By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NEWPORT — Russell Vickers will never forget his first “Off the Grid” hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). He almost quit and went home on the first night.
Off the Grid is a ministry of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board that provides pastors, staff members and lay leaders an opportunity to be refreshed and enjoy a time of fellowship and outdoor adventure through a variety of different activities.
Vickers, bivocational pastor of New Vision Baptist Church in Alexandria, had wanted to hike the trail, “but I was never brave enough to do it on my own,” he acknowledged.
He learned of the Off the Grid ministry that was led by Kevin Perrigan, manager of Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport, and made arrangements to go with Perrigan’s second group to hike the trail two years ago.
But before the trip began, Vickers backed out because he was uncomfortable going with people he did not know. His son, Hunter, agreed to go so the trip was on again.
Vickers noted that though he decided to go through with the trip, he was dealing with some difficult family issues, including knowing that his wife would find out the next week if she had cancer after undergoing three ultrasounds.
The pastor recalled that day one of his first hike was extremely difficult and he felt he was not physically ready to hike the approximately 15-mile stretch of the AT. “I was ready to go home that first night,” he admitted.
Perrigan, however, counseled him that the first day was the hardest. Vickers listened and agreed to continue. “The second day was fabulous for me, both mentally and physically, he said.
Reflecting on that first hike, Vickers said “that trip changed my life. It helped grow my trust in God even though I was a pastor,” he admitted.
During the second day on the trail, Vickers shared about his wife’s situation and that she might have cancer.
“One of the pastors said, ‘We need to pray right now.’ We stopped on the trail and they prayed over me and my son like I’ve never been prayed over before in my life.
“It broke my heart to think that someone loved me enough to pray over me like that although I do it every day for someone else.”
Vickers said that Off the Grid event helped him understand that even pastors need to be ministered to.
“It is easy to get overwhelmed as a pastor,” adding that he is pastor of a small congregation.
“I can’t imagine the stress that pastors of larger congregations must have,” he said.
He added that the Off the Grid events are a wonderful ministry to pastors and others.
The Alexandria pastor is so convinced of their importance that he has since led two events, including one in mid-May, for members of his family and church with assistance from Perrigan.
“They wanted to experience what I experienced,” he said, adding that he hopes to expand and do even more hikes in the future.
Vickers laughed that he went from someone who was physically and mentally worn out on the first day of his first hike to now leading trips himself. “God showed me you can do anything with Him.”
Perrigan, an avid hiker himself, noted that when he began planning for the Off the Grid ministry, he didn’t know if pastors would even be interested in hiking.
But the backpacking trip has been a popular choice among ministers since it began two years ago in the midst of the pandemic. “I didn’t know how popular it would be. It has surprised me to see the numbers.”
He also has been pleasantly surprised to see that some of the pastors who have participated in the Off the Grid event, such as Vickers, are now leading groups of their own on hiking/backpacking trips.
“It’s exciting to see how God is using this for pastors to get away to be refreshed and renewed and also for them to connect with their churches,” Perrigan added. B&R