While the River of Life Ministries congregation was building its new sanctuary on 14 acres of land in Paris, Kentucky, five years ago, God gave lead pastor Krista Hampton an unusual vision. Over the past year, that vision — which has potential to be replicated throughout the nation — has begun to be fulfilled.
Hampton recalls looking during the church’s construction at the acres of land behind it. “I had a vision from the Lord of a walking trail on the back of the property that connects to the school grounds. I wondered if maybe it was supposed to be a prayer trail, but I also saw signage all along what seemed to be a half-mile trail.”
Although Hampton was unclear as to exactly what God was communicating to her, she knew that God had a plan for that portion of the property and for the River of Life congregation to not make any plans of their own for it. Two years later, in 2018, a revival began in the community.
“We had several churches come together to host an evangelist and on the first night, there was a sound like thunder inside of the church we were meeting in,” Hampton says. “We moved the services to our facility as it was larger. We began to see miracles and a great move of God . . . what was supposed to be a weekend revival service turned into a year.”
However, six months into the revival, the evangelist approached Hampton. He shared with her that God was showing him a walking trail on the church grounds that told the history of faith and revival and somehow it was being shared with kids in the public school system — perhaps a history of Christianity and revival in Kentucky, where kids could come for a field trip?
Hampton had not shared her vision with the evangelist prior to this. Then a deacon, who also did not know of Hampton’s vision, got up in middle of a service and began to prophesy that God was going to use the church to create an educational project that will impact school children with the gospel — he saw busses of school children from all over coming to the church to walk a trail of history.
That was enough for Hampton. At the urging of the evangelist, they shared the visions God had given them and took a seed offering to begin taking the first steps to fulfilling a not-yet-perfectly-clear vision God was giving them. $5,000 was raised that night.
Unknown to anyone in the service, God was at work in yet another way. Lesley Barker, who had traveled from Missouri to hear the opening night of the revival and ended up staying in Paris and becoming a prayer intercessor, wasn’t for sure why God had moved her to Kentucky.
But Barker, it “coincidentally” happened, had a history education background, had run a historical museum, and had just completed her doctorate in Museum Studies prior to arriving in Paris.
“I remember asking, ‘What am I supposed to do now, Lord?’ and it just seemed that God wanted me at the revival for that time,” Barker says. “Then during a prayer meeting, pastor Krista described the prophetic word that was given concerning the Christian history trail.”
Hampton didn’t know Barker’s academic background, but things were beginning to come clear to Barker. She asked to be included if the church pursued the vision.
“I realized that if this was God, it (the Christian history trail) connects everything I am and have done throughout my career,” Barker states. “I started praying about it over the course of about six months.”
About six months later, due to the Lord’s leading, an elder from the church approached Barker. He wanted to know if she was the person the Lord had sent to handle the trail project. Not long after that, Hampton approached her, asking her if she were to contribute any leadership to the project, what would it look like. God was making things very clear.
“I sent pastor Krista an idea I had and she liked it,” Barker says. “She then presented it to the board. In June 2019, I was added on staff to lead the project; it has been two years of solid work preparing the trail.” In July 2021 it opened.
“In my 18 years of being a network superintendent, I’ve never seen a project like this,” states Joseph Girdler, Kentucky Ministries Network superintendent. “It’s out of the box, innovative, evangelistic, apostolic. Great work!”
The packed-gravel trail itself is similar to a national park hiking trail and offers an interactive eye-spy game for greater involvement. Named the Kentucky Faith & Public History Educational Project Walking Trail, it features seven stops with seven large, professionally built interpretive text panels (similar to educational panels one might see in a museum or national park) at key locations that introduce visitors to what Christianity is, what Christians believe, how Christians practice their faith, how the faith spread from Jerusalem throughout the inhabited world, and its particular history in Kentucky.
“The objective is to provide education about who God is and what Christianity claims and represents using revival history in a child-friendly approach,” Barker says.
The trail is made even more involving through an eye-spy game where walkers can pick one of 30 numbers and follow the clues attached to that number at each stop to learn more about the identity of a famous Kentucky Christian.
As the information boards — written at a fourth-grade reading level — offer visitors objective, non-devotional descriptions of the different topics, the trail can be used by public schools for field trips without violating any laws; similar to visiting a park with informational markers or a museum.
If that were all, the trail would provide school children with at least a fun time of learning in the outdoors. However, there is also a “Famous Kentucky Christians Club” kids can join online; a monthly blog for public school teachers, home school parents, and youth ministry leaders; and Barker is currently in the midst of writing children’s books that tell the history of famous Kentucky Christians.
“So far, we have eight books completed,” Barker says, “Four about men, four about women; four are white and four are Black, which offers kids a variety of options to read.” Every year, four new books will be added to the series (available on Amazon).
But that’s not all. The church is working on a video puppet series featuring puppets of the state animal (gray squirrel) and the state insect (honey bee) who will share stories for children in primary school. The website will also be made more interactive so people can learn more about what is offered and what is being developed along the trail.
Is there more? Yes! And it’s ambitious.
“The next phase is building an outdoor living history classroom (as part of the walking trail) that will reimagine a 19th century camp meeting,” Barker explains. “Our plan is to have tents, wagons, horses, and cooking fires; in the early 19th century, people even carried in their own water and brought chickens to lay eggs . . . a camp meeting was extended event.”
But the trail’s camp meeting depiction is not intended to be just a scene to view. Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with costumed interpreters who will help students understand the relationship between the Second Great Awakening and such issues as the separation of church and state, abolition, women’s rights, childhood in America, and folk music — both sacred and secular.
What makes the camp meeting depiction an applicable and important part of the future of the walking trail is that Paris connects with Cane Ridge — commonly referred to as the home of the largest and most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening (revival).
Hampton and Barker believe that God has even more planned for the trail, but what those plans are have yet to be revealed. However, they are looking forward to potentially next spring or fall for Kentucky school children to be permitted to take field trips once again and take advantage of the educational trail.
“But this isn’t just something for us,” Hampton says. “Any church (with some available property) could do this.”
“My thinking is that this is a prototype for what can happen in other states and nations,” Barker agrees. “Every location could offer specific insights to the Christian history in that place and why it’s important in a way that can communicate to non-Christians — especially children.”
Although fulfilling the vision God has confirmed (and continues to expand) for the walking trial is moving forward at an impressive pace, the truly exciting part for Hampton, Barker, and the River of Life Ministries congregation is that relatively soon hundreds and thousands of public school students will — many for the first time — have the opportunity to come to know what Christianity is really all about and who God is.