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Hallowed Ground

Posted By on November 14, 2016

by Teri Ong

camp-woods2

The backwoods of northwestern Ontario in 1972 is my story of long ago and far, far away. I was to spend my summer there that year, and several others after that. I was going to be a kitchen helper, counselor, story teller, puppeteer, musician and all-around go-fer at a mission camp well off the beaten path between Dinorwic and Sioux Lookout.

Camp-of-the-Woods was still in the development stage in those years. More cabins were needed to replace the cabin-sized tents on wooden platforms. A workshop/shed/barn was in the planning phase, as was a house for the missionary family in charge. But the swampy lakeshore land first had to be cleared of all brush in order to drain well enough for building.

There were no young campers there in mid-June, only those of us volunteers who could come early and stay late to get things in shape for the “real” work– four weeks for area campers plus evening VBS programs on nearby Cree reserves. During these prep weeks, the guys would spend hours with chain saws leveling everything that grew where a building was going to be one day. Then we gals would wade in and haul out anything loose that was laying in the bog.

All of the land we were working was squishy, but not all of it had standing water. Pulling out the small stuff at the edges of the wetland was not too bad. We could make quick progress. We knew we would be wet and dirty, but we would enjoy the evening fire in the lodge that much more, knowing we would at least start out with dry work clothes the next day.

As we worked farther into the area, however, the brush got bigger and taller and the water got deeper. There was no alternative to wading right in calf-deep, knee-deep, or thigh-deep as needed. We would heft the vegetation up on one shoulder and drag it out to the distant brush pile by brute force. Branches would inevitably get trapped in undergrowth and two or three people would have to give them the old heave-ho to pull them free.

camp-woods3I had been working in the brush for several days, long enough that I had run out of fresh clothes and thoroughly dry work boots. Every muscle in my body was tired. My legs were swollen from a multitude of itching, oozing mosquito and spider bites– yes, they could somehow find ways up my pant legs. My hands and arms were scratched and bruised, my face was sunburnt, my hair plastered down with dirt and sweat.

I forced my body to take one more step. There was a crack of branches beneath my foot and I sank deeper into the muck. My shoe made that slurping sound that signals imminent loss if great care is not given to pulling it out of the mire. I got it out– praise God!– and forged ahead.

Ahead of me was a felled sapling with a 6 or 7 inch diameter trunk. It was hard to estimate how tall it had been. Trees seem taller when they’re upright than they do on the ground. But it was a healthy tree with lots of spring sap in it– very heavy!

I strained to get the trunk up on my shoulder. I strained to take each step out of that swamp. I strained to pull that tree over to the brush pile many yards away. With each step I took, my mind chanted, “I think I CAN’T, I think I CAN’T…”camp-woods4

Then there came a realization that flowed over my mind, down to my heart, eventually reaching all the way to my sodden, aching feet. It almost felt like tears flowing down. “This tree is nothing compared to the one Jesus struggled to carry for me.”

My slow chant changed. “I can carry this tree because He carried mine; I can carry this tree because He carried mine…”

The six summers I spent in that place were the most spiritually significant times in my life. God used that place and the people of that place to keep me from turning aside onto the broad road to destruction.

Just as the cross itself was only a small part of the suffering of my Savior, the tree in the swamp would be only a small symbol of the many life struggles that would need to be shouldered in the next 45 years.

In his hymn about the suffering Savior, Joseph Swain poignantly wrote:

 

They pierced through his hands and his feet,

His body he freely resigned;

The pains of his flesh were so great!

But greater the pangs of his mind.

 

The dark swamps with their thick entanglements, heavy weights, impossible tasks, miserable damps and chills, and venomous adversaries now only pictured the greater pangs of the mind that we all experience. Peter taught us that we can suffer such pangs because of our own sinful choices, or we can suffer them righteously for the Savior’s sake. ( 1 Peter 4:1-2) We need to choose well every day.

 

No nearer we venture to gaze

On sorrow so deep, so profound;

But tread with amazement and praise,

And reverence such hallowed ground. (Swain)camp-woods


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