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A Wagon Train Parable

January 26, 2011

I’ve got a little story to share today.  I’ve been pondering again and I’ll let you figure out this little “parable.”

Once upon a time, there were three groups of people who decided that they would make a journey.  They were like many others who felt the pull, the “calling,” to move West and start a new life in a foreign land.

As fate would have it, and as I would have it since I am telling the story, each group was composed of ten families.  Men, women and children of all ages and stations in life. Some were educated, some were not. Some had money, some did not.

But, they hitched up their wagons and possessions in different parts of the East and headed for the point where all of their stories would converge: St. Louis, Missouri.

Picture yourself in the frontier town of St. Louis, Missouri.  The jumping off point for the adventurous souls who were bitten by the “Go West!” bug.  Groups, big and small, would stop off here, after crossing the Mississippi River, to re-supply before heading off across prairies and mountains. Heading to their new promised land.  It was a dangerous trek and not everyone would make it.

Let’s meet our groups.

First, there’s the Red Wagon Train.  They’re very worried that they have gotten to St. Louis too late and winter is going to hit before they can cross the mountains and get to California.  They are worried they will run out of provisions. So, they hit all of the stores in the town.  Even when it looks like their horses will never be able to carry the load.  In the evening, they sit with their maps and argue about what course to take. Which will be easiest? Or should they take the quickest route, even though there are more perils?

Then, there’s the Yellow Wagon Train. They’re pretty comfortable with their supply situation. The load is heavy now, but will lighten as they go. They’re ready to head out tomorrow, not overly worried about beating winter.  They’re confident in their abilities.  And they’ve got maps and compasses. All the latest navigational stuff.

Last up is the Green Wagon Train.  They’re not worried about supplies.  They come from the mountains of Virginia and are used to making do and hunting, fishing, and gathering.  They don’t really have any maps other than hand drawn ones in letters written to them by people who have already made the trek, telling them what to expect.  And they got a lead on a really good guide.  They’ve heard others talk about the guide and understand he will get them to their destination.  He met them last night. He doesn’t say much, but any concerns they had were allayed by his calm. He told them that the journey would be hard, but it would be beautiful. And he told them he would get them to their new home. They’re heading out in the morning.

So the move date came…

And went, for the Red Wagons.  They all kept bickering about supplies and leadership and horses…and anything else they could find because they didn’t trust one another. It turned out that half the group did not want to leave the East and most of them did not even believe that anyone had ever succcesfully made the trek. They liked what they already had and didn’t want to have to change.  So, most of them returned East. A few members stayed in St. Louis, thinking that maybe “next year” they would hook up with the right group to head West.

Things started out well for the Yellow Train.  They stayed up most of the night before to elect leaders for the trek. They even signed a pledge that said they would work together and share.  They started out with their heavy laden wagons in high spirits. Their route was clear for the first two weeks and they made good progress.  But, then the weather changed.

The arguments started. Some questioned their leader, Tom.  Tom had assigned Ben to navigational duties because he had the nicest compass.  But, Ben seemed to have trouble reading the compass. They’d start out in the morning, thinking they only had to travel twenty miles, but then end up going forty to find the next fresh water.  They argued over the maps and could not agree on what each squiggle and mark meant. Some said that a squiggle meant “water.” Others said it meant “hills.” They spent a lot of time backtracking when they ran into obstacles.

When they were stopped by an unexpected snow squall, panic set in.  They argued over provisions and said that Tom was giving the best food to his own family.  They voted for a new leader, Sam.  Sam had everyone divide all the supplies equally among the families.  But, within a few days, some felt cheated because they felt they did the most hard work and should get more food.  They were too scared to go out and hunt because someone in St. Louis said the natives would kill them.  They were stuck on the open prairie with no fire wood.  So, they were cold and hungry.

They argued over how to make the best shelters and how to start a fire. Each one had their own tradition, their own way of doing things.

Four of the families pled with the others to get along and keep moving forward, but the others wouldn’t listen.  One family got sick.  When they crossed paths with some trappers headed back East with furs, most of the group decided to turn around and go back with them.

The four families decided to keep going.  With help from the trappers, they set a better path and continued on, helping one another.  They had to stop before they reached the mountains and set up a winter camp where they stayed until the next spring. It was a hard winter and a few were lost to the cold or to illness, but they finally reached the West the next year, battered and bruised.  And sad because so many were left behind.

That leaves the Green Team and their guide, Old Eli.  Before they left St. Louis, Eli had told them that there were only two rules to follow: Trust him to get them West and take care of each other along the way.

They travelled light, so they made good time. Eli had crossed these trails many times before and knew where to stop and rest. He knew where the water was. He knew where to stop and collect fire wood for the days ahead.  He knew where friendly native tribes lived who would trade food for goods.

They would look at their maps together and discuss what they showed…and marvel at how far they had already travelled. As long as they stayed focused on taking care of one another, there was no need for rules because selfishness, the cause of discord, wasn’t around.

Occasionally, one or two of the families would insist on building a shelter or setting a trap their own way, instead of listening to Eli’s advice.  They quickly learned that the ways they thought were best, the traditions that had served them well in Virginia, were not the only way and were not always the easiest or the best.  They adapted, even though it was hard to give up old habits.

Eli knew the snow squall was coming before anyone else had any inkling.  He stopped them in a sheltering valley with trees, even though the sun was still shining.  But, the families didn’t complain or argue. They had learned to trust his instincts.  They set up their camp, chopped wood for shelter and fires, and hunted.  So, they were ready when the storm hit.

When they crossed rivers and streams, Eli always seemed to know the easiest and safest place to cross, even though, sometimes, some of the men thought it would be faster to go another way.  But, they remembered everything Eli had gotten them through so far and followed.

Along the trek, each member of the group found new talents and skills they never knew they possessed. They weren’t looking for them, they were simply found by necessity.  When Annie, an older woman who did most of the good cooking, had a bad case of gout, a man too old to hunt, Jeb, stepped up and made some amazing stew and biscuits.  Some found they were very good at fixing wagons, some could entertain the children with stories and games when the weather was bad.  Others were excellent at making sure the hunters were well dressed and fed.  Everyone found new gifts when they were needed.

They adapted to new terrain and watched Eli for cues on how to speak with the different native tribes they met.

When they reached the mountains, they were afraid, but had learned to simply rely on Eli.  The skies looked ominous, but Eli told them the storm would pass by. They travelled on. They crossed the mountains safely and arrived in California to begin their new lives.

So, the question is, which group represents your church?  I’ll leave it to you to figure out what all the details mean.  (Or, maybe we’ll talk about that in my next post.)

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