Church in the Wild: National Parks Hear the Gospel Through Grassroots, Student-Led Ministry

God is changing lives in the wilderness, from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, through a 70-year-old ministry dedicated to spreading the gospel in America’s national parks.

In some of Earth’s last remaining wild spaces, park visitors can experience nature in its raw form.  Many of the country’s more than 420 designated public lands contain remote and rugged terrain. These are the places where ACMNP, or A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, sends team members. 

Amy Kennedy serves as ACMNP’s Co-Executive Director, telling CBN News that while many come in search of healing, restoration, or peace – working in these spaces is not always just ‘a walk in the park’. 

“There’s a lot of really hard things that happen in the parks every year,” Kennedy said. “We hear of things like drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide. And so, our team members – more than just offering a place to have a local church – they’re really trying to befriend and care for the community and provide them an opportunity to maybe disrupt that pathway.” 
ACMNP is grassroots, student led-effort, founded by Warren Ost in 1951 when he saw no connection between Yellowstone and the local church. It began with a Bible study in the bar of the Old Faithful Inn, sharing faith and hope with park guests. Today, the organization serves 45 parks. 

“You’ve got something as a backdrop that is so beautiful that people are going, ‘Who made this? What does this mean?'” said Jim Singleton who served ACMNP in Glacier National Park.

In Yosemite Valley, one of several crown jewels in the National Park System, an estimated 4 million people come from around the world to see its natural wonders. When it comes to sharing the gospel this summer to visitors, that responsibility rests on the shoulders of one woman – 21-year-old Grace Bennett from the Midwest. 

“We don’t have anything like this in Minnesota,” said Bennett. “We have lakes, we don’t have mountains.” 

Bennett left her home state for the first time in May to experience a California summer, grow her relationship with God, and help others do the same. She found work in Yosemite through ACMNP, serving as a park employee during the week then leading worship on Sunday. 

“I think there’s something so special about being able to preach the gospel in His Creation,” Bennett said. “So many people (are) drawn here because they’re drawn to beauty, mystery, or magnificence. And they’re here for that reason and they’re searching for that, but they don’t know who they’re actually searching for.”

Even though Grace is the ministry’s sole representative in Yosemite – she joins 15,000 alumni who see the national parks as a special place where people can connect with God. 

“Going to work I don’t necessarily look at the mountains anymore – I’m not stopping to pause at the waterfall every time I pass it,” said Bennett. “And yet when I do, I’m just greatly humbled to be here.” 
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