Packing it Out.

Packing It Out: Loads, Life, and LoveClearcut

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” Gal 6:1-5 (NKJV)

The Alaskan native name for Admiralty Island is “Fortress of the Bears.” Besides a healthy brown bear population it also contains a large Sitka Blacktail deer herd. The northern end of Admiralty is a short boat ride from Juneau and a popular hunting area. In good weather we would run over by skiff for a day hunts. The area has tide ranges from minus four feet lows to over twenty-two feet highs. Frequently the blacktails will walk the exposed beaches and make it easy to pack out after a kill, but usually they like the ridges well off the beach. Hunting the old growth forest of Southeastern makes you feel like Daniel Boone. The understory is wide open except for occasional patches of blueberries or devil’s club. A six inch carpet of moss covers the ground making even the heavy footed hunter able to move like a ghost. The standard technique for blacktail is to follow game trails toward the ridge lines and hopefully make a shot. A good snow cover allows the hunter to find fresh sign and track the animal until close enough for a shot. Most shots are less than 100 yards unless you find the deer on the muskeg meadows common to the area. I have never hunted a more rewarding method.

Each Veteran’s Day weekend a group of friends would schedule a hunt on Glass Peninsula and reserve the Forest Service cabin located on the other side of the peninsula. One of the best kept secrets of Alaska, the United States Forest Service has log cabins scattered throughout the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. Most of the cabins can only be reached by boat or floatplane and have bunks for six to eight people. The cabins make Alaskan hunting enjoyable in the rainy Southeast Alaska winter.

Friday afternoon we made the run around Douglas Island and across the channel into Oliver Inlet. After anchoring the boat we spent the rest of the afternoon packing our gear across the mile wide neck to the cabin. In November sunset comes around four o’clock so we finished the job in the dark. Fortunately sunrise comes late. Saturday morning we divided up with most of us hunting the lower ridges near the cabin and around the inlet.

That night we had a great meal from the camp stove while drying our gear from the warmth of the woodstove. All but one of us had drawn blanks. Tracy had hunted a ridge line about three miles from the cabin and had shot two bucks. He had packed out the hind quarters from one and hung the remaining meat and carcass in a tree. Since it was more than halfway through the hunting season and I had no meat in the freezer I accepted Tracy’s offer to pack out the whole deer. I wanted more of the backstrap steaks we enjoyed for dinner. During the night we had the first snow of the season.

I will never forget that second day of hunting on Glass Peninsula. Dave decided to stay at the cabin due to a severe headache. So the rest of us started out the door into the early morning darkest. As I crossed the threshold two shots rang out from the bottom of the steps. Tracy had kept his rifle on the front porch so his scope would not fog. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw a nice buck running out onto the moonlit snow covered grass flats at the top of the cove. The fresh snow contrasted with the deer well enough that it was like shooting by street lamplight. Most of us had not stepped off the front porch and a deer was already down. Backtracking we discovered he had been standing at the bottom of the steps when we startled him. Dave volunteered to skin the deer so the rest of us could continue hunting.

About a half mile up the trail Tracy led me off toward the ridgeline where yesterday’s kill hung. Over the next two miles we found deer in every meadow. I had four tags to fill but already had one three mile hike to get out yesterday’s buck. Before I shot my first deer of the day Tracy and I stopped on the tree line and discussed the buck’s merit and the packing involved. He was a healthy animal with a good rack so I decided to drop him. We repeated the debate twice more before getting to Tracy’s buck. By ten in the morning I faced packing four deer to the cabin. Tracy left me with my problem while he went looking for a bigger buck.

Sitka Blacktails are smaller than most whitetails. My four bucks each weighed around one hundred and fifteen pounds. Over the years of deer hunting I had assembled gear that was designed for packing meat. I had a pack frame with a shelf and a collection of heavy duck sacks that were about the diameter of a pie plate and three feet long. I hung each deer and skinned and boned the carcass. By trimming all the bone and fat I ended up with around two hundred pounds of meat. I did some quick math. I could make several trips with lighter loads but end up walking ten miles or one trip heavily loaded. I decided to compress the anguish into one trip. Strapping the sacks onto the frame I started down hill.

I thought the next two hours would never end, but I did gain a new understanding of Galatians 6:1-5. The toughest part of packing a heavy load is the transition from the ground to the shoulders. Getting the load to the shoulders takes so much energy it is better not dropping the load. So how does one rest if they can’t put down their load? As I came down the ridge I looked for every blowdown and stump I could find. When I found one the right height I would turn around and back up to the trunk. Propping up the frame I could give my shoulders, back, and thighs a rest. Back at the cabin I discovered my heavy duty frame was warped.

Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens” but three verses later writes, “For each [person] will bear his own load.” Is this one of those “contradictions” biblical nay sayers are always talking about, or does Galatians give us practical advice for living out our faith in community with other Christians? The Greek word used by Paul for “burden” means a heavy load, a pack frame warping load, an exhausting load. In verse five the Greek word translated “load” means a “day pack,” a load that everyone normally carries.

If you want guidelines for small group accountability this passage is for you. Most young men I speak with today express a desire to be mentored by an older Christian and want to be in a small accountability group. Perhaps this is a generational expression of the importance of community, or their awareness of the failure of the Boomer generation’s individualism. Paul prescribes the first condition of accountability, spiritual health. When Paul states that one must be “spiritual” to confront a sinning brother he does mean that only spiritually mature super saints are qualified. But, one is required to be spirit filled, confessed up to date, and in right standing with God to be involved in confrontation. The second requirement to assist a fallen brother is humility. Paul’s words carry a tone of warning. If we do not remain painfully aware of our own past sins and ongoing potential for sinning and therefore reject self-righteousness we will not have the brokenness prerequisite for being used by God. We might not fall into the sin of the brother we are seeking to restore but we will become the legalistic individuals Jesus’ often condemned.

Living in a fallen world means we all have burdens. Paul reminds us to examine our own lives and understand our own personalities. Each of us has our own areas of sin. I don’t struggle with gluttony, or anger, but I do constantly battle pride. That is the day pack God expects me to carry. As I continue to mature in that area of my Christian walk I can rejoice in what the Holy Spirit has accomplished in my life.

Sometimes the burdens become too much to carry and there are no stumps and deadfalls to provide a rest to the weary. Pornography and sexual immorality defeats Christian men in epidemic proportions today. I know men that have destroyed their marriages, lost their families, and left the ministry as a result of sexual impurity. A Christian brother in that situation needs someone to “come along beside” (the Greek word Jesus used to refer to the Holy Spirit) him and take the load off. I can not remove the total burden but I let him know he is not alone. Otherwise, how can a fallen man believe that God loves him when God’s people don’t demonstrate that love?

I have had several hunting partners over the years, men with whom I enjoyed spending time in the woods. Over time I noticed that we all carried our hunting packs without complaint but were quick to split out a heavy load among us so no one carried a crushing load. They made each trip memorable.

Rodeo Week – Opening Night

Team ropers watching a bronc rider on opening day.

Team ropers watching a bronc rider on opening day.

The Livingston Roundup officially began on July 2. “Slack day” contestants had competed in their events on the overflow day and had packed up and left for other rodeos.  The first event for the day was the Livingston Parade. You have never experienced a 4th of July parade until you go to a small town in the west for a parade. In Juneau you could see people walking the route in halibut suits. Nothing like seeing a six foot fish walking the streets. There weren’t any fish in the Livingston parade, but there were firetrucks, antique cars (including the first car in Livingston), and horses. One of the guys working the stock pens with me on Slack day, Phil, had his string of pack mules from his family outfitter/guide business. The parade reveals the centrality of the horse to Montanan culture. In the east a child may grow up playing with the family dog. In the west children grow up on horseback.

Tiffany & sauner Wood watching the parade from the front window of Cornerstone's new location.

Tiffany & Sauner Wood watching the parade from the front window of Cornerstone's new location.

Starting young

Starting young

parade girl

Phil leading his pack train.

Phil leading his pack train.

Phil 2

Thursday morning the workcrew from Spotswood Baptist Church started off their day with the Rodeo grounds clean up.  Then they cleaned out the debris from the renovations. The new facility will open in September after a workcrew/mission team does the interior work needed to turn the building into a church building. However, since the building is on the parade route Paul and Cody wanted the building’s restrooms available. Quite a few people took advantage of the offer including a number of locals who were interested in Cornerstone’s new location.

The rodeo began at 8:00 p.m. The work crew manned the hospitality tent cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for the constestants and their families. Paul did a great job leading a short chapel service for the cowboys. He contrasted the dependability and faithfulness of Christ to the way that others sooner or later fail us, whether it is your horse, roping partner, family, or friends. Later that evening his words were displayed in the team roping event. The announcer introduced a father and son roping team. The father held multiple world champion roper titles and had just begun roping with his son. After the introduction the steer broke from the gate.  Both ropers must rope the steer. The header ropes the horns to turn the steer and then the heeler must rope both legs to get the maximum score and time. It takes the teamwork of the ropers and the horses.The father missed and they were disqualified.  Even world chapions can let you down. By the time the rodeo ended, the hospitality tent cleaned up, and we got back to the house, it was 11:15. The 7:30 a.m. rodeo trash pickup came early the next morning.

Barrel racers watching the competition.

Barrel racers watching the competition.

The International Mission Board uses the term “Unreached people group” to describe a group who share a common language dialect, customs, etc, that  has not been evangelized. Montana Baptist  have identified 200 unreached people groups in the state. They range from cowboys to the various Indian tribes. Ninety-five percent of the population is  unchurched. Some people may think that since cowboys are Americans and look like us they are evangelized. If you think that the cowboy culture is just like yours, spend time at a rodeo. The rodeo competitors and the people of Livingston need the Gospel. The work that the people of Cornerstone are doing is gaining the attention of  the unchurched, but it will take time.

I coined a term, “harsh climate mentality,” a few years ago to describe people who live in places like Montana. People who have settled in harsh climates, whether it is the desert Southwest, Alaska,  New England, or where ever, develop an individuality and self-reliant spirit. When someone moves into the area they wonder how long the person will last. I remember how people would come to Alaska in the summer and talk about how they loved it and their plans to stay. However, once October came with its 40 inches of rain and constant lack of sunshine, they would line up to catch the next ferry south. First Baptist Church, Ketchikan, Alaska, had two pastors serve a total of seventeen months out of a five year period. The church had longer interims than pastors. I have heard people in New Hampshire say to a church planter, “How long are you going to last?”  Because of this mind set, and the fact that it takes time to become known in a community, it takes several years before church planters begin to see their efforts bearing fruit. Cody  and Paul had several “spiritual” conversations this rodeo with people they have known for two years. Hopefully, we will see even greater things happen in the coming years. I for one plan on being in Livingston for next year’s rodeo. After all I have the hat.

Some of my new friends.

Some of my new friends.

Rodeo Week- Thursday

I am going to put all the opening day rodeo information on my final rodeo page. Because, I want to focus on the day’s events before the opening night’s activities. Paul, Christine, Cody, and Tiffany have done so many things right when I look at the first two full years of their lives in Livingston. They came with a sense of calling and servant hearts. It is easy to see they love Montana and the people. The lead  in (pre-deployment) phase paid off. The time spent in prayer, visiting the area, and building partnerships allowed them to accomplish most of what they have done. This week is a great example.

Work crew removing the renovation debris.

Work crew removing the renovation debris.

Spotswood Baptist Church from Fredericksburg, Virgina, sent a mission team to help with rodeo week. Spotswood is Paul and Christine’s home church prior to their enrolling at SEBTS. This has become an annual mission trip for the church. They arrived on Tuesday and helped reset the tent after Monday’s storm. Since that time they have picked up trash each morning at the rodeo grounds, hauled out the debris from my going berserk on the new location’s interior, and anything else that needed to be done.

Cody and Paul will be the first to tell you that they would not have the respect and acceptance they enjoy if it were not for mission teams. In Acts the apostles were faced with a ministry decision, would they do a good thing and take care of the widows and orphans, or would they stick to their main responsibility. Church planters have only so much time and energy, especially when they have to work another job as Paul and Cody are now doing. Church planting is labor intensive; survey work, block parties, sports camps, construction projects, and other projects are beyond the resources of most plants. Projects that would take  the planter and his wife weeks to do are done in days. The planters can burn out doing good things, and fail to do the job they came to do. The Spotswood team pick up the trash around the rodeo grounds in about an hour. It would take a whole day otherwise.

Spotswood work team manned the hospitality tent serving the rodeo cowboys.

Spotswood work team manned the hospitality tent serving the rodeo cowboys.

I have always recommended to my planters that they develop partnerships with multiple churches. The partnerships should be beneficial to both parties, have a known life span, and prioritize prayer and participation over finances. I would rather have a church’s prayers and people than its money. A  check will help for the short term, but a mission team and prayer will help the planter find people who will become part of the plant. Of course, if the partners are praying and participating they will usually also help financially.

Partnerships help the church planters in another way. I had several families in my church in Soldotna, Alaska, who joined from an independent church background. They often asked why we were Southern Baptists. I tried to explain but it never clicked. Then we had a mission team come to help us build our new facility. Those guys came from Mississippi and worked twelve hour days to raise our roof and side walls. They stayed with our church families and many became our good friends. After the first team left both families separately came to me and said almost the same thing, “Now we know why we are Southern Baptists. We have never had another church ever help us do anything.” Churches working together to accomplish what one can not do alone is at the heart of the Cooperative Program.

I love the Cooperative Program and I am afraid that a new generation of SBC ministers do not appreciate the gift that it is. Our men and women recieve a quality seminary education at 1/3 the cost of other schools and then some go out and start churches that have little involvement with the SBC and the Cooperative Program. My church in Alaska was blessed by financial and prayer support from the HMB through the Church Growth Assistance program. It was a blessing to recieve the frequent cards from fellow Christians who were praying for our work. My brother, Don, and his family served for ten years in the Philippines with the Foreign Mission Board (IMB’s old name). His daughter, Shannon, and her family served in South Asia with the International Mission Board. They did not have to spend the majority of their time fund raising as other denominations’ missionaries must do. And, I appreciated the manner in which IMB took care of the family after the death of my grandnephew, J.D. There are some good organizations involved in missions and church planting, and some mega-churches are accomplishing great things. But, as good as Acts 29 and other groups are, they will never be able to match the work of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. SBC churches fund over 5,000 international missionaries and 5,000 ministry positions in North America.  The Cooperative Program will wither on the vine in the next several decades unless the younger generations understand its uniqueness. Today’s younger generation of Southern Baptist are looking for “value added” organizations. Don’t expect them to support a program just because it is the denomination’s.  They want to know that they are going to benefit from the participation. They do not support  impersonal programs. The mission education ministries of the SBC: Mission Friends, R.A.s, and G.A.s have been replaced by AWANA and other approaches that do not focus on missions. Partnerships can revitalize mission giving through the Cooperative Program. When a mission team works with men like Cody and Paul and sees the lostness of North America putting names and faces on the 210 million plus unchurched of North America, they increase their giving to missions. When that is connected with the realization that because of the Cooperative Program they are not only helping the work in Montana, but the U.S., and the world; missions becomes personal. I believe that participation in our mission organizations needs to benefit the contributing churches, but our churches also need to remember that they are needed by ministries in Montana and other tough places. Sometimes you need to give without demanding a “return.”

Rodeo- Wednesday “Slack Day”

Slack Day is anything but slack. It is the overflow day for the rodeo. Today the barrel racers, calf ropers, roping teams, and bull doggers competed. Paul and I worked the stock pens. Ray, who looks like a bearded old cowpoke, but has a Ph.D and has taught at Montana State for 30 years, and Rob were in charge of the pens. The cattle would be separated into six pens and I ran two of them. You had to go in and write down the numbers branded in their flanks, or on their ear tag. When the steer was scheduled to run you had to separate them from the rest of the cattle. Some of them would go out the gate and down the chute on their own. Some weren’t about to go. They would pile in a corner, kick, or do anything to stay in the pen. I was one of the few who didn’t get kicked at least once.Walking into a herd of eight or nine steers and shoving them around or “influencing” their direction was definitely not boring.

Paul and I almost look like we know what we are doing, almost.

Paul and I almost look like we know what we are doing, almost.

Rob grew up in Livingston and is the epitome of a Montanan. Within the first twenty minutes Rob took a direct kick to his thigh. The kick staggered him, but he did not quit. The rest of the afternoon he had trouble walking. When his pants leg tightened on his thigh you could see the bulging knot. In the next three hours Rob was kicked four more times, that I saw. The last time I grabbed his shoulder to keep him up because he almost fell. One of the steers decided to rotate ninety degrees and kick  Rob instead of kicking me. Rob never complained, refused to ease up and just handle the gates, or act like anything was wrong. However, when he thought no one was looking he would grimace and reveal intense pain. What Rob did was “Cowboy Up.” There was no way that Rob was going to show weakness in front of all the other men. When life is tough, you cowboy up. When you get kicked, you cowboy up.

Cody & Ella at the barrel racing starting gate.

Cody & Ella at the barrel racing starting gate.

Paul and Cody are ministering in a culture that values self-reliance and toughness. They are making inroads with the community because they are earning the right to be heard. The mental toughness of western culture is a result of the settlers who tamed this land. It is a wonderful quality that gives the people here a character that I love. However, it is a tremendous spiritual barrier. It is hard for a person who has been self-reliant to come to a Savior that requires brokenness. Going through life without asking for help makes it tough to accept the gift of the cross. Livingston will be won to Christ through prayer and a witness that has earned the respect of the people. Cody and Paul are showing their neighbors that a man can be a Christian and still a man.

Sorting steers

Sorting steers

How cowboys watch the rodeo.

How cowboys watch the rodeo.

The work team from Virginia preparing to feed the cowboys and cowgirls.

The work team from Virginia preparing to feed the cowboys and cowgirls.

Rodeo Week- Tuesday

Today was spent ripping out more of the interior walls for the new facility. Tomorrow the rodeo cranks up and there will be more postings.  We had a Montana thunderstorm come through a take down the tent so we will have a busy Wednesday. I will be adding to this entry a little later in the day.

The morning after the storm. Six steel rods were bent double and both cables holding the main poles were snalled.

The morning after the storm. Six steel rods were bent double and both cables holding the main poles were snapped.

The cowboys started showing up and settling in for the rodeo. Some travel first class.

The cowboys started showing up and settling in for the rodeo. Some travel first class.