Missoula Autumn Tradition Combines Fun, Witnessing
On the evening of Aug. 10, 2015, while wind gusts ripped out trees, started numerous fires, and tore signs and shingles around Missoula, Earl Ellingson and his wife, Christina, thought of the corn field. “I looked out the window and saw tumbleweeds rolling across our lawn, along with my neighbors’ lawn chairs,” Ellingson remembers.
The Ellingsons, who are members of the Missoula Church, have created a corn maze each autumn at Mountain View Elementary, the local Adventist church school. This year, an unusually strong summer thunderstorm threatened to destroy the maze. But somehow, while multiple trees and power lines were downed in the area, the maze was untouched. “Christina and I prayed that God would put His hand over the maze, and He did," Ellingson reports. "It’s a miracle."
Missoula Maze began when the church school was closed for a year seven years ago. Since then, attendance at the school and at the maze has grown until the school has 24 students and the maze has days where attendance can exceed 1,000 people.
A loyal following has developed in the community. Some people make the maze part of their fall tradition, returning year after year for birthday parties or just the joy of spending a day together solving the maze, visiting the petting zoo, and picking a pumpkin out of the pumpkin patch.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, university groups, and nonprofits like the local children’s shelter are some of the groups that visit the maze each season. Schools bring students for field trips from area schools and from as far away as Superior, Ronan and Helena.
This year, a multimedia booth at the maze offered free literature, Bibles and Bible study correspondence cards along with a video playing short segments on who Adventists are and the benefits of the Adventist school system. Church members have also set up a health booth to offer free blood pressure checks, grip-strength testing and BMI testing. The maze has certainly raised community awareness of the church school and has been featured in local TV, radio and newspapers, as well as in Alaska Airlines Magazine.
“Creating the maze is a lot of work, but making a positive impact in our community is worth what we do,” says Ellingson. The maze starts many conversations about the church school and the unusual hours of operation (the maze is not open on Friday night or Saturday), and friendships have resulted in new students at the school and visitors to the local church.
In Missoula, being a light in the community includes sharing a flashlight or hand-warmer and helping lost people get safely out of the maze. More information and photos can be found at MissoulaMaze.com.