Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat is a ministry my wife and I are founding.
On March 18, 2013 I quit my job (and 10-year career) as an engineer to attend seminary. Since seminary did not commence until September of that year, I had some 5 months free to pursue an idea brewing in my mind for the previous five years – complete a thru-hike of the 2,186-mile Appalachian Trail.
Ten days later, March 28, 2013, I (with my dog and brother who drove me there) was at the base of Springer Mountain in Georgia at the southern terminus of the AT. One hundred and forty-three days from then I reached the northern terminus on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in the wilds of Maine.
The intervening adventure brought many great highs and lows in my life – physically in mountain elevation changes, financially in an ever-decreasing bank account, and spiritually in my experiences on the trail. (Incidentally, parts of my adventure are chronicled in at least two books – (1) Don’s Brother, a Hike of Hope on the Appalachian Trail, and (2) Hiking to Beer: A Memoir.
Along the route of the trail were many hiker hostels. After spending quiet time in the woods for days, I reveled in the social atmosphere of the hostels. Most of the hostels were straight-up businesses, but others were donation-based church ministries, giving up their basements or annexes to stinky hikers to recover from their arduous days of hiking. Of these church-based hostels I stayed at one of nearly all of the major Christian denominations: Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, and one Roman Catholic.
However, at few of these places could one hear the gospel. Sometimes it was for lack of staff entirely. In other cases, the church hostel was too modernistic (or post-modernistic) to speak any gospel other than a bare social gospel of physical support to hikers.
After my hike was complete and I began seminary, my mind would continually come back to the hikers I had met on the trail. I thought often how the hostel experience gave great opportunities for speaking about the gospel to inquisitive seekers who intentionally have forgone most electronics and news media for their 4-6 month hikes. Continuing at seminary to pursue pastoral ministry I sought (without success) internships at various churches in our winter off-seasons. As a roadblock to pastoral ministry seemed to be in my path I started to consider another option – using my MBA and starting business, a hiker hostel on the Appalachian Trail.
As part of my research in Christian communal living I spent two months (Jan and Feb of 2016) at L’Abri Christian Fellowship in Switzerland. There I met Priscilla – also a Presbyterian, also originally from Michigan, and also interested in ministry. My attempt to scare her away with the challenges that lay ahead in my mission failed, and we got married in October of the same year. Her previous work at a small rustic resort in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan brings hospitality experience to our mission. And her cooking brings a smile to the face of all our guests.
II. Our Motivation.
Along the Appalachian Trail I met many searching individuals. They had each left their lives to push out big miles with big backpacks up big mountains. Why? The answer in each case varied. But, to a certain extent each person was searching for something.
It is my contention that all people will continue to search until they’ve found the ultimate greatest thing. No one can be satisfied so long as their are deficiencies in what they have. And thus no one is satisfied until they know the Lord, for only God is perfect. And no one knows the Lord until they believe the Gospel – the good news that Jesus died and rose again, showing him, based on Old Testament prophecies, to be the promised messiah and Lord, ushering in the kingdom of God with it’s justice and peace, and forgiving the sins of God’s people so that they are seen as righteous in his sight.
III. Our Goal
Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat intends to be primarily a hiker hostel, catering to thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. But, there are a number other ways we hope to use this ministry. In the non-hiking season we plan to host foreign missionaries on medium-term stays. We also are looking into the possibility of 2 or 3 month “terms” where students can come stay in our quiet setting, contribute to the homestead/hostel chores, and study in our library of Reformed Christian (along with hiking adventure) titles.
We are currently searching for property near the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia to start our ministry.
IV. How you can be involved.
1. Pray for our ministry.
2. Donate financially to our ministry. http://discoversola.com/index.php/donate/
3. Donate stuff to our ministry. http://discoversola.com/index.php/2016/12/31/a-list-of-needed-stuff/
4. Talk to your church elders and/or mission committee about us speaking at your church.
5. Like our FB page – “Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat”
6. Considering volunteering – we’ll need help cooking, cleaning, building, and many other tasks.
7. Tell missionaries about our place as an option for them to stay when back in the states.
8. Subscribe to our newsletter on http://www.discoversola.com