One of my favorite moments came right at the very end. It was time to hit the road and head home. Tents had been taken down, our bags had been packed, the bus was ready to go, all set to make the long drive back to Bellevue. But for whatever reason I wasn’t ready to go yet. So I asked everyone to gather around the campfire one last time, all 91 of us in one big circle. I’m sure some of the students (and leaders) weren’t all that thrilled about it, but thankfully they went along with it, and so all together we stood in silence, listening to the sounds of the river rushing near us, and prayed.
We’ve been coming to this same place for about 12 or so years now, a campground right on the Klamath River where California meets Oregon. Each summer, we take a bunch of high school students for a six-day trip we call Extreme Week—a trip filled with river rafting, hiking, warm weather, road trips, worship, campfires, and late nights, and we grow closer to one another and in our relationship with Jesus. It’s hard to imagine a better setting for relationships and community to take place. The school year is over, homework is no more, and the distractions from back home take a back seat. We spend our day together—rafting together, laughing together, eating together, worshipping together, just about everything we do is together. And best of all, no cell phones to get in the way. In terms of relationships, a trip like this feels like it’s equivalent to, maybe, six months of youth groups.
A lot of that is due to the fact that we simply have fun together. We raft down the river together, getting splashed and yelling, making ridiculous sounds together. We throw each other in and have raft wars (when it’s safe and when our guides let us, of course). We encourage one another and cheer people on when they jump off cliffs (when it’s safe of course) and celebrate them conquering their fears. We circle through an eddy (yes, an eddy!) and see how many people we can have be a part of one eddy line. We tell jokes and laugh and stay up late together by the campfire. We dance and sing and make up ridiculous games (re: no cell service). It’s everything summer is meant to be.
And of course, in the midst of all the fun, and all the adventure, we have our serious, deeper moments, too. This year we began each day with a devotional and had a few minutes every morning to be alone and in silence: praying, reading scripture, and soaking in God’s creation. In the midst of the togetherness throughout the day, many students said that they really appreciated starting the day this way. In the evenings, we worshipped together. During this time we had the chance to hear testimonies from various students. They shared how Jesus has been at work in their lives, how youth group has impacted them in the past year, and ways in which God has gifted them to do His work. (Hearing these stories was one of the leader’s and my favorite parts.) Each night we got to hear from our camp speaker, Lara Musser-Gritter, who spoke on four different occasions about True Belonging, about how we belong to
Jesus Christ and to one another.
Students then had the opportunity to process what they heard from Lara in small groups afterwards. It always seems that some of the best conversations with students happen when we are not at church (odd, right?) and opportunities like small groups provided the perfect opportunity to have these more meaningful conversations.
On the way home, we had students write down some of their feedback about Extreme Week. Many of them wrote that they wish the trip were longer. What’s not to love about that? Turns out, they weren’t ready to leave either. I guess some of them needed that prayer