The Wilderness As a Growth Experience
Aaron Artigue is a 2006 Westminster Christian Academy Alumnus who was transformed by the opportunity Rangers offered. He has returned with his wife as a Ranger Program Sponsor to pass on what he learned to another generation of Westminster Rangers.
As a freshman in the fall of 2002, I was a scrawny country boy looking for a niche to fit into. Of all the activities that I devoted myself to in high school, the Rangers program was the one that definitely fit the bill. Little did I know that the first day hike that I went on was only the beginning of a long string of adventures that I would have in my life. Backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, trail running, and primitive survival are all activities that have been a part of my life since then. They have led me to many places through the years, and the many memories that I have made are priceless treasures. Not many people know the joy of summiting a mountain from a backcountry route, when you get to the top and there is no longer any way to go up any further. Thanks to Rangers, I have had the joy of having these experiences, and much more.
When you make a habit of climbing tall peaks, hiking long trails, and partaking of other adventures that can cause discomfort and require hard work, eventually you will be asked why you bother with these endeavors. When faced with this question, early Everest explorer George Mallory replied, “Because it’s there.” I have fielded this question more than once, and it’s a tough one to answer because the answer is so personal that it is hard to describe. In a way I agree with Mallory. God created this world for us to explore, so the response would be more appropriately stated “because HE put it there.” However, my favorite response is best said in the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts… The credit belongs to the man in the area… At best he knows the triumph of high achievement; if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold timid souls who never knew victory or defeat.”
This is what I believe the Ranger Program offers to the students who choose to participate in it. An opportunity to feel this triumph on a very personal level. There are many challenges a Ranger must overcome in order to be successful, and for many students a ten day expedition is the most demanding task they will have ever undertook. This was definitely true for myself. The challenges are physical, mental, and social. The consequences are direct and firm. The rewards are equally joyful. The environment is foreign to those accustomed to the conveniences of the modern world. All of these are what causes Rangers and their peers to ask the question, “Why do these things?” I have not seen a Ranger yet that has successfully completed the program that cannot answer the question in their own way. They have all found the answer in themselves. And as Roosevelt said, they have all learned in a very personal way the joy of triumph.
My draw for helping the Ranger program comes partially from this. In a world where Google makes all things accessible, and technology surrounds us in a virtual, alternate reality, we are more and more isolated from God’s creation. In turn, our youth are isolated from the challenges presented by adventuring in the wilderness, away from modern convenience. I believe that as one who has been greatly blessed to enjoy these things, it is my responsibility to share my talents and train others to enjoy these things. The Ranger program provides a unique opportunity for me to exercise this responsibility.
But my main inspiration for doing Rangers is to help young people gain a deeper understanding of who they are in Christ. A couple years ago, I knew that God was calling me to serve Him in some mission, but I was not sure what that was. As my wife and I prayed, we began to understand that God was calling us to make Rangers our mission. Oddly enough, I was sitting on a hilltop in Kisatchie Wilderness when this confirmation came.
Being in the wilderness is a growth experience. The hardships faced cause us to learn lessons that we would have otherwise dismissed. As one mountaineer put it, “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement.” Much in the same way that we received the Rod of Correction as a child for the consequences of a foolish decision, the wilderness has consequences for poor judgement. During Job’s hardships, God tells him that all of creation speaks out about the truth of God’s character. What better place to learn these life lessons than this?
I have also learned that nature is a sanctuary for worshipping God. In Psalms we are told that all of nature rejoices before the Lord. Have you ever listened to the singing of the birds in the morning, the chirping crickets at night, the wind in the tall pines, or the babbling of a mountain brook? Scripture tells us that these are a chorus of praise for the goodness of our God. If you are still and truly listen, you will hear a beautiful song made by creation itself. We are instructed to make a joyful noise unto the Lord when we worship. I have found no better place to learn what a joyful noise sounds like.
Through what I have learned in Rangers and the times after, I have had the chance to experience these things and much more first hand. It has been my profound pleasure to facilitate the next generation in discovering these things for themselves. I pray that on each trip we take, the Lord touches one of our students in a way that changes them forever. This is why I do Rangers, and I am greatly thankful for the opportunity to do so.