AAEO Day 4 — Blazing an Appalachian Trail
Adam Miller and Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
March 10, 2010

AAEO Day 4 — Blazing an Appalachian Trail

AAEO Day 4 — Blazing an Appalachian Trail
Adam Miller and Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board
March 10, 2010

To understand a person, walk

a mile in his shoes. But if that person is an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker,

you’ll have to walk several hundred miles.

“It’s not until about mile

500 that they start to listen,” says North American Mission Board (NAMB)

Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary Suzy Miles.

“Before that, they’re


MSC missionaries Craig and

Suzy Miles started Appalachian Trail Servants (AT Servants) six years ago so

they could represent Christ through service, evangelism and discipleship to

reach the longtrail hiking community trekking the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail


The couple has hiked about

1,000 miles of the trail themselves, and visited most of its length to conduct

ministry training to churches near trailheads and to minister to hikers through

acts of kindness.

The couple is part of the

more than 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories

supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO). They are among the

NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer (WOP), March

7-14, 2010. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming

Power.” The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million.

As MSC missionaries, the

Mileses must raise their own support among family, friends and related


Although they are

self-funded, they also receive additional support — such as training, administrative

support and field ministry assistance — from the AAEO.

The Appalachian Trail is a

marked, yard-wide footpath winding through the Appalachian Mountains from

Springer Mountain in north Georgia to Mount Katahdin in central Maine.

Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, it passes through 14 states.

More than four million

people hike some part of the trail each year, and another 2,000 “thru-hikers”

attempt to go the entire distance.

Suzy grew up in Dahlonega,

Ga., with a family and a father who took hikers in, fed them and shared with

them the truth about Christ.

Photos by John Swain

Craig, left, and Suzy Miles, founders of Appalachian Trail Servants, and Mission Service Corps and Week of Prayer missionaries for the North American Mission Board, minister to a hiker somewhere along the 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail. See video.

A native of Stone Mountain,

Ga., Craig had already earned a degree in economics at the University of

Georgia and seminary master’s degrees when he met Suzy. Suzy had been the hiker

in her family and shortly after, the couple and her family began hiking almost

every weekend in the North Georgia Mountains.

At the time he met Suzy,

Miles was working in information technology for a regional bank but believed he

had a higher calling.

One morning on the way to

work, he stopped by his Baptist church and prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, how

can you use our time and talents for your glory?”

God was about to answer

Craig’s prayer.

“Right after I prayed that

prayer, I spotted a missionary magazine on a table next to me,” Miles said.

“On the cover was a story

about extreme hiking in China. It just clicked in my head that we needed to

start a ministry on the Appalachian Trail. Suzy and I were seeing hundreds of

hikers pass over the roads and trails and through the woods of north Georgia,

but we knew their spiritual needs were not being met.”

Miles and Suzy married and

now six years later, their home and ministry are based in Franklin, N.C., only

a short drive from a major Appalachian Trail trailhead.

With two infant children and

an expanding ministry, they continue to serve hikers but are beginning to focus

their attention on training churches and leaders who have a heart for hikers

who visit the area.

Taking on new name

Hikers are a subculture,

Miles said, and most of them use trail names rather than their own.

The Mileses are no


Craig’s trail name is

“Clay,” taken from Romans 9:21, which describes God as the potter molding the clay.

Suzy’s is “Branch,” which comes from John 15:5 where Jesus refers to Himself as

the vine and believers as branches.

Whether simply hiking on a

crisp autumn weekend or thru-hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, the sport is

not for the faint-of-heart.

Backpacks containing tents,

sleeping bags, food, clothes, first-aid and water purification equipment can

weigh 35 lbs. or more.

In addition to the obvious

physical and mental challenges, other hazards include severe weather, Lyme

disease, steep grades, limited water and poison ivy.

“Thru-hiking the Appalachian

Trail takes a tremendous commitment of time and resources,” Miles said.

“And the hardest part is not

the physical aspect but the mental. Within the first 30 miles, 20 percent drop


“By North Carolina, 50

percent have dropped out. By West Virginia, 75 percent have quit.

“Only 15 percent of those

who start in Georgia make it to the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine.”

To reach these hearty souls,

the Mileses have focused their efforts on training churches and trail chaplains

— a select position with AT Servants that requires a mature walk with Christ, a

missionary mindset and the ability to walk thousands of miles under often heavy


“We receive dozens of

applications every year, but only one or two meet the criteria,” Craig said.

Trail chaplains, which have

the greatest direct impact on hikers, trudge the 2,175 miles with every ounce

of gear any other hiker would carry and with a goal of enjoying the journey and

reaching the end.

But chaplains sit around

shelters and campfires with the purpose of representing Christ, answering hard

questions from thoughtful, hurting people and walking alongside those same

people for days, weeks and months.

In 2005, recent college

graduate Jonathan Carter finished his stint as a trail chaplain.

In October 2009, Joel and

Cortney Leachman completed their journey.

Both of these projects created an

entrance into very difficult seasons of people’s lives, and resulted in several

hikers receiving Christ.

The Mileses believe God gives

Christians divine appointments, and they should expect them and take advantage

of them.

“We pray for and expect a

daily divine appointment during which we might be able to share our

testimonies, answer difficult theological questions, provide counsel or share

the gospel,” Craig said, recounting his and Suzy’s experience on the trail.

He recalled a sudden evening

thunderstorm that drove him, Suzy and a group of fellow hikers into the closest

trail shelter for protection against a cold, stinging rain.

“Since the next shelter was

10 miles away and none of us wanted to brave the cold rain to get there, we

stopped and shared the same shelter for the night. This gave us an opportunity

to strike up some spiritual conversation,” he said. “This was a divine appointment.”

Still on the lookout for

divine appointments, Craig and Suzy cultivate the soil of the hiker community

with a sense of urgency for those churches and individuals with a heart for


“We have an amazing

opportunity,” says Suzy. “If we can represent Christ to someone during a

critical few months on the trail, we can see Christ change them for a


(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller and

Noah are writers for the North American Mission Board.)

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