The Gospel in the Desert

San Xavier del Bac Mission / Tucson, Arizona

San Xavier del Bac Mission / Tucson, Arizona

The older I get the more I learn about myself which is odd to admit. You’d think because I live inside my own head that I’d have a good idea by now of who I am and what I’m like. The irony is that I continue to discover new things about how God has wired me. Strange admission.

This has come to light in the past couple of years that when I become overwhelmed and the stress seems unbearable that I slowly disengage. I usually attempt to disengage and distance myself from the source of this tension which seems pretty natural. At times that means relationally disengaging as well. The problem though of late was this was tied to some of the ideas, topics, and activities that I have loved deeply. Not only that, but when it pertains to your ministry or livelihood it becomes troublesome that I have this strong urge to pull away.

This is all part of Burnout 101. However, what my revulsion turned towards was the city. Living in the city became a source of frustration. My love waned nor did I find joy in reading, writing, researching, or reflecting on the city. I was fried from teaching, writing, and doing so much training about the city that I needed a reprieve. A mental vacation.

In moments of high-intensity stress our mind does weird things. For me, I would mentally revisit times and events that elicit pleasant feelings and memories. Sentiment kicks in. It is truly an escape where our mind goes other places to help minimize the internal angst and tension that is boiling.

I recalled a five year stretch of being a hiking and mountain biking guide in southern Arizona. But more than that was recounting the memories of exploring the desert backcountry on foot, in the car, and by bike alone and with my family. During that time I devoured so much reading material seeking to understand the desert more deeply whether local flora and fauna or the storyline of human history in the region. I was a dry sponge absorbing massive amounts of information that I would recall while hiking and biking with out-of-state guests out on the trail.

I developed a great working knowledge of the region; the topography and climate. Last year during my times of stress and anxiety I detached ... and mentally went back to the desert. I ordered a couple of books that dealt with the history of SE Arizona and broke away from my urban studies. This was when I came across the book Dry River: Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz by Ken Lamberton.

The premise of the book is pretty straightforward. The author, Ken Lamberton, walks most of the length of the Santa Cruz River and not only documents his journey, but masterfully pulls in figures that once walked and lived along the same stretches from miners to Apaches to Spanish conquistadores to missionaries and more. In each chapter Lamberton introduces the reader to a portion of the river while getting into the flora and fauna in and around this small river that has played a significant role in the human history of the area.

The river, which starts south of Tucson on the southern flank of the Santa Rita mountains begins its tenuous journey southward into Mexico. After only a short distance across the border the river bends sharply north only to reenter the United States. The river continues north coming alongside the western edge of the city of Tucson. Farther up towards Phoenix it joins the Gila River only to intermittently flow westward to merge with the Colorado River at the California border. From there water heads south spilling into the Sea of Cortez.

It is along the stretch of the river in northern Mexico tucked in the small village of Santa Cruz where we’re first introduced to Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Kino established the original Jesuit mission in Santa Cruz in 1693. For those who live in Tucson and southern Arizona or who have visited more than likely have come across the name Kino. Today there a numerous places named after Kino ... a sports complex, a parkway, schools, and more. It is a familiar name for residents. But who was he and why does his story matter in church planting?

(stay tuned for Part 2 of this story)

Floodplain of the Santa Cruz River

Floodplain of the Santa Cruz River