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KOEDYKER: Living in a lighthouse and walking in the light

• Aug 22, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Earlier this month, my wife Marilyn and I had the unique experience of being volunteer “lighthouse keepers” at Mission Point Lighthouse at the end of Old Mission Peninsula, about 20 miles north of Traverse City.

What a great time we had! For one week, we actually got to stay in the keeper’s quarters inside the lighthouse. Besides that, we were surrounded by such beauty.

Someone has called it “a million dollar view” outside our front window. And it truly was — the blue waters of Lake Michigan, a beautiful sandy beach, and acres of pristine woods with great hiking trails.

There was work to do, of course. Each day we had to open up the lighthouse to the public, and then close it down at the end of the day. Daily chores included things like sweeping, vacuuming, and just generally keeping the lighthouse and grounds clean and neat.

But our major responsibility was selling tours for visitors to climb the steps up to the tower and running the gift shop. The lighthouse was open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. What really surprised us was the sheer volume of people who stopped in. During our week, I would estimate that we interacted with approximately 3,500 people from nearly every state in the union and a number of foreign countries.

Marilyn, who balanced the books at the end of each day, guessed that we sold roughly $10,000 in lighthouse memorabilia. Having never worked in retail, this was all new to us. But we caught on quickly and kept busy every day.

What was really the best thing about being lighthouse keepers, however, was meeting and greeting all the people. As you might well imagine, most of the visitors were from Michigan. However, after a while, I realized that there were a lot of people showing up from my hometown, Chicago, and its many suburbs. Many of them were thrilled to get out of the rat race of the big city and just soak in the beauty of Michigan. Having grown up in “the Windy City,” I immediately had a common frame of reference and we would often become fast friends and have extended conversations.

There were even some interesting Grand Haven connections. One man shared that he was in the Coast Guard. I eagerly shared that I lived in Coast Guard City USA.

“You live in Grand Haven?” he responded. “We were just there last week for the Coast Guard Festival!” He went on to say that he had recently been appointed commander of the Detroit District and had been one of the dignitaries in the parade. He also related how much he and his family enjoyed the Coast Guard Festival and couldn’t wait to come back to Grand Haven again next year.

Another interesting encounter happened when I realized that an American lady had written Nanjing, China, as her place of residence. “Nanjing?” I said. “I think that is where my nephew used to work. He worked for Ford over there.”

“My husband works for Ford!” she responded. “I wonder if he knows your nephew.” So, she texted him all the way in China, and sure enough, he knew my nephew and worked with him in China.

Mission Point Lighthouse stands as a classic piece of Michigan history. In the 1860s, a large ship hit a shallow reef and sunk just in front of where the lighthouse sits. It was at that point that Congress set aside $6,000 for the construction of the lighthouse. Because of the Civil War, the construction of the lighthouse was delayed until 1870.

For more than 60 years, the light of Mission Point guided mariners through the treacherous waters of West Grand Traverse Bay until it was decommissioned in 1933 and replaced by an automated buoy light just offshore.

Having had this experience of seeing the significance of a lighthouse up close and personal, I cannot help but reflect on the importance of light in our lives. The Bible often instructs us on the usefulness of light and ultimately sees God as the great light lighting the way for us human beings. For example, in Psalm 27:1, we read, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Then there is the verse that has often given encouragement to me: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) But at the top of the list has to be the words of Jesus: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Clergyman Thomas Monson once wrote: “There is no fog so dense, no night so dark, no gale so strong, no mariner so lost but what the lighthouse of the Lord can rescue. It beckons through the storms of life. ... It sends forth signals of light easily seen and never failing. If followed, those signals will guide you back to your heavenly home.” Well said, indeed!

— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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