"I was never alone"

By Jim Allen

Every once in a while, a story comes along that draws you in like no other. Even more amazing is that while this particular story could have been anyone's story, it carries a theme of uncertainty and drama followed by a divine ending.

This story took place in the summer of 1991 in the Ottawa National Forest located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you have ever been there, you know it's a wonder of nature. Even so, it's not intended for the unprepared hiker looking for an easy walk on a nature trail. The forest is dense and riddled with rock cliffs, wetlands, and fallen trees. Bears roam the forest. Wolves lurk about unseen. Its very appearance says enter at your own risk.

The story begins when a crew of archeologists from the University of Michigan went to survey old logging camps and homestead locations in Ontonagon County. The purpose of the survey was to gather research data for historic publication. After arriving at the location to be surveyed, the crew chief gave each member a map and survey assignment with instructions on where to go and when to return.

What follows is the actual account of that day told by one archeologist on assignment.
The crew chief handed me and three others a photocopy of a map showing where a road turns near a railroad track. All were given survey assignments and told to begin surveying possible building sites and meet back at the vehicle by mid-afternoon. The vehicle would be parked at a different location shown on the map. The road shown on the map was unknown, but assumed to be accurate and intact. None of us had ever been on it, though we trusted the map.

That afternoon deep in the forest, alone and after completing my survey, I began walking east searching for the road shown on the map. But, I kept encountering wetlands with beaver dams. I could no longer go east to the planned meeting point. I was forced to walk in another direction away from the rendezvous point. Soon it became apparent I was lost. I didn't know which way to go. South became north and east became west. The sun was going down and within 3 hours, darkness would seal me in place for the night.

Fear touched my heart and I began to panic, wondering where I would spend the night; should I climb a tree, make a lean-to, or use dry leaves for a blanket?...But then what if it rained? What about the animals prowling about in the night? Bears, wolves and coyotes are part of the Ottawa forest terrain. Staying the night with nocturnal creatures moving about searching for a meal was not my idea of a fun stayover.

Then I began writing on flagging tape and tying strips to branches showing the direction I was walking in case people came looking for me. I was out of water and had to drink from a spring. I asked God for help….I needed something, anything as a sign on where to walk. A peace came over me and I began to calm down…and my thoughts returned. The world made sense again. I intuitively knew what to do and where to go.
The Bible talks about God's response to those who trust Him. Proverbs 3:5-5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths."
After realizing I could no longer get to the road on my current path, where the vehicle was parked, I began backtracking. It was my only option. If I walked west, I would eventually come to the old railroad tracks no longer in use. And following the tracks south would eventually lead to the place where I entered the forest that morning.

I walked for what felt like hours on the railroad tracks. It was getting dark. Objects were becoming hard to recognize in the fading light. I saw what looked like a deer in the distance, but then thought it was bear. Bears don't like intruders and I was such a one. On one side of the track was wetland; on the other side, thick bushes. There was no escape, and outrunning a bear was not exactly what I had in mind. Since the bear did not seem to be moving, I slowly advanced to discover it was a bush. Another prayer answered.

With twilight almost gone and only minutes remaining of light, my path led to the place where I was that morning, a short distance from the road. Now safely on the road with darkness all around, I saw truck lights coming my way. I flagged the guy down and he swung the door open and said, "We've been looking for you!" I got in and sighed relief. When we arrived where the rescue party and vehicles had assembled, I felt embarrassed but thankful.

The next day I learned that the road on the map no longer existed; it had been an old historic road that had been overgrown for decades. Since our crew chief never found the road either, he parked the vehicle on a different road—a place I would never have found. In hindsight, I likely passed the overgrown road and walked into the beaver dam complex not shown on the map. It was then I realized my peril. Whatever the case, I followed a useless map looking for a road that no longer existed.

That day God did not part the branches and trees to show the way out of the forest. Instead, He washed away the fear. He replaced it with peace and a sense of what to do. I was never alone. I walked out of the forest with a renewed appreciation for divine providence (Psalm 91:10-11).

In closing, what I was unsure about at the time was how the guy in the truck appeared at the exact moment I came out from the forest onto the road. It was just like in the movies…a perfect scene for a perfect ending that only God could have scripted for me on that imperfect day (Hebrews 12:2).

Image Credit: Michelle Spencer; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father  | Hardships

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Published 1-3-17