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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
Lauren and Anna Tetons.jpeg

Meeting God in the Tetons

Best friends reflect on summer internship in national park

This summer, sophomores — and best friends — Anna Runion and Lauren Dykes found themselves drawn to a three-month adventure serving the Lord in the Tetons.

A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) is an organization that equips Christians to lift the name of God at 45 national parks across the United States.

According to their website, ACMNP described their ministry as “(giving) a Christian interpretation to the awe and grandeur of God’s creation in the nation’s national parks.” They provide Sunday worship services for the parks’ various visitors and employees.

Since visiting her older brother out West when he had been involved with ACMNP in years past, Runion has held a desire to apply and spend one of her own summers in that way.

Because there are so many possible job sites, the ministry has applicants indicate their top three desired parks. Once accepted and placed into one of the parks, the workers will also apply for a seasonal position through the park.

“I think a big part of my summers is wanting to go get new experiences before I’m an adult and having to work a job, and so my parents actually really encouraged me to go off and do something fun,” Runion said. “I really felt like God was leading me towards the Tetons.”

In her excitement, Runion told a few friends about the national park ministry, including Dykes, who was convinced to join.

Both girls were accepted to work in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; Runion as a housekeeper and Dykes as a corral wrangler.

In the spring, the ACMNP Teton ministry team gathered for training at a conference of 300 people in Colorado. There, they learned the heart behind the ministry and practiced what it would be like to lead a worship service with a small group.

Every Sunday throughout the program, Runion and Dykes helped lead these services in five different locations across the park. Each involved a time of worship, a 25-minute message led by one of the team members and prayer. All guests were invited to join, whether they knew about the ministry or just happened to stumble across a service after a hike.

Both Runion and Dykes felt that though these services were a big part of their ministry, the true mission of ACMNP is to empower its leaders to witness to the park’s seasonal workers that they live and work with every day.

“I think that’s kind of the face of the ministry,” Dykes said. “But after being here, I’ve realized that the main point of the ministry is relational ministry with our coworkers. The real ministry I’m doing is just loving them, being different, setting an example and getting the opportunity to talk to them about Jesus — not just talk during our worship services.”

They found this to be a learning curve, as they had gone from a Midwestern Christian school to a place where most of their daily encounters were with unbelievers.

Yet, the girls spoke of how the Lord met them there — and abundantly so.

“I remember we got there, and it just felt very daunting,” Runion said. “But I slowly saw him work in the relationships I started building with my coworkers.”

Runion’s housekeeping routine was largely mundane. Every day, she woke up early to run and do a devotional before work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

She felt that the not-so-glamorous ins and outs of cleaning allowed her to embrace an attitude of humility, and reminded her that she was placed in the Tetons to serve others.

Apart from listening to podcasts during her eight-hour workday, Runion developed a personal cleaning ritual.

“Every time I made a bed, I would pray for one of my coworkers or someone there, and then every time I cleaned a toilet, I would pray for someone from home,” she said.

In this way, Runion found great purpose in otherwise menial tasks.

She found delight in knowing that housekeeping could be just as much a ministry as were the Sunday worship services.

“Not everyone is going to be a pastor,” Runion said. “But your job is just as meaningful because you can bring God into that space.”

Dykes’ work as a corral wrangler looked different from Runion’s. Coming into the summer, she was excited to get the chance to work with horses since she had grown up riding.

From 5:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Dykes helped prepare the park’s 48 horses for trail rides with visitors. She was serving on a team of 11 wranglers ranging from age 19 to 69, each with diverse personalities and backgrounds.

“I just never would have met these people if not for this,” Dykes said. “We have one similar interest and it’s horses, and that’s it.”

Dykes set an expectation early on that gospel conversations with coworkers would come easily, which turned out not to be reality. She felt the pressure to compare herself with her teammates who she believed were making stronger connections in witnessing. 

Yet, she felt God nudging her to a different way of evangelizing.

“It’s easy to get jealous over that and just let pride take over in that moment,” Dykes said. “Then I realized…it's not necessarily my job only to tell people about Jesus and who he is but it is more so my job to actually show them who he is through my actions and through the way I live my life.”

After adopting this mindset, Dykes found herself engaged in even more productive conversations with coworkers about faith.

It was not easy for Runion and Dykes to exchange the comfort of familiar home rhythms for life in the Tetons, but God’s faithfulness prevailed, and both found great fulfillment.

For those spending their college summers in a new state or in an internship experience, Dykes encourages students that it is best to surrender expectations and rely on the Lord.

“The more you rely on your relationship with him and the more time and effort you put into that, the far greater he's going to be able to use you in whatever position you are and wherever you are,” she said.