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Sending Ending Cards

by Rev. Doug Douma
SOLA Appalachian Christian Retreat, Unionville, NY
the Missions Banner, March 2024: Online Edition

It has long been a tradition on the Appalachian Trail for hikers to send thank you cards to the places and people that helped them along the way. I fear that with increased communication via texts and social media posting that this tradition has seen significant decline. But I’m glad to say that it is still alive! Every year we get a handful of cards from hikers; usually from those who have finished their journey summiting the great Katahdin in the north woods of Maine. It is always nice to hear that they’ve “made it.”

The end of the trail usually leads to new beginnings. After five or six months away, a hiker returns to the “normal world” (I never say “real world” for the trail is real as well). And when they return it is often to new jobs, new places, or a newly retired life. But the experience of the hike changes them. The things they see along the way are impressed in their minds. Largely away from technology for the length of their hike, they take in the chirps of the birds, the green of the moss on the high ridge of the Great Smokies, and the smell of the cedars while breaking for lunch under a tree-shaded summit. They also, I pray, see that the Christians care for them.

It is not just our Christian ministry, but Christians in general, who do much of the “trail angel” work. I recall the pancakes I ate nearly a dozen years ago at the Baptist Church in Franklin, NC. I remember the cots I slept on in the basement of the Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, VA. I remember the church group cooking burgers and hotdogs for hikers under an umbrella on a cold rainy day. And I pray that the hikers (289 of them last year who stayed at Sola!) will long-remember our hospitality. But more than the shower and bed, I hope they will remember the sermons they heard when visiting our church. I hope they will remember the joy of singing hymns with us around a bonfire. I hope they will remember and be changed by the Lord and all His work. And I hope they will remember our joy in serving them.

As the hikers send us “thank you” cards, I can only think “thank the Lord.” It is from Him that all blessings flow without end.

(pictured above:  Ending Cards Received by the Douma Family)

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