My first semester of Bible college in the Spring of 1997 was going well. I had made some friends, I had become head editor of the college yearbook, and my grades were great. I knew that God had called me to Manhattan, and that he had a plan.
During that semester, a ministry called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks gave a presentation during one of our chapel services. They were looking for students who would join their ministry, providing interdenominational church services at the national parks across the country. Students would work for the ministry, but their actual job would be working for the park companies who ran the hotels and restaurants. I thought that this sounded like a great way to get my feet wet for ministry, so I signed up.
I ended up being assigned to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah as the Student Minister. There was to be a team of 3-4 students, and I would be primarily responsible for the preaching duties. I was hired to work housekeeping during the week and provide the worship services on the weekend. I wasn’t too excited about the housekeeping part, but I knew it would be a great opportunity, so I went.
Right before I left I was informed that the other 3 members of the team had backed out and that I would be going it alone. While not overwhelming, it was quite a shock to go from being a member of the team to being THE team.
Nevertheless, that summer I packed my non-air-conditioned blue Honda and drove to Utah. When I arrived, I got assigned a dorm room and was given the key to the closet where all of the ministry items were kept. There were some Bible and some hymnals, as well as a podium and free-standing wooden cross. All that I really had to rely on at that point was my one semester of Bible college and the training that A Christian Ministry in the National Parks had provided.
So the first morning I was to do a sunrise service overlooking the canyon. It was beautiful. The sun coming up over the canyon, with the cross in front of it, was amazing. But I was the only one who would see it on this particular morning. I was somewhat discouraged, but I stayed there, reading my Bible. Then God encouraged me once again in an amazing way.
A group of 7 or 8 deer walked up to the clearing I was in, and walked right up to the cross. They stood there for a moment, and I was in awe of God’s hand in all of it. I was all alone, looking at the sunset, with some of God’s most beautiful creation gathered around the cross for my first sermon. I honestly don’t remember how long they were there, but I remember singing to myself, “As the Deer” for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, the second scheduled service was attended by actual people. I preached my first sermon, led the singing, and collected the offering. After the service, a woman came up to me and said that she believed that she saw the gift and calling of a pastor in me. She said that she had recently been to Jerusalem and had purchased crosses handmade there. As she handed me one of the crosses, she told me that she gives them as she feels God leads her, to those who are called into the ministry.
God again showed his love for me that day by confirming my calling and encouraging my heart and soul. The summer didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I had some issues with the job, and I faced vandalism to my car because I was a Christian. When I got back to college after that summer, my computer wouldn’t work, and it turned out that my roommate had been the source of the vandalism, and had reformatted my computer hard drive before I moved out. But even through all that, I knew that God was with me and that God had a plan.