Last week, I talked about my friend Tina who hiked the Appalachian Trail, and explained the concept of trail magic. I briefly introduced the main event: Appalachian Trail Days.
As a whole, Trail Days is a weekend-long event in Damascus, Virginia. All sorts of vendors and businesses get together with the town to assure multiple offerings and a great overall experience for the hikers.
Hikers can pitch their tents in a camping area known as "tent city". They can relax, get some laundry done, enjoy the day's events and party all they want at night. They can enjoy much of what AT Days has to offer without ever setting foot onto First Baptist Church of Damascus (which they pass right by when walking the trail).
|This is a free campsite started by FBC just last year in 2012. We couldn't enter tent city for pics without paying campground admission.|
But most don't. Why?
This is where ministry kicks in, and by the grace of God, kicks "trail magic" up several notches.
The Beginnings of a Ministry
It all began well before Tina hiked the trail or I even knew there was a town called Damascus in my native Virginia: in 2001, to be exact. The church had recently held a seminar and invited one of the presenters to return during Trail Days to spend time with the hikers. They also grilled hot dogs over a bonfire in town to feed the hikers.
Fast forward to 2010. Tina has issued an invitation to return to Trail Days with her - as volunteers. It is less than a month until our wedding, but we are all for it, as are six others. Our team of nine heads down with no idea what to expect.
|What has become a team tradition: a pic in front of "the hiker sign."|
|My teammate (and that year's roomie!) with Bobby Jon Drinkard from Survivor ! I never watched the show, but he was in two seasons.|
The motivation for this ministry comes from Matthew 25:35-36:
" For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me."
FBC made it their mission to meet all of these needs except for the final one. In 2007, a prison ministry was added to complete this idea.
Did you notice the brown shirts we are wearing? They have "Love Wins" written across the front. Unlike a summer camp, they are the same each year - because our mission is the same each year: love others.
We show them this by meeting any need we can, especially those mentioned in the above scripture.
- There is a formal home cooked meal offered one night - free to 300 hikers who grab tickets in time. Hot dogs and other food and beverage are almost always available if you come looking for something to eat.
- Showers are offered along with towels and toiletries.
- Medical professionals offer free health screenings. (uninsured locals appreciate this as well!)
- Also inspired by scripture, we wash/massage feet. Hikers are supplied with a clean, brand new pair of hiking socks.
- Hikers are shuttled around town and back to a few other points on the trail- a welcome break from walking.
- An outdoor worship service is held.
- An internet cafe is available (free, of course!) for hikers to stay connected.
- Fun things like eating contests (sheet cake and hot dogs) are held.
- Hiking with your dog (that is quite common!)? We've got cookies for him/her too!
- Hiker bags are available with light luxuries like snacks, gum, band aids, and of course, scripture.
- And it keeps on growing...last year, I saw free haircuts for the first time. Gifts from FBC and partnering churches seem to increase year after year.
I briefly mentioned the prison ministry. It would be difficult to locate arrested hikers, but the church visits a prison in nearby Tennessee throughout the year to visit and hold worship service. One of those visits takes place during Trail Days. We weren't aware of this in 2010, we timidly went in 2011, and excitedly went in 2012. It sounds terrifying, but after the first trip, I think any of us would enthusiastically go again and again.
|Our team of four in 2012. Of course, no photos allowed inside the prison.|
I have a gazillion pictures and stories I could share that would make this one super long post (I'm sure it's getting there already!), so instead I will leave you with the presentation we shared with our church after last year's trip. Going with the "Love Wins" theme, the songs featured are "Love is Marching" by BarlowGirl, and Jars of Clay's cover of "They'll Know we are Christians by our Love."
Thanks for sharing these memories with me! Tina will be going down this Wednesday for AT Days 2013. I only got to help by shopping with her for the hiker bag supplies, but I know God will use her greatly as well as all of the other volunteers He has sent. I pray Sean and I will return next year as it truly feels like home.
Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions about the trip/ministry or anything even slightly related to it!
I shared this story on Coastal Charm.