PART 2: Getting an Education.
In the middle of what became a twelve month process, my wife and I dove neck-deep into the world of dog-sled racing. You see, to back up a bit, my wife had been enamored with the magic of mushing and dog driving since she was a little kid and did a report on the subject in school. I was “hooked” the first time I ever watched the downtown start of the UP200 sled dog race in Marquette Michigan in 2004. This actually was one of those adventuresome selling points at which the Lord coaxed me into moving to the Upper Peninsula in the first place.
Oh how I had no clue how this would come back to haunt me in the best of ways….
Anyway, back to the educating of an Indiana boy and his eager-beaver wife into all things mushing. As the questions rolled in, as mushers called us, and even a couple attended our later meetings…we started hearing the true girth of the undertaking of what we were chewing on: how many dogs, six or eight or ten? How long will the trail be? The trail has to be well-groomed and smooth, not too dangerous, but fun and within the average training distances of a decent group of seasoned dog drivers. What about a stage race? What about mid-distance? Who will the race marshall be? How do you take care of your sponsors. Do you know you need vets on staff to take care of dogs? And on and on and on. Could have been truly daunting. Could have been….
So on we prayed.
Some of my deepest prayer concerns were that God would bring us the right people and put them in the right places. From sponsors to mushers to vets to mentors, we needed key people that would not try to take the race over, yet help us in our goals and encourage us along the way. I kept thinking, “This is a whole new ball game (with no ball, mind you) and these people don’t have to let us into their tight community…this has got to be the Lord, or it won’t work.” Looking back, it is truly awe-inspiring the people God pulled together to make the 2013 IronLine happen.
From a witty, older musher with loads of pragmatism and level-headedness as Race Marshall, to a headstrong and confident, über-organized Race Director as a logistics mentor, we seemed to have all the right pieces you could ever hope to have involved in a new race with wet-behind-the-ears organizers. We started getting phone calls from 20-year race vets who seemed to love to share knowledge and understanding and from mushers from all over the upper Midwest and Alaska (score!) who wanted to just chat about race formats and dogs and breeding and Iditarod and the fact that we were in community ministry and their families and more and more and more! I felt like we had just barely pushed on a door and it flew open and broke off the backside hinges and fell into a snow bank.
Grace and I found ourselves in the middle of something. We drove four hours in September to head to the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and then back to the same area in early January for the first race of the season north of Newberry Michigan. There we met other organizers and mushers, both veterans and newer faces…some had already started to register for our race! It was surreal to say the least. I remember thinking, if this was God, we needed to jump in with all our feet. At that race, we tried dog handling, we talked to mushers about their training and their teams, we even watched the little things: what kind of bibs do they have? How many dogs? How far? Why do they have two chutes? Who does the timing? How? Oh crap, what is that chain running across the start line? Why are they hooking into it with their snow hooks? We haven’t even thought of that!!! Floods. Of. New. Knowledge.
And, at this point, you could be thinking…why would a pastor and his wife and four kids and a young-gun little church get caught up in all this? I mean, this could definitely be a tad off track, or really far off for that matter! We are/were with you. I called my mentor and friend John Higgins and several other pastors and confidants and told them everything I had thought God was showing us about this stupid sled dog idea and basically dared them and baited them to shoot us down for being out of pocket and off the backside of our rockers. Note: I don’t sit in “rockers” much.
Darn it! Wouldn’t you know it, we couldn’t get any other leaders or pastors or friends to tell us not to do it. I really think they didn’t want any blood on their hands either way. I guess, what I felt Jesus telling me about why this was all happening boiled down to this: Christians should set the tone for culture in their communities. Far too long have we let the beer companies and everything pertaining to sex, drugs, and rock & roll tell us how we should live and have a good time. We have prayed and agonized and prayed some more that our town would not just rot in depression and obscurity, but have a revival and spring to life. It is depressed with suicide, rife with alcoholism, pregnant with destructive sexual practices, and murder on the family. Single moms and absent dads are everywhere; kids got no hope. And then there’s the economy, very rough and very much struggling. People here needed something to hold on to, some identity and a chance to see things very differently. I was starting to believe that there was much more going on than just a fun and exciting event to promote “community vitality.” No, these were heaven-born seeds of revival, and this was just the beginning.
So forward we marched…down the snowy trail. Remind me later to tell you about how important it is to have snow at a sled dog race….
Stay tuned for more.