A Dry and Thirsty Land
My first summer in pastoring the Pierre District in South Dakota was a very unforgettable experience. My wife, Heidi and I, in February 2006, had just left our previous district, which was located in the subarctic of Alaska. During the seven month winters up there temperatures would routinely plunge below minus forty five degrees Fahrenheit. We once had church at minus fifty one degrees Fahrenheit. Believe it or not, after a short period of of adaptation, one got oneself somewhat acclimated to that frigid environment in Delta Junction, Alaska. As the summer of 2006 began in central South Dakota, I was not prepared for the massive temperature swing I was about to experience.
Pierre, South Dakota is a lovely, quaint small city of less than 14,000 people that sits on the Missouri River, "smack dab" in the middle of the plains of South Dakota. It is also the state capital, with many governmental buildings located in the town. The business of state government directly rules the somewhat isolated economy of Pierre, South Dakota. As the topography of Pierre slumps down toward the Missouri River, the town is basically located in a river valley. A perfect environment for a searing heat wave.
I had a three church district that encompassed all of central South Dakota. My Sabbath schedule was fairly simple: two Sabbaths in a month I would walk from our parsonage to the Pierre SDA Church located next door. The other two monthly Sabbaths I would go on a grand tour of the plains of central South Dakota, visiting my other two churches, Tolstoy and Mobridge. It was basically a 230 mile round trip, traveling north from Pierre, almost up to the North Dakota border. The summer of 2006 in central South Dakota broke many records due to the massive heat wave that came around mid-June and did not leave until mid-August. At one point, we were over one hundred degrees for twenty-nine of thirty days.
I was not prepared for this heat. I became miserable and depressed, fantasizing about driving back at one hundred miles an hour up the Alaska Highway and prostrating myself before the officers of the Alaska Conference, begging them to give me my old job back; as a penalty they could parade me around in sackcloth and ashes as a warning to those pastor's who had any thoughts of leaving the Last Frontier to head back south to the lower forty eight. One Sabbath in Pierre the temperature was over one hundred and twelve degrees. (I should not complain; I had a pastoral buddy who had to do two funerals on that Sabbath with the temperature reaching one hundred and seventeen degrees Fahrenheit). What was most distressing was the 230 mile drive north to my other two churches. By late July, the entire natural prairie environment looked like a lunar landscape. There was no water in any of the "dugouts"; the poor remaining cattle were left with just eating dust; and the plentiful pheasant had all but disappeared. It reminded me somewhat of the abyss that this world will enter during the millennium. Not one drop of rain had fallen in over ten weeks.
Finally, in mid-August, the heavens in central South Dakota opened, and the rain came down in sheets for over an hour. This was on a Friday, and the next day, Sabbath, I would be headed out on my 230 mile sojourn through the lunar landscape of central South Dakota. As I left that Sabbath morning, I wondered what I would find. About fifteen miles north of Pierre I began to see a vast difference in the previously desolate prairie environment. I first noticed through the sense of smell as I could get a whiff of natural prairie vegetation blooming rapidly. The dugouts, just bare of any water weeks ago, were bursting. The few remaining cattle were able to eat grass, and the pheasant had returned in great numbers. God's rain had literally healed the land.
On that day, and in the days to come, I would reflect upon the words of the prophet Isaiah, in talking about the perfect environmental conditions of the new earth. "I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land fountains of water...I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people" (Isaiah 41:18; 43:19-20 NASB). As I drove through that beautiful prairie landscape, on that special Sabbath day, eleven summers ago, I had seen the Creator's healing hand at work.