Connect in the wilderness with Christ
For decades, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has been a place where the longstanding chapel motto of “bring in, build up, send out” is consistently lived out. I probably could have used more of that “building up” during my stint here as a student in the early ‘90s. But instead of Tuesday morning prayer breakfasts, men’s retreats, and commitment to Sunday school and sometimes even church, I spent a fair amount of time in the woods to connect with God.
It’s been my good fortune to return to the Leavenworth community, and although my desire to enjoy hunting and fishing has not changed, my Christian perspective on outdoor pursuits has. Why not meld both?
While collecting the offering one Sunday, I encountered two gentlemen fresh from spring turkey hunting sitting rather conspicuously among the other congregants. Camouflage may work great outdoors, but not so much in row twenty-two of the post chapel. Not recognizing them as regulars, I realized an opportunity to establish some sort of group or ministry drawing in folks like this on a consistent basis. The chaplain also sensed this and asked me if I would lead the establishment of a ministry linked to outdoor pursuits. God began to shape my passion into a calling.
Through prayer and contemplation, the vision for Outfitters, an “equipping ministry,” began to crystallize around two key portions of Scripture. First was David’s preparations to face Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:22-39, in which David turned down the offer of King Saul’s armor because “he was not used to it.” Hunters and fishermen rely on good outfitters for gear and guidance, as well as continually seeking for themselves opportunities to improve. By offering fellowship, mentoring, and an opportunity to use a fly rod or understand the habits of the animals we might hunt, Outfitters can help equip our members by sharing our collective knowledge.
From Ephesians 6 came the second motivation for members to be “geared up” with God’s spiritual armor, becoming more mindful in the field that despite whatever top-notch worldly hunting or fishing gear we possessed, God had outfitted us richly with His armor, and there was more to our pursuits than just catching fish or bagging game. The notion that God was “the Ultimate Outfitter” gave the group its focus by challenging its members to connect their faith with their time afield. The ministry was launched in 2013.
The response to events has been heartening, and the value of Outfitters as an “equipping ministry” has become apparent as members become better—not only in their chosen outdoor pursuits like bow hunting or fishing, but also in learning to apply Scriptural “lessons learned” to their time afield. That there are plenty of lessons to be learned was evident by the interest in our wild game dinner and story night, where members young and old shared their adventures afield and some profound truths they had discovered. Such as in finding a deer antler.
The purposeful hunt for deer antlers—shed hunting—in late winter has become a bit of an addiction of mine, to escape the confines of the house and enjoy an outing. As weather and free time permit, I wander deer trails and known bedding areas in search of antler sheds while also pondering the meaning of sheds, which are nothing more than castoffs the buck no longer needs. Likewise, in our Christian walk every once in a while we need to take stock of our lives and figure out what we’re lugging around that needs to be cast down at God’s feet. It may be things we hang on to: insults, pain, unforgiveness, or bad habits (too much TV, one too many helpings at the dinner table). Casting off these useless things lightens our personal burdens. The symbology becomes readily apparent to the deer hunters in our fellowship, and the finding of an antler will later be a tangible reminder of the lesson.
This nascent fellowship has grown since its inception, and needs are being met. Perhaps the most unexpected benefit has been with the kids, who seem ever ready for adventure outside the surly bonds of video games. Many parents want to learn more about the outdoors because of the potential family bonding opportunities. They may not know too much about hunting or fishing, so Outfitters provides a ready group of Christian mentors who are not shy about sharing their skills.
In a complementary manner, the idea has struck a chord here with outdoorsmen who don’t necessarily “connect” with other chapel programs but now find they have a ministry geared to their interests. Activities have been as varied as a weekend fishing clinic supported by master anglers in both a classroom and on the lake, capped off by a fish fry fellowship. Nearly all caught fish—and were physically and spiritually fed in the process. A wild game dinner and story night meant sharing recipes, adventures, and even some tall tales—all centered on God’s provision.
Seminars, guest speakers, and support to other organizations offer opportunities to grow and serve, thus teaching, equipping, and fellowship are centerpieces, all the while applying what we learn to Scripture.
The Outfitters program model is certainly not something that needs to remain unique to Fort Leavenworth. Good things happen when strong Christian men and women and others come together, and the place for that isn’t always in a pew. Sometimes you need to go to the wilderness to connect with its Creator. Jesus did, and we know that He was perfectly outfitted. Since perfecting the wearing of armor can only get better when in the company of fellow believers, are you ready to get really “geared up” with the ultimate Outfitter?
Jeff, a retired Army officer now on faculty at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, recently published his first book, “Wilderness Reflections: A Pursuit of God’s Lessons in the Field.” He once led OCF studies on four continents and now leads a neighborhood one.