Have you ever felt deflated, rejected, or defeated? It happened to me recently. Along with other people I had worked tirelessly to ensure a wonderful, well-attended, diverse season at our church camp, Mimanagish. We knew it was make-or-break time; the finances had been looking especially bad for a couple of years and the Board was at the end of their rope. They set an early benchmark deadline for registrations, warning that if we didn’t get enough the camp could close.

With a huge effort, the registration numbers rose to exceed recent years. While we were not able to secure enough guest users, we felt hopeful that the strong participation would carry the day.

But it was not enough. The board recommended the closure of the camp. This sacred land, touching the singing waters of the Boulder River on the edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, would likely change hands.

Memories flooded my mind and heart. In my awkward teen years, wracked with grief, I found healing at Mimanagish. As a young adult I tested and honed my leadership skills, seeking to provide that healing and welcome to the next round of teens. My call to ministry grew and blossomed in those experiences, at that extraordinary place. In this decade, I have led transformative Circle of Trust spiritual retreats for adults there. It’s as though I am made of the clay of the Boulder Valley.

I could not visualize a future without Mimanagish. I felt desolate.

That must be how the Apostle Paul felt as he struggled to convey the deep love of God as he experienced it through Jesus.

He used all his gifts to share the stirring story of his faith. Sometimes it was well received, and the numbers of the faithful grew. Other times people rejected him outright. One such time was in Lystra. Paul and Barnabas were met with adulation, and just when they were trying to explain that they were only human, another group came and won over the crowds, turning them against the young preachers. The story reads: “Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” -- Acts 14.19-20

That’s a remarkable “resurrection” -- to be wounded and assumed dead, then get up and resume the work! What happened when those disciples surrounded him? Prayer? Encouragement? Healing energy? Whatever it was, his spirit was renewed. He not only got up and walked into the city, he set out the next day walking to another town. Bruised in more ways than one, he was able to rise above the rejection and continue his challenging calling.

After 24 hours of despair over the board’s announcement, I began talking to other people who were feeling desolate about Mimanagish. I felt called -- propelled -- by the Holy Spirit to find a new life for the camp I love, and other people gathered around with tears, prayer, compassion, ideas and healing energy. We began to imagine how a new nonprofit could take on the management of Mimanagish and lead it in a resurrection to a wider welcome. We wondered “What if...” and invited hundreds of former campers to wonder with us.

Creativity flourished in the responses. The remote location, lack of cell coverage and limited internet were transformed from liabilities to assets. “This society needs places where we can unplug and be real,” said one professional. A Native American friend suggested, “Let’s have a healing of the sacred land which is enduring this strife.” Young parents wrote that they want the camp to be there for their children and grandchildren to enjoy, on into the future.

So Singing Waters Montana is being born. Every skill we learned at camp, and the love, joy, and hospitality springing from the earth, whispered in the pines, and sung by the river infuse this effort. It’s monumental, and we might not succeed. Yet the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12: 1-2) surrounds us, and with their help we can tackle the most difficult challenges. I just keep reminding myself how Paul, assumed to be dead, got up and continued his journey with vigor!

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The Rev. Cathy Barker is a retired pastor with United Church of Christ.


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