Ahrens ready to tackle Appalachian Trail
From Hinton Center to the Appalachian Trail? This week’s guest blog comes from former summer staffer Rachel Ahrens. What an adventure she’s about to embark upon – and we are so excited for her! My heart is happy to read more about her journey…
Hiya friends! Where do I even begin? Maybe with a short introduction, I suppose. My name is Rachel Ahrens, but some call me Dragonfly. I am a senior Outdoor Leadership major with a minor in Appalachian Studies at Young Harris College, located just about 15 minutes away from the Hinton Center. I was a Summer Staffer at Hinton for the 2017, 2018, and 2019 summers. I served as a Summer Missions Leader in 2017, a Field Manager in 2018, and the Missions Activities Coordinator in 2019, and for the summer of 2020 I have to opportunity to serve as the Appalachian Trail Chaplain with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is this really amazing opportunity in which I get to hike the Appalachian Trail (Maine to Georgia) serving as a Chaplain walking alongside those I meet. That’s where the name Dragonfly comes in, it’s my trail name, but I’ll get to that more in a bit. In all honesty, I would not have this opportunity without my time at the Hinton Center shaping who I am today.
While I worked at Hinton there was this stirring inside me to walk alongside individuals. I saw what we did, how we worked, and fell in love with it. In all honestly, I fell in love with the people. Hinton holds a special place in my heart because no matter who you are, or where you come from, they love you, and they respect you. My summers spent working with our homeowners and teams instilled this sense of certainty towards loving on people and meeting them where they are at, a passion for community.
After my first summer at Hinton, I came upon this job, the Appalachian Trail Chaplain, and fell in love with it – I mean I was hooked, it was always on my mind. It took this concept of walking alongside people that I was so passionate about and paired it with another one of my loves—backpacking. When I returned for my second summer I met some of the most incredible people (I did that all three years, but my second summer sticks out the most.) These people were intentional with me and wanted to what it was that drove me. The conversation about the Appalachian Trail and the chaplaincy came up many times, and these were friends who did nothing but encourage and empower me. When I was down, they would share backpacking books with me, when I doubted my abilities and question if I had what it took, they took me on a hike and encouraged me, there were friends who I wouldn’t trade for the world, my fellow staffers. Working at Hinton provides this wonderful community of likeminded people who just want to love people and love God—it’s beautiful.
Now I’ll jump forward a little bit, the Chaplaincy. As the Appalachian Trail Chaplain, I will walk the 2,190+ miles from Mt. Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia commissioned as a chaplain, in which I will spend time with those on the trail in community with them, walking alongside them in whatever capacity that may look like. Many people hike the Appalachian Trail, and for many reasons too. Some hike during a time of transition, like after college, a job change, retirement; some hike after a loss, like divorce, death, job loss; some hike for healing or
clarity. The list could go on and on. The moral of the story is there are a lot of people out there, who come from a lot of different places of life, but they are all people who could use being loved on as people, not as the addict, or the widow, or the recent college grad who has no idea where to go next, just people. That is one of the things I love most about the community. You are surrounded by people who come from all walks of life, who all have different stories, but on the trail, they are on the same playing field.
One of the cool characteristics of the trail community is this idea of a trail name, a name you are given or go by on the trail, a new identity, like Dragonfly. Trail names are sometimes given to you by people influential to your journey (mine was given to me by a professor), some are given because of something that happened or a quality that other hikers notice about you on the trail, even still it can be a name you give yourself (less common) as someone you want to become. It’s wonderful and reminds me so much of the text in 2 Corinthians 5 and how we in Christ are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. The trail creates this new playing field, it wipes away the shame and stigma you may have faced before in your life, and you can take on a new self, you get to create who you are, and that is how you are known.
So whether you know me as Rachel or as Dragonfly, there is a common denominator, my identity as a beloved child of God. Over the years Hinton has instilled a heart for people and community, and understanding that people are people no matter where they have come from or what their past may have looked like and now I get to use that same calling as I walk (quite literally) into this new season of life, walking alongside individuals, loving on them and reminding them that whatever identity they create for themselves on the Appalachian Trail or whatever identity they walk in at home they are forever and always of worth and value and loved by God. Happy Trails!!
If you are a college-aged young adult (or know someone who is) and you want to learn more about Hinton Center’s summer staff opportunities, visit https://www.hintoncenter.org/about-us/employment-opportunities/. You never know where an experience in missions will lead you… “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
[Every summer Hinton Center hires college-aged young adults who are passionate about living out their Christian faith, building relationships with others, mentoring youth, leading teams on home repair sites, and facilitating programming / activities with youth and adults. We equip and train our staff, and provide a lot of leadership development opportunities. Although summer staff live on campus (and get to eat yummy food!), they have separate lodging from youth/adult groups. The great news is our staff don’t need to be skilled in home repairs, but flexibility, positivity and motivation are musts!]