Second all-Salvationist wilderness session inspires and resources
by Jerrie Miller
According to early American naturalist John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” This proved true for 36 Salvation Army leaders and staff from the four U.S. territories who attended the American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS) near Jackson, Wyo. The eight-day intensive, sponsored by Safari Club International Foundation, provided the opportunity to reconnect with nature, learn new skills, study the American model of wildlife conservation, and grow spiritually and personally.
AWLS participants learned to effectively use an outdoor setting as an educational backdrop while participating in fun, exciting activities like fly-tying, a white water rafting trip and fire ecology taught by enthusiastic instructors who are experts in their fields. Guest speakers like Harlan Kredit, a high school science teacher who has spent nearly 50 summers as a Yellowstone park ranger, inspired them to become more aware of the connections in nature and to make good use of natural resources and the opportunities surrounding us.
Classroom studies that allowed participants to become certified as NASP archery instructors and Project WILD educators were balanced with educational field trips to the National Elk Refuge, Teton National Park, oil fields and wildlife migration areas at Pinedale, Wyo.
Asked what surprised him most about the AWLS experience, Echo Grove Camp Director Matthew Coakley said, “How the simple reintroduction of 14 wolves impacted the entire Yellowstone ecosystem.” For Lt. Sarah Eddy, Canton, Ill., corps officer, it was harder to narrow down, “I think for me it was the fire ecology and information about fire management…The reality is fire is a natural process in the forest. In order to have a healthy forest, we need the natural fires.”
Others were surprised by how much they learned or the supply of resources they were able to take back for their ministries. “I see the value of the outdoors more because of my time at AWLS, and it is more important to me that our youth experience the outdoors and grow to love it,” shared Dylan LaCanne from the Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Divisional Youth Department. “It will impact the choices I make and what I prioritize in my ministry.”
Jonelle Bailey, territorial Kroc mission engagement manager, enjoyed the outdoor survival class and stream ecology and learning how to use those in easy and understandable activities. “This training helped to tie together a love of nature, God’s grace and how we can share and educate others, not just the youth,” she said. “There is a variety of information that was provided that can be applied to innumerable programs.”
For David Mowers from the Kansas and Western Missouri Divisional Youth Department, AWLS was an intensely personal experience. “My family went through a house fire back in March, and it has been hard to begin to put things back together. As we stood on the mountainside looking at the scar left from the 2016 Granite Canyon wildfire, I was reminded of God’s faithfulness to bring life from the ashes—literally. We learned about pine trees that can only reproduce when there is a fire. Their cones will not open until then. I now know God provides for the ecosystem after a fire, and life grows from the ashes. I believe God is doing something similar in my life. Things are different since the fire, but I know God is bringing forth new life.”
While most participants were excited to put their new knowledge to use in corps programs, divisional camps or afterschool programs, AWLS left Major Jim Curl, Wichita City commander, pondering how to put the experience to use. “My dream would be to create an opportunity at our camp to capitalize on the outdoor education for youth and adults, perhaps some sort of TSA Outdoors learning center.”
All agreed it was a valuable experience, and they would encourage others to attend. In the words of Major Jim, “I would encourage them not to miss this great opportunity, then beg them to take me back!”
The next AWLS session is scheduled for August 26-September 2, 2020. For information, email [email protected]
photos by Major Cherri Hobbins