Ben & the Barn

Ben wrote this a couple weeks ago. I (Sarah) missed it – sorry, Ben! He spent his last work rotation at the barn – a few weeks that transformed his idea of horsemanship and inspired a calling. We’re pumped for you, Ben!

by: Ben, Vanguard

To say that God doesn’t work in completely mysterious ways is like saying Wisconsin doesn’t have snow in April after mid 50 degree weather. It’s simply ridiculous. At the start of our final work rotation, I did not think I would be in the place I am today in terms of future plans. Coming into Vanguard, I had adapted a curiosity for Philosophy, primarily because it was a field in which you could argue for several stances at a time and still be right, in your mind at least. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of taking life’s big questions and picking them apart in order to “solve” them. However, there’s one slight problem to this otherwise brilliant plan: how do you know if you’re right? Who’s to say they know God’s will over someone else? Eventually, this detail bothered me so much that I fell back into my old habit of worrying about my vocation/ God’s calling in life. As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry, because God knew exactly what He wanted to use me for and had quite an interesting way of going about it.

When I was nine or so years old, my sister expressed an interest in having a horse as a pet. Now, most families would disregard this idea on the grounds of having no room to house such a large animal or not wanting to have the hassle of boarding it at a farm or ranch. Since we had a farm with a cattle herd, how bad could one more beast be? I remember going to look at a horse with her, and also expressing an interest in the situation. We brought Kate home with eager expectations and little knowledge of horses (mistake 1). Kate was most likely abused growing up or trained in a most harmful manner (mistake 2-caused by the previous owner). I also remember, quite vividly, the first time I “rode” Kate. Looking back now, I have no clue if she was saddled correctly, if she was in good health, if she had ever been ridden before, etc. In short and for some unknown reason, Kate didn’t want me on her and bucked me off. She then, in turn, bucked my parents a few times. We gave up riding her, and instead tried acclimating her to new surroundings and new owners.

Kate never changed her attitude, and so we sent her to an Amish farm for some “correction.” At that point in my life, I didn’t know what “correction” meant, only that their “training” was supposed to fix her attitude. I’m not sure my parents knew what the process involved, but the program had been recommended to us. Again, we didn’t know much about the Equine Industry, which often uses physical abuse and torture to break a horse of its habit. Looking back now, I’m afraid that’s what happened to Kate. When we got her back, the individual that had been working with her said she was great and had no more problems. Unfortunately, the same did not occur with our family. Of course the horse was going to obey its abusers command lest it be whipped into submission again. But when responsibility was returned to us, she saw an opportunity to escape the grasp of humans. Because of her worsened condition, Kate was put down. After seeing her final ride down the road, I vowed to myself that I’d never ride another horse again. After all, who would want to after an experience like that? At this point, God must’ve chuckled to himself and said: “Just you wait and see laddie, just you wait and see. One day you’ll come to the realization that I’m the one in control of your future.”

And thus begins day one at the HoneyRock barn. I have been dreading (and secretly shaking at) the idea of riding again. We start the morning chores, including feeding responsibilities, manure management and supplement administration. We meet Jacleen (our MST leader) in the Tack House and go over very basic information about equipment and safety. Then…we find out which horses we will be caring for and working with during that week. I was paired with Ti, a Quarter Horse that matched my ability level, or so I was told. We learned how to catch horses, halter and lead them, and how to groom and saddle. I brought Ti in without much trouble, but when we approached the arena, she started to grow uncomfortable and fidgety. We got prepared to saddle, and I was informed that Ti was afraid of all artificial things such as saddles, blankets, bridles, cones, barrels and fences just to name a few. Oh, and myself because I was something new and unfamiliar to her. You would assume by now I would be starting to freak out a little bit over these circumstances. Aaaaand you would be right in that assumption. I was starting to second guess my persevering nature and my idea of trying to heal old scars. So here we are, Ti and I, keeping our distance from each other and both fidgeting, anxious to get it over with. I lead Ti over to a mounting block and start to mount. My heart is beating much faster than I’d like it to be…and I successfully mount Ti. Immediately, I kid you not, immediately both man and beast take a deep breath and realize we’re not going to kill each other.

Over the next three weeks, I would find myself going to the barn just to observe the horses to see their attitudes that day and wonder why they acted in the ways they did. In short, I fell in love with horses and all the baggage and faults they carry with them. It reminds me of our Heavenly Father loving us unconditionally, no matter what our problems may be. Reflecting back on Kate, I don’t think God put her into our family because my sister wanted a pet, but because He knew He could create a disciple out of a traumatic experience. Now THAT’S a God I want in my life. I feel the utmost peace in saying I have finally found my vocation, God’s calling in life. It even worked out that my sister researched colleges for me that offered Equine Studies and found my future four year home! Through this, all I can repeat over and over in my head is: “God is great. He is all knowing. He will not disappoint.” God Bless!


Ski Trip to Powderhorn 

As the Vanguards are recouping from a long day of travel from our Memphis trip, we’re bringing a post that had been drafted but never posted a couple moths ago (sorry, Josh)! Each winter, HoneyRock always takes a day for the whole community to go skiing in the UP. Here’s Josh’s recap of the day.

by Josh Mikkola, Vanguard

About two months ago the HoneyRock community took a ski trip to Powderhorn Ski Resort in Upper Michigan. This was my first time skiing, and boy did I enjoy it!  I started the day taking beginner skiing lessons with Rachel Cyrus. I learned from Rachel how to properly control my skis using the “pizza method”, in which you point your skis inward forming a shape to look like a pizza.  This method helps you control your speed.  At first I wouldn’t let myself go any faster than the pizza method would allow, but eventually I worked my way out of my comfort zone and started to get more and more speed. I also learned how to turn, stop, and fall over properly.
We started on one of the easiest hills but eventually I ventured off on my own to try some other ones. At one point I climbed all the way up to a hill only to realize that it was a “black diamond”, meaning it was one of the more challenging slopes.  So then I went on a blue (intermediate) one instead and completely wiped out.  I eventually worked up the courage to try another blue (intermediate) hill.  This time I successfully mastered the slope and really enjoyed it! Of course, I wiped out a few times, but nothing major. I ended the day with a blue hill called Ramrod that in my opinion could have been categorized a black diamond…should have labeled as a black diamond.  At first it seemed like a fairly easy ride until there was a drop off point in which I shot straight down and completely wiped out, losing both of my poles. Charlie got to witness the whole thing go down from a ski lift nearby. It was a comical way to for both of us to end the day.
All in all it was an amazing experience, and I would love to go downhill skiing again sometime in the near future. I am very grateful for Rachel’s lessons.  I learned so much not only about skiing but also about taking chances and not giving up.  At first I really wanted to quit, having to crawl my way around when I fell down, but by the end of the day I I mastered the challenge of intermediate hills.  It was definitely a very thrilling and rewarding experience.  I am so glad that I go to do this as part of my gap year and count it as one of the highlights in the Northwoods.

Back at HoneyRock!


After warm and (mostly) sunny week in Memphis, TN, Vanguards are back in the 15 degree weather and snow of the Northwoods! Praise God for an awesome week of learning and growing together – and safe travels!


Vanguards at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, TN.

An Update From Memphis!

As we have reached the midpoint of our week in the Memphis Urban Immersion.  The week has been a good experience thus far with trips to the Cotton Museum, Civil Rights Museum, VECA, as well as exploring the downtown area itself.  Below are a few picture highlights thus far.


A much needed Birthday Pitstop for Is’ birthday cake on the way down to Memphis!



Sarah lambert at the cotton museum



Joseph in the national museum of civil rights



Jokes outside of jerry’s sno-cones (a Memphis favorite)



Getting a history of the VECA neighborhood green line (linear park that cuts through neighborhoods)



Raking with VECA.

Working Construction

by Josh, Vanguard

Over the past few months, I had the unique opportunity of working construction with my fellow Vanguard Dan under the supervision of George and Baronger. I had almost no prior experience in construction!

Halfway through my time in construction we started a new project: remodeling a house. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to learn about this process under such incredible people.  At first I was a little nervous about this project, but once we dove into it I discovered it to be fun and engaging.  Every day was different in its own way.   We were always moving between different tasks.  I got to tear down walls, ceilings, and floors while developing a better work ethic.

Work ethic is a very important life skill that I am learning here in the Northwoods and I’m very grateful for it.  It is something that will carry me throughout the rest of my life.  I always knew I needed to grow in this area, but I feel like I am finally learning what it means to grow in my work ethic while at the same time growing in my relationship with Jesus.  Working with someone like Baronger was an adventure.  He always had something interesting to talk about and I learned so much just from being around him.  He always answered any questions I had about anything. I am very grateful that he helped lead this project.  I am stoked to see the final result in a few months after the new construction Vanguards finish what we have started.

I’m so grateful that I have had the opportunity to work in the barn and construction so far.  I like the structure of the work rotations and how they fit in with this gap year.  Learning more about my relationship with God through horses and building things (or tearing them down) has been transformational.  I’ve learned that you can experience God through anything even if you fail at it first.  It’s not just about what you can do to please Him because you will never be able to do that apart from Christ.  It’s about experiencing Christ’s grace and love in every area of life.  This is a lesson that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Keweenaw Day Trip

By Sarah L, Vanguard


The trailhead of where we cross-country skied.

February was a month of awesome trips and opportunities for the Vanguards. We got to go to Silver Birch Ranch for our DR Trip debrief retreat, Fort WildernessCamp for the annual Northwoods Broomball tournament, and most recently to the Keweenaw Peninsula in the UP of Michigan for a day of skiing and learning.

Our trip to Keweenaw started with a two and a half hour van ride up north. My favorite part of the drive was that we didn’t have our cell phones on us! It was so fun to be our crazy selves and truly enjoy one another’s company, as opposed to us all just plugging in our earphones and listening to whatever music we wanted.


Our small group (4 of us were on a college visit) underneath the snow meter.

Once we arrived in the UP, we took a slight detour to visit a snow meter, dubbed the “snow stick,” that was over 30 feet high! After posing for a quick snapshot, we continued on to get our trail passes in Calumet. Once we were all bundled up, we unloaded the van and got our skis on and hit the trails! We were so lucky to have such a gorgeous day for skiing, sunny and not too cold at all. We got to ski for 1-3 hours, depending on how much time we spent in the lodge. The lodge was pretty cozy too, though. There were some nice couches and blankets and two elderly women who ran the little snack shop. Whether outside enjoying the trails or warming up inside with some hot chocolate, it was a good outing for all!

After our bodies were tuckered out from the workout of cross-country skiing, we headed into town to get a better look at what life in Calumet looked like when it was a booming copper town! We got to explore the museum for just over an hour and learned how involved the copper companies were with the daily lives of the citizens of Calumet. C&H, the major company based out of Calumet, built schools, bathing houses, recreation centers, and even homes to encourage a positive attitude towards their company among its workers.

The end to this great day was a stop at the local eatery, Racer’s, where most of us ordered large burgers with as many topping as you could imagine! It certainly satisfied our hunger after a long day in the UP. It was so fun to visit Calumet to learn their history as well as ski on their historic trails. I hope to go back soon to explore this beautiful town some more!

Mustache March



by Julianna Burlet, Vanguard

I’m pretty sure most of you have heard of “No Shave November”, where men grow out their beards to raise awareness for prostate cancer. (Or some women, such as myself, use it as an excuse not to shave their legs–no shame ladies). Well, here at HoneyRock, a number of our men have decided to create “Mustache March” to raise awareness for absolutely nothing–just some good ole Northwoods fun. It started a few weeks back as a joking lunch conversation between a few of the male grad students and some of our Vanguard guys, but weeks later the community realized it was much more than a silly conversation, as it turned into this:


R to L: David, Andy, David, Logan, Joe, Chris, Abe, Will, Baronger

Glorious, aren’t they? (The mustaches, I mean–no offense guys). While this is all good and fun, I think it gives us a great example of how unique our community here truly is. While I don’t doubt that these teenage boys would do Mustache March at college, I think it’s rare for you to find a group of grad students (even the married ones), high school graduates, college graduates (the MST men), and even some of the permanent staff (such as George Polcaster, Construction Manager, and Chris Nafziger, High School Program Coordinator, working on his doctorate…) all rallying together around a ridiculous, nonsense tradition.

This wacky, diverse group of people that have been thrust together this year always seem to keep me on my toes. From playing intramural broomball every Monday night with families to witnessing Mustache March, I definitely have countless memories and stories to tell of this community for years to come. Of course the name Mustache March is a hard-hitting reminder that we’re in the home stretch for the Vanguard program, which is very bittersweet (70% bitter, 30% sweet–mostly because I miss my dog. Sorry mom). It’s hard thinking that we’re nearing the end, and I almost didn’t write about it because I’m still in denial, but it’s also a reminder to cherish each and every moment I have left with these wonderful people I now call family, and this place which I have grown to call home. But for right now, I’m just going to enjoy the ridiculousness of the mustaches, and I hope you all do too. 🙂

Traveling Back to the U.S. of A!

by Sarah, Vanguard Coordinator

Vanguards arrived at the Santiago airport early this morning. As of now (9:45am), they are back in the U.S. – Miami, to be specific – and waiting for their flight into O’hare. So far, so good! Evan and I plan to pick them up from O’hare around 4:30 and begin the 6 hour drive to HoneyRock – we can’t wait to hear their stories!

Update: Vanguards boarded the plane from Miami to Chicago. Everything is on-time and going well.

Update #2: We’re back at HoneyRock! Rolled in around 11pm…all safe and sound 🙂

Los Higos with Is and Josh

by Sarah, Vanguard Coordinator

Click here to see the Is and Josh at Los Higos!

For the last week and a half, Is and Josh have been working with Los Higos, an elementary school for children in the Dominican Republic. Seth’s work site has him traveling to film all of the sites – the video above captures a small look at what’s going on at Los Higos.

Once Vanguards return, we’ll be looking forward to a video that captures their trip!

A Weekend in the DR

by David, Vanguard

After a week of serving at our worksites, we had a chance to experience the land, culture, and faith of the Dominican Republic over the weekend.  Here is a little taste of what we were up to.

Saturday morning, we started the day by driving into the mountains around Jarabacoa for a hike to the Upper Falls waterfall. As soon as we piled out of the open back of our truck, we started on the trail. The beginning of the hike was relatively easy and flat. Before long, the path became steep, zigzagging back and forth down the mountain. Once we neared the bottom, the trees cleared enough to where you could see the waterfall from a distance, a small but steady stream of water running off a hundred-foot cliff. After setting down bags, most of us decided to swim out to the base of the waterfall. The pool was ice-cold, but it was worth it to get to feel the powerful spray of the water tumbling down. Afterwards, we dried off on the rocks and ate our lunch in view of falls.


Vanguards taking in the falls and going for a swim

Later that afternoon, all of us took a trip into downtown Jarabacoa. For two hours we got to walk around town, look in souvenir stores, and buy Dominican coffee and other national foods at a grocery store. We also stopped at a bakery and had a had a chance to buy amazing cake and doughnuts. At 6:00, we walked to a restaurant where we were served mulfungo, a dish of fried plantains (similar to bananas) topped pork, chicken, vegetables, and cheese. Once dinner was done, we stopped by an ice cream store for dessert.

Sunday morning we got to have the unique experience of joining worship and listening to a sermon at a Dominican church nearby the base. It was great to see how absorbed people were in praising God. Also, getting to hear the Word of God preached in a different language was challenging (waiting for translations) but amazing at the same time, realizing all the truths that we share in our beliefs, despite our differences.


David working with a patient at Physical Therapy

Going into our second week in the D.R., we will all be returning to our worksites. I’ll be serving with Ben at the physical therapy site helping to massage and assist with exercise for patients who are recovering from injuries. We are all excited to see what God has to teach us as we continue to live with, work with, and serve the Dominicans.