The Beauty of Wagon Trains

The Beauty of Wagon Trains January 11, 2019

By Mike Glenn

We have a tendency to romanticize history. When we read the stories of past, we want to feel what it must have been like to be one those people. We imagine ourselves as Knights of the Round Table, soldiers in the Revolutionary War, doctors making rare discoveries and kings and queens who ruled the world.

We love the images of beautiful clothes and daring deeds and then we read detailed recreations of what it was really like to live in towns and villages during those times.

It was gross.

Streets were muddy and travel was clumsy at best. Either you rode a horse to wherever you wanted to go or rode in the back of a wagon. There were no sewers, no running water, and no electricity. People rarely bathed. There were no telephones – not even dumb phones. Messages could take days or weeks to get from one place to another.

I know these people did the best they could, but I’m not sure many of us would really want to live that kind of adventure.

For instance, how many of would love to cross the West on a real wagon train? John Wayne made it look fun and easy.

It wasn’t.

Wagon trains were made up of about 30 wagons. Sometimes, there would be as many as 200, but most of the time it was 50 or less. Even with that, can you imagine the logistics of trying to get 100-150 people, at least that many horses, all headed in the same direction. On a good day, a wagon train would travel about 20 miles. On a bad day, they would cover less than 10. Really? Going to California from St. Louis 20 miles at a time?

If I had been there, I would have been tempted to ride off on my own. I would have decided I could have gone much faster if I was traveling by myself. Waiting for everyone to get it together, waiting for everyone else to keep up, waiting for everyone to tend their family and possessions would have driven me nuts.

I would have struck out on my own.

And I wouldn’t have gotten very far.

Nature is too harsh. The elements too unforgiving.

Then, like now, if you weren’t with a group, you wouldn’t survive.

I think about this image a lot when I think about the local church. OK, I know I’ve just mentioned the words “local church” and a lot of you want to bash the church for all of its faults and blame the church for all of the failures in the world, including our own.

Save it.

I’ve been in the local church for over 40 years and there’s nothing you’re going to tell me about the local church that I haven’t already experienced, been through, suffered from, endured or been part of it. Yes, I know the church is a flawed community, but that’s what happens when you open the doors and don’t charge admission.

Yes, I know the church is slow and clumsy and I’d probably go faster if I went by myself. People are lot of trouble. They ask a lot of questions. They’re flaky. You have to keep circling back to make sure you don’t leave anyone behind.

Go ahead. Ask any minister you know about working in a local church and they’ll give you the same answer, “Working in the church would be great if it wasn’t for all of the people.” You think, do I really need all of these people?

And then something goes wrong. The doctor gives you some bad news. Your family struggles as all families do – a child is depressed or struggles at school. Fill in your own story. Everyone has one and no one is exempt. And you’re alone and scared and you don’t what you’re going to next.

And the church circles the wagons around you. The little old lady who sits on the third row every Sunday brings you a casserole. The deacon who never likes the music and tells you every Sunday stops by and tells you he’s called a friend for you to see about a job. The teen-ager who works at the coffee shop tells you to come back and work at a back table and then, gives you free coffee.

And these are the most beautiful people you’ve ever seen. They are angels. In all kinds of ways – big and small – they show up when you need them and bring what you need. It’s more than being a good friend. It’s being a messenger from God — a living, tangible reminder that God hasn’t forgotten you.

They won’t let you pay them, but you know the deal. When it’s their turn (and sooner or later, everybody gets a turn), they expect you to circle the wagons around them. You will. It’s what churches do.

Yep. I know. There’s nothing more infuriating, frustrating, beautiful, holy and glorious than the local church. And yes, traveling with them will slow you down, but we’ll get there. Together.

Going alone doesn’t mean going faster. It means not getting there at all.



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