I have been to Birmingham on many occasions for the last eight years or so for my daughter Halie’s college searches; undergraduate and graduate studies; for the beginning of her career in education; and most recently for her work with “Oak Tree Ministries.”
I have been on too many hikes and mountaintops to remember in my years with the Boy Scouts. I have even been on hikes with very young Scouts and remember their awe and fascination with being truly outdoors and away from the “city life”.
What I have never experienced before; however, was taking a hike with the children of Marks Village. From what I had seen on only two prior visits, Marks Village consisted of a stark landscape and faceless red brick buildings.
Seeing Marks Village; however, and experiencing Marks Village are two extremely different things. As Halie (a pied piper of sorts) drove the shuttle through the village, stopping at various points to pick up her beloved students; there were hugs for the children and their siblings too young to accompany us on this field trip; kind words of friendship and encouragement between residents and Oak Tree Volunteers; and conversations with the moms and grandmothers who cared for the children.
The children seemed excited to see us and ready for the trip, even if they had never been to a mountain or taken a hike through the woods.
Having heard many stories about the various problems these children faced while growing up in the Village, I was curious as to how a mere “walk in the woods” could or would impact their troubled world.
Nothing magical occurred on the hike or in the nature museum. I saw children being children; learning about the woods; the lichen and moss growing on rocks and trees; finding spider webs and acorns; and merely experiencing nature as all children do. I saw children observing snakes and turtles within their protective enclosures, marveling at their every movement. I heard questions and answered questions and engaged in conversations about camping and fire building; campfires and s’mores.
But I realized this was the very point of the field trip. Children being children; enjoying the outdoors; seeing God’s amazing creation up close and personal; and, just as importantly, sharing their experiences with those who chaperoned the trip, encouraging each child to learn, experience, and soak up all of their surroundings.
For a time; albeit a brief time, away from the Village, the children were like every other child visiting Ruffner Mountain for a field trip.
As the children were instructed before the hike, and as every good Scout knows, when you enter the woods you “leave nothing but footprints and take away nothing but memories.”
What I observed was something quite different on this hike with the Marks Village children. I believe each one, for a brief but important period, left behind the stark red brick buildings and took with them the warm embrace of God’s love shown through the actions of those who took the time and initiative to minister to them.
I know I did.