Our time in Alaska was filled with new experiences. We went crabbing (and ate the results.) We saw starfish, anemones, hermit crabs where they were stranded in little pools during a lower-than-average tide. My daughter caught Halibut, Rock Fish, Trout, and something called, “Double Ugly” (a fish that lives up to its name–you can google it!) We spotted black bear. We also spotted the huge shadows and spouts out in the Bay which mark the presence of Humpback whales! Once when I was in our cabin, I kept hearing the sudden whoosh of water. It can’t be, I thought! I shouldn’t be able to hear whales from here, nearly 1/4 mile from the beach. When I hurried to the water’s edge, I discovered whales closer than I’d seen before spouting joyously!
In all these natural wonders–so close to Eden–we still lived in the hope of paradise. The beauty seemed almost unreal at times. Every hike (every short walk too) held incredible beauty but an ever-present threat. We all knew the bear safety rules. Travel noisily–sing or talk so bears know you’re coming, don’t carry food (even deodorant or toothpaste was forbidden on the overnight camp outs) if you meet a bear, don’t run or scream but back away slowly, and someone in the hiking party must carry bear repellent.
In fact, my first morning at the camp, I (greenest of the greenhorns) spotted several bear tracks outside the dining hall. These were later confirmed by the camp administrators who carefully monitor tracks and scant in and around the camp. Though the black bears that frequent those woods are nowhere near as aggressive as the brown bears (Grizzlies) they will still defend and guard their young and their territory against perceived threats.
The tension between the beauty in life and the not-so-beautiful (sometimes painful or downright ugly) is also apparent in the midst of God’s great work at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. Campers were hearing–sometimes for the first time– that God loves and forgives them; right there, the power of God met the weakness of man. God was touching peoples hearts and at the same time, numerous staff members caught colds, succumbed to stress. Both Laura and I caught “the Juneau Crud” a deep cough with sinus infection. I also struggled with foot pain the entire time, since much of our living and working required standing and walking.
Bryan and I were also faced with the stress of learning an unfamiliar job while doing it. I worked in the kitchen at the camp, and for the first two weeks, my conversation was peppered with “Where do you keep the spices?” “What recipe for croutons do you use?” “How do I make more Ranch dressing?” “I forgot where the large bowls are kept!” It was both a humbling and humiliating experience in turns, and I was secretly nagged by doubts about whether I was actually doing anything useful or whether they didn’t really need someone younger, more energetic, someone who could stay longer than four weeks, preferably a domestic goddess who could gleefully assemble, use, disassemble, and clean the monstrous industrial-sized Kitchen Aid that I wrestled with nearly every day.
I can’t say that I was never discouraged, intimidated, or tempted to quit, but in my discouragement I saw the contrast, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. “(2 Cor 4:7 NKJV) The contrast between the weakness of humankind and the strength of God is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. God’s people (including those at Echo Ranch Bible Camp and wherever you live) may be inefficient but they are effective testimonies to the grace of God. And when God puts us in positions of weakness, His strength is obvious.