Boundary Waters and the Apostle Paul

by Tim Mueller

I first went to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area when I was 16 with my friend Bob and his dad Calvin – a great guy who grew up near the Boundary Waters and served as a guide there while in high school and college. Cal had all the equipment that we needed for our trips and knew how to put all of the equipment in the least amount of packs.

The Boundary Waters area  is a large wilderness area consisting of individual lakes joined together by a series of overland portages. Your typical trip canoe trip will consist of paddling thru several lakes and carrying all canoes and equipment over a portage from one lake to another.


The fewer packs and canoes you have, the fewer trips you have to make over the portage to retrieve all your equipment. Two mile long portages are not uncommon and the portages themselves are often small trails that go up and down hills, are strewn with rocks and boulders, lead thru swamps and muck and infested with more mosquitoes than you can imagine.

Canoes are 17 feet long, weigh 60 pounds and are ungainly to carry. Pack weights vary from 50 to 80 pounds. If you are on a two mile hike over a portage, your shoulders are screaming by the time you reach the end. In a sense, you are carrying everything you need to survive with you at all times.

A serious canoe trip is not for the feint of heart.

People may ask why it is done at all.


What is gained by the exertion and discomfort, the sweat and bug bite welts?

All I can say is that when it’s over, when you’ve reached the landing, when it’s time to head home – it was all worth it.


Now the question can be raised what this all has to do with our text from Acts 19 thru 28.   I’ll attempt to answer.

One of the things that struck me when I first started reading the bible is what is not mentioned. The Acts text talks about Paul’s travels thru Greece and Macedonia.

I did an internet search of the number of miles covered by Paul on his journeys, and the estimates range from 2250 miles to 4400 miles walked.

A vast majority of this travel was over ancient trails marked only by a sandal print from the day or month or year before. The trails would have been primitive at best, over hills or mountain passes and through valleys.

I have to believe that Paul and his companions spent more than a few nights in the wilderness and accordingly had to carry with them tents, blankets, pots, water, tools, food stuffs and the like. They would have traveled light by necessity, but they were carrying with them everything they needed for survival.

Sounds like the Boundary Waters experience multiplied by…..????

Why would Paul have done this?

What was to be gained?

Jake and Elwood Blues would have famously said, ”He was on a mission from God!”

He was, but it would go deeper than that. Paul was personally commissioned by Jesus (Acts 9:3-18) to spread the good news to the Gentiles, and he took this mission seriously.

The Paul we know is through his written word – his many letters that pepper the New Testament. The Paul we know is a man of passion, of focus, of clear thought and precise argument. His words are almost poetic and of great beauty, full of hope and trust, full of commitment and stories of God’s grace to him – and to us.

His words are forceful and gentle.

But make no mistake! For a man to travel as many miles on foot as Paul did – this was one tough man, and the people with him were tough too. A level of commitment to physically endure what they endured cannot be ignored. If you read Paul’s letters, over and over again he tells you simply that it is worth it, worth it to do the work of God.

Paul’s perseverance in spreading the word of God is astounding to me. Acts 21 starting at verse 30 reads:

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

If I’m Paul, at this point, I’m looking for the nearest exit, trying to extricate myself from the wrath of his fellow Jews.

What does Paul do?

In verse 40, he begs the Roman commander to let him go back and speak to the people. What does he do then? Acts 22: 1-21 tells us that he gives his testimony to the people who minutes earlier were trying to kill him. His sin in the eyes of his fellow Jews was spreading the word of God to the Gentiles.

That was his level of commitment.

Is that my level of commitment?

Would I go to this length to persevere in spreading Gods word?

Is that your level of commitment?

In the end I can only speak for myself.

If the face of Paul somehow magically appeared in my mirror, I would not be able to look that face in the eye…


Photos by Austin Walker – the author’s son-in-law – who is a pastor at Hastings United Methodist Church.