cliffs, and rocks. We had to move, but cautiously. We didn’t just say, “I trust God,” stand up and recklessly start walking. We knew the dangers. We had no clarity, but we knew we weren’t supposed to stay lost. We put our trust in God to bring us home. We had to participate in the battle. We stood on God’s promise, “His word is a light unto our path.” “I am the way the truth and the life.” We claimed His promise in Psalm 91:10, “No evil will befall you”. We put our entire trust in Him, because the darkness had enveloped us, and we were lost. Each time we were able to make our next move, we were one step closer to the destination, but even in that dark place God surrounded us with His comfort and presence, and we took a verse that God put in our heart, and He literally guided us in that promise.
I took my turn at night watch that night. Becky found me fast asleep and gently woke me. “It’s 3:00, Kathy. Everything is quiet. I’m going to bed now.”
I quietly climbed out of my sleeping bag, grateful to be safe at camp. I went over to the animals to make sure they were safe. A horse snorted, and I quietly said, “Gentle girl. Go to sleep.” I went to the fire. The embers were dying so I put a few logs in the fire and stirred it until a flame started. I prayed for the safety of the outreach and thanked God for meeting me last night and delivering me from a situation I brought on myself.
I had learned a couple valuable lessons. “Obedience is better than sacrifice” Jeremiah 7:21. It is a lot better to do what you know you should do rather than do something that might be questionable, then have to ask for forgiveness. I learned that God cares about me, even when I do my own thing, and He gently brings his children back where he can protect us and guide us.
In the darkest of times, God is our ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1) He leads us in the path of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). He will instruct us and teach us in the way we should go. (Psalm 32:8). He tells us to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11).
And just when we think we have it all together, just when we know we have won the battle, when we are running down the home stretch, He keeps us from stumbling over that log the enemy put in our path in his last ditch effort to keep us from winning the battle. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”