Blog from Kristy Engel . . .



I’ve been meeting with a group of colleagues to discuss wayfinding in the context of missions. It is a new concept for me, but I’ve been fascinated by the discussions. I’ll try to introduce you to a bit of what we are learning.


Wayfinding, as explained by the leader of our group, is “a navigational method that does not rely on standard, scientific tools (like a compass, sextant, or a map) for determining direction. Indigenous cultures around the world have implemented various methods of wayfinding that include star mapping, stone markers, storytelling, song-lining, and vision quests to find their way across vast expanses of land and sea.”


Can you imagine traveling the oceans from continent to continent without GPS or even a compass? When was the last time you took a road trip without either your GPS or a map (yes…the paper ones!)? I remember a time when I would visit churches and only have a paper map or MapQuest directions printed out. That was not an ideal way to get around, especially when I couldn’t read the map on the dark back roads of Maine!


So, imagine how totally reliant you would be on seeing the stars or the sun to guide your journey. And what if clouds moved in? Well, wayfinders are trained in the art of noticing all of the little signs to show them which way to go. They may lay down in the bow of a ship to feel the currents (yes…more than one!) or they may watch the animals…birds and fish and dolphins…to see how they are moving and what is ahead. They learn the behaviors to give them clues about which direction they should go. 


They also learn to look at the journey differently. Wayfinders see their destination as coming to them as opposed to trying to go somewhere. Just the framing of the journey in those words…coming vs. going…changes how they approach the voyage.


Luke 8:22-25 is the story of Jesus crossing a lake with his disciples. A storm comes up, winds and rains batter the boat, and the disciples run to a sleeping Jesus in fear. Let’s remember that several of the disciples were fishermen so they understood a storm and the danger it could bring. Yet, here slept Jesus, sleeping on a boat that was “filling with water!”


I’ve always read that story and seen Jesus being asleep as passive. Yes, when he awoke, he calmed the storm, but while he slept, I had always read it as passively enduring the storm. But what if he WASN’T passive? What if lying in the boat, he was able to feel the current, listen to things the others were missing, and that was why he could sleep? Maybe his “wayfinding” helped him understand that the storm was part of reaching the other side of the lake. 


Our lives can become so busy that we miss subtle clues along the way. When we’re running, how can we feel the gentle wind not created by our movement? And if we fill every hour of our day, how can we hear God’s gentle voice? Stopping or pausing to take a breath and just listen may be the very thing we need to weather our current storm.


I’m encouraged by Jesus’ response to the disciples, despite the admonishment. Jesus calmed the storm. Even if they weren’t expecting it, Jesus met their need in a surprising way. Wayfinding has become the surprise for me, lately. It is the subtle noticing of things I’ve been too busy to see before. It is allowing me to experience God and creation in ways I’ve overlooked in the past because I was rushing by or running to the next big thing. 


Wayfinding takes time. It takes practice. It takes patience. Yet, the result is a growing faith in the quiet ways that God cares for me and guides me. 


If you’d like to learn more about Polynesian wayfinders, I would encourage you to watch this YouTube video:


You can also look for videos or articles about Hokulea, the Polynesian-styled canoe that circumnavigated the globe in 2014 without any modern navigation equipment or motor. It took the wayfinding crew three years to complete the journey.