It’s Thursday morning. I just finished eating French toast and drinking three cups of coffee. Now I sit in a lawn chair on a butte overlooking the Little Missouri River. I sit next to the tent I slept so soundly in last night. The morning sun is not on my back but the cool wind blows in my face. I feel dirty and greasy from a week without a shower and yet I feel clean and wholesome from a week away from the asphalt and concrete we have created. Pheasants cackle loudly in the distance. The grasshoppers are noisy. The K.P. crew yells at one another as they busily wash the breakfast dishes. This is life as God must have intended it to be.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
The wind was mighty as Pastor VanVechton Crane and myself set up our tent last night. The wind was blowing over the top of the butte and filling the inside of the tent urging it to fly off as we struggled to stake down the four corners and then the rain fly. But then as the time for campfire approached the wind died and there was only the stillness of the moonlit night.
Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light, God saw how good the light was. Then God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. Thus evening came and morning followed – the first day.
We arrived at the Badland’s Ministry Camp at 2:30 in the afternoon after having gained an hour by moving into Mountain Time which was to become “Western” time. The week was to become very “western” and very good.
I was two years in to my first call out of seminary in North Dakota at age 28. Our high school youth group joined others on a Wagon Train through the Badlands.
That afternoon we climbed a butte looking over the camp. We thought the view was spectacular but it was only the beginning. On the way down the butte Rhonda and Connie
ran into a rather large bull snake that almost kept them at the top until Glenn, one of our chaperones, assured them the snake wasn’t poisonous and it was safe to pass by. We learned about horses. The names of the parts of their body, how to saddle and unsaddle, groom and feed. We had a good western meal of roast beef and potatoes.
Then evening came. The groups from Towner and Willow City arrived with Pastor Sletto. New names and faces. The kids stayed up most of the night in their tents chattering and wondering what new experiences this week in the Badlands would bring. And morning followed, the first day.
Then God said, "Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other." And so it happened. God made the dome and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome “sky". Evening came, and morning followed - the second day.
We saddled the horses, hitched up the teams and were off on the Wagon Train - the second day. The wagons rode rough and the horses quickly reshaped our legs to the contour of their bodies. Not very far onto the trail one wagon's brakes were dragging on the ground, stopping the wagon-train for we can only continue as one. We are together, dependent on one another.
We rode all day with a stop for a quick lunch out of Gerald's chuck wagon. We covered 15 miles, but it seemed longer and more real than the dream world of automobiles, trains, and jet planes. Somehow this just seemed the way it should be, close to the dirt of the trail, no tinted glass protecting us from the sun, going slow enough to take in and appreciate the trees and the buttes that surrounded us on every side.
Evening came. We ate supper. We walked to the place where two of General Custer’s men carved their names into a rock as they rode to their fate at Custer’s last stand, which was really the last gasp of the Indian people to protect their land and way of life from the inevitable dream world of concrete and asphalt, from automobiles, trains and jet planes.
Now we sat around the campfire. Pastor Sletto had been called away at supper because of an emergency back in Towner. Now he returned. We sat in a circle around the fire enjoying and tired from the new life we had experienced together that day. Pastor Terry stood in the middle of the circle, looking into the fire and told the story of death. A young father and young son had been killed that day in an automobile accident.
There was silence and unbelief and shock. The young boy had planned to come along on this Wagon Train, but at the last minute decided to stay home because his Dad needed him to help out with the work. Terry told this story of death as he stood next to the fire. This was not another campfire story. This was sobering reality. The gut wrenching and suddenness of death. Then the sobbing and crying of those who knew them, went to school and Sunday school with him, lived with them. The silence of the rest of us who did not know them, but could feel and share the grief of those who did as we sat around that campfire.
There would be no campfire songs, no stories that night. There would be only crying and silence and death. Morning followed.
Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, that the dry land my appear”. And so it happened; the water under the sky was gathered into its basin and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land “the earth”, and the basin of the water he called “the sea”. God saw how good it was. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation; every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with it’s seed in it. God saw how good it was. Evening came and morning followed – the third day.
The second day had been exhausting both physically and emotionally. On this day, the third day, we once again hitched up the teams and saddled the horses and began our journey. There was a new appreciation for one another and what we were doing together. Life cannot be taken for granted but must be lived and appreciated, now, today. As we approached washed out creek beds, we unloaded the wagons and nervously watched as each team driver guided his team through the water and mud of the creek beds. We unloaded and walked up steep grades to make it easier on the teams. As behinds became sore there were plenty of horses to ride for those who could still take it.
That night we made camp in a small valley and easily completed our routines of feeding ourselves and the horses, setting up tents, and preparing a campfire. But this night, Ron, our wagon-master, would be taking those of us who volunteered on a twilight, horseback trail-ride. He warned us that it might be a little tough.
He led us between trees and brush that rubbed the sides of our legs. Now we understood why we were warned not to wear shorts on horseback. This is the vegetation that the earth of the badlands brings forth. Prairie grass, cactus, sage, and small, scrubby trees. Mostly the brown and red layers of dirt that make up the sides of the buttes and ridges. Our leader on this trail ride rode out to the point of one such dirt ridge. We followed knowing the view from here would be gorgeous as the sun was setting and almost full moon was rising.
But then, suddenly the leader disappeared over the side of the ridge and he was out of sight. Charmalita disappeared, and then Angie. It was my turn. As I looked down the side where my horse was supposed to go, I was scared. Then my horse looked down and began to back up. I reassured myself by thinking, “If I’m going to die young this would be the way to do it, on an adventure like this”.
The next thing I knew I was at the bottom and smiling along with the rest of us who came down and shared this sense of adventure and accomplishment. And morning followed.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth”. As so it happened; God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. Evening came and morning followed – the fourth day.
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures; cattle, creeping things, and animals of all kinds. As so it happened; God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was.
It was Wednesday morning and time was passing by. There was a creeping thing, a rattlesnake by the side of the road that was immediately killed and skinned, to someday adorn the hat of a more powerful human. We learn there is an order to God’s creation. The creeping things and the cattle are dependent on the vegetation and insects while we are dependent on the wild and domesticated animals for sustenance. Out here this order is obvious. In our cities of concretes, asphalt, automobiles, trains, and jet planes we simply walk down the asphalt street to the concrete grocery store. Or we drive our car if its two blocks away.
With roofs constantly over our head during the day and at night, we very seldom notice the two great lights; the greater one to govern the day and the lesser one to govern the night. And the stars. Out here we notice. Last night we noticed the moonlight reflecting off the sides of the cliffs that overlook the Little Missouri River. There is no need for flashlights. The light of the moon is quite enough. As we ended our campfire by singing the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven”, rather than traditionally looking down to the floor of the church building, we looked up into the heavens and stood in awe of a God who cannot be limited to this earth or to this life. But a God who merely speaks a word and there is creation far beyond what we have learned during our short stay on this spaceship we call earth.
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground”. God created man in his image.
In the divine image he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them saying, “Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth”. God also said “See, I give you every seed bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground. I give all the green plants for food”. And so it happened, God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed – the sixth day.
We as human beings are created in God’s image to act as God’s representatives in having dominion over the earth. That means maintaining the order of creation as God intended it. To be God’s caretakers of earth. On the Wagon Train it means such little things as keeping the horses tied to a picket line so they don’t over-graze, cleaning up after them and ourselves. On a larger scale it means limiting human waste and pollution that so quickly corrupts the order of creation. Ultimately it means eliminating even the chance of a nuclear war that would not only destroy us but all of earth.
To have dominion is an awesome responsibility. We have the freewill because we are in God’s image to either obey or defy the natural order of creation. Six days on a Badland’s Wagon Train helps teach us to appreciate that order and to do our best to use our gifts throughout our lives to maintain that creation as God has intended it to be. May God bless and keep us as we strive to do his will in the midst of his creation that always surrounds us.