New markers on a renovated hiking trail were developed with Total Community Involvement in mind.
For anyone who has gotten lost hiking Weimar University’s more than 14 miles (22 kilometers) of trails in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California, United States, trail signs are a welcome sight. And now, hikers will get some encouragement along the way, in the form of what one author calls talking rocks.
During the first semester of the 2020-21 school year, Weimar University followed COVID-19 protocols for the safety of staff, students, and our community. No one went out into the community for Total Community Involvement (TCI) projects, as had been the case for the past three years. Still wanting to serve the community, the university came up with a creative way to do so while staying on campus.
Before the beginning of the school year, Weimar Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor and TCI founder Don Mackintosh came up with the idea of renovating and improving an on-campus trail so that the community could enjoy it in the future. The administration approved this idea, and at the beginning of last semester, TCI groups went to work. Each group was assigned a specific section of trail to cut back and clear overgrown brush and remove blockages in the stream that flows alongside the path.
Another part of the trail renovation plan was to use the trail to share a message through boulders etched with text at various points along the route. Rather than giving historical or botanical information, the boulders would build upon what other Adventist institutions have done in creating a “Sabbath Trail.” Thus, the boulders would have short passages about the biblical doctrine of the Sabbath.
The first step in the process was to create and finalize the wording for each boulder. This would determine how many boulders were needed and determine how much of the existing trails were needed for the boulder placement. Also, the school needed to find an etcher and suitable boulders relatively near its campus.
After some research, Clive Coutet, Weimar Institute’s media department manager, found an etching company in San Diego capable of completing the project. Weimar’s TCI director, Narlon Edwards, then contacted the company and arranged for the etching. But before the etching could take place, Weimar needed to purchase boulders and have them cut by another company.
Each boulder took a day to be carefully cut in half. Once they were cut, text was etched into each half-boulder. The 36 half-boulders were then trucked for eight hours from San Diego to Weimar and were installed in late March.
When asked what inspired the idea of working on a trail for the community, Mackintosh replied, “The reasons for the Sabbath trail were, one, we wanted to keep focused on doing something for the community with our TCI times, even though we could not for a time go out into the community. Two, we noticed the people from the community were still coming to visit our trails; in fact, the traffic increased. Three, we thought, ‘Let’s do something to reach the hundreds who frequent our trails.’ Four, we thought, ‘What do people need to hear about at this time in earth’s history?’ — and of course, the Sabbath came to mind. And five, we involved students and staff in writing the script that is seen on the stones. It was a collective effort — by design.”
The project also gave students a healthy change of pace. “Working on the trails allowed me to take a break from studying and get to know the whole student body while also serving the community,” Daryl, a first-year pre-med student from Indonesia, commented.
Not only did working on the Sabbath trail strengthen campus connections, but it also acted as a reminder of the Creator. “The Sabbath trail will provide a reminder to those who come to seek the refuge of nature that the Sabbath is part of nature,” Nathan Hold, a third-year pre-dental student from Georgia, acknowledged. “As hikers use the trails to find restoration of the soul, they will be reminded of the Creator who alone can restore all things.”
For others, the project highlighted the value of their experience here. “TCI embodies the reason why I’m at this school,” Atieno Mpyisi, a senior pre-med student from Kenya, explained. “The diverse experiences such as working at an elementary garden, giving EQ lectures at homeless shelters, or cleaning someone’s house have shown me the practical side of Christianity. The ability to be constantly in touch with the community for almost three years has made me feel more connected to other people’s experiences — their joys, their pains, and their victories — in a way that I probably couldn’t have otherwise had.”
She added, “While I missed going out last semester, it’s neat to finally see the tangible fruit of the hard work that everyone put into this trail. Working on the trails has shown me that circumstances should not hinder our ability to help. I hope the Sabbath trail will be one of the defining features of Weimar’s property that people point to, and that will point them back to God.”
During the spring 2021 Weimar College Colloquium, Sherlyn Bryant, author of the book Rocks that Talk, expanded on this thought. Sharing via Zoom, she spoke about the importance of tangible reminders of God’s involvement in individual lives and collective communities. Referencing a story from the Bible, in which the Hebrews set up a stone they named “Ebenezer” to remind them of God’s deliverance, Bryant shared her thought: “This Ebenezer stone was a stone of help, proclaiming God’s goodness; how He had helped them thus far. That’s the way God is with all of us. He’s helped us thus far, and He’ll continue to help us as we trust in Him.”
For the students, staff, faculty, and administration, these rocks will be a perpetual reminder of how God has led in the past and how He will continue to lead in the future. And with His leading, those who are lost can find their Way by these talking rocks.