Cornerstone University students spend summer ministering in the mountains
By Nicole Ricks
My friends and I spent our summer summiting mountains, jumping off cliffs, learning to speak Patois and Turkish, leading worship at the base of a mountain range, witnessing to Muslims, making lattes and milkshakes, selling Indian jewelry and walking to work with coyotes and bears.
Seniors Amy Fredrickson and Nic McLean and juniors Courtney Zelenka, Morgan Zelenka, Stacy Mathews and I lived, worked and ministered at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for four months this past summer. We went with the organization A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.
The gist of ACMNP is to spend a summer living in a national park, working a full time job at the lodge and volunteering time on Sundays with the ministry to put on church services for visitors and workers in the park. Each of us had our own favorite aspects of the summer. Courtney Zelenka and I particularly enjoyed the nature around us.
“I loved to take walks at night and look up at the stars,” she said. “They seemed so close that it felt like you could just reach up and touch them. Everything was just so beautiful.”
I personally loved hiking deep into the mountain summits. My favorite hike was to Surprise Lake located on Mount Owen. The views were stunning, but the climb was a gruesome six miles uphill. My Turkish companion, Fatih Al, and I were surprised that we actually made it to Surprise Lake. Morgan Zelenka and Mathews said their favorite part of the summer was making friends from all over the world.
“The relationships that I made were pretty deep, and I continue to talk to them on a regular basis,” Morgan Zelenka said. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find her polishing her Patois with Jamaican friends over Skype. Mathews favorite memory was going camping on Shadow Mountain with Turkish, Jamaican and ministry friends.
“We had a great time getting camp set up, gathering wood, fending off the bears and wolves, watching bison, teaching our Turkish friends how to roast marshmallows, eating hot dogs and just talking around the campfire,” Mathews said. “It was a wonderful chance for us to begin sharing in discussion about our different faiths and getting to know each other more.” But the summer brought many challenges for our group as well.
“It was hard living in a community of people that respected what you believed but thought you were wrong,” Morgan Zelenka said. Mathews said she had a hard time not allowing relationships, work or even the ministry distract her from God. “There were times that I was just so distant from feeling connected to God,” she said. “But the Lord was good to continue to work in my life and use me with the ministry even through my times of deepest struggle.”
I truly believe that God used this summer to teach each of us something different. Courtney Zelenka said God taught her to respect others and be patient with them whether coworkers, ministry team members or friends.
“What I learned this summer with people from all different denominations and parts of the world was that a lot of times they don’t believe the same thing that I do about certain issues,” Morgan Zelenka said. “I had to search the Bible to see and affirm that what I was living and believing was what God wanted, and I would share that with my friends.”
Mathews said she learned about working with teams in ministry.
“It sounds a bit obvious to say this, but Sunday comes around every Sunday,” she said. “I realized that with ministry, there is always a need to remain persistent in doing the Lord’s work and to stay in fellowship with God and other believers in order to not grow weary of doing good.”
In just three months, I’ll be packing my Jeep again to spend another summer volunteering with ACMNP But this time I’m headed to Olympic National Park in Washington State. Morgan Zelenka will be returning to the Tetons, and Mathews is contemplating going to Olympic as well.