Terry did not want to admit the tiny baby snake curled on a leaf was not a threat. The snake did not pose any danger. Yet Terry was petrified and knew little else in the moment besides “I don’t want to be hurt.” Backing off from the scene to gather his wits, Terry stood quietly in a forest into which he had ventured to be alone with God. He was alone in his thoughts. He was alone.
Loneliness creeps up on us in various ways. Even surrounded by people, we may lack the life-giving connections needed, the kind of relationships God designs for us. Before Eve, Adam was alone. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18). After Paul was opposed and abused by the Jews to whom he was initially preaching, he cast himself away from them (Acts 18:6) and must have felt the discouraging weight of loneliness, for “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people’” (Acts 18:9–10). God wanted Paul to know he was not alone, neither spiritually nor physically, even when his own people were against him.
Such is the condition of many pastors these days. While preaching the good news of Jesus, his resurrection, grace, and peace, these pastors nevertheless receive criticism and doubt in return. Not only from the secular community outside the church walls, but from within the body of believers, too. Chinese Christian pastors in America whom we have met all have stories of doubts, despair, frustration, loneliness, and sometimes even betrayal or danger.
To help them, several groups of men have gathered in the outdoors for the purpose of a triple challenge: facing God in the solitude of the mountains, facing other like-minded Chinese Christian men in heartfelt embraces, and facing their own stories while going through a physical test for their health: carrying a backpack for several days in wilderness. Many of these men serve Jesus by leading groups and congregations of Chinese Christians in the United States. This is LeaderTrek, a program of Trailhead Fellowship, partnering in Washington State with the China ministry of ACCTS (the Association for Christian Conferences, Teaching, and Service). Trailhead Leadership also has LeaderTreks and similar programs taking place this year in Colorado, California, Montana, Texas, and Arizona.
Brother Wei wrote this summary of a recent ascent:
The vision of Trailhead Fellowship is to lead every Chinese Christian into the marvelous life of God, and one of our strategies is to take the brothers out of their homes, away from the noise of the city, into the mountains, to appreciate God’s creation, to meditate on God’s Word and be with God in solitude. [Taking] seven hours to climb the mountain…the brothers…discussed the scriptures with each other and shared how to apply God’s words in our lives. For example, what does it mean to “bear with one another”? How do we do this? … we [also spent] some time alone with God before we reached the summit.
…After everyone walked for a while, Brent found that we were going the wrong way, so he called everyone back and led us to the right trail. At that fork, there was a big sign. Several people in the group said they saw the sign, but no one said anything! Brent took this opportunity to talk to everyone about the same mistakes we often make in church, and what should be the right way to approach this issue.
Around noon, we ascended the mountain peak of 5,034 feet! Standing on a high mountaintop, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, reverence for God’s great creation arose spontaneously.
Recently a pastor shared his satisfaction with the emotional safety of such events. “I must keep pretending in front of a lot of people. It is so wonderful to have this group with whom, in Jesus, I can share of my true struggles.” Many nodded their heads in understanding and affirmation. Another pastor shared his observation that “pastors should have hobbies” to have a common thread through which to share joy with others in learning to cook, practicing a sport, or enjoying the outdoors.
Yet others shared:
“This activity allows us to experience the religion in real life.”
“In a typical Bible study, we read the verses very quickly. But during the few hours of hiking, we recited them repeatedly, discussing them with each other. This allowed us to plant the scriptures into our hearts.”
“In the future, when I go out to hike, I will know how to do solitude, how to memorize scriptures, and make better use of my hiking time.”
“It feels so good to hug and exercise with brothers!”
Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV) tells us “The Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” But such instruction is rarely heeded or is hard to follow alone. Setting up the physical, emotional, and spiritual environment for obedience to “stand at crossroads” in unity—deciding which path to take together—allows followers of Jesus to practice both small and big decisions in the Christian life of unity.
Terry was at such a crossroads when he saw that tiny baby snake. Retreating a short distance, he began to ask himself “why am I so afraid of this snake?” He then shared with us after his retreat into solitude that what God spoke to him in that moment was powerful! “Why are you so afraid of that little snake which cannot hurt you?” God said, “When what you truly ought to be afraid of is the big snakes in your heart!” Convicted of his feelings and fears regarding relationships with others, Terry walked away from the scariest moment of the day with the renewed conviction that he must continue to pray and ask for help in dealing with spiritual venom in his own heart. So, he told us.
Will you join us in praying for Chinese Christian pastors from all churches and traditions, today?
Trailhead Fellowship 山前团契 serves Chinese Christian leaders in the United States with men’s ministry events: LeaderTrek in the mountains, spiritual life retreats, and pastoral care. A women’s LeaderTrek will take place in September.
Find information in English on the Trailhead Fellowship website.
For a Chinese newsletter (中文) of activities, sign up at the website on the contact page.
Image credits: Header, LMoonlight via Pixabay; in-text images courtesy of Brent Hoover (images 1 and 5); Carson Tavenner (images 2 and 3); and Zhang Zhaolong (image 4).
Carson Tavenner is the China Director at the Association for Christian Conferences, Teaching, and Service (ACCTS). Carson and his wife, Wendy, minister to Chinese Christians in the mainland, Taiwan, and North America in the area of leadership skills and character development. View Full Bio
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