Think back to one of the most meaningful conversations or thoughts you’ve had. Take a minute to picture where you were, what was happening, who was there, what other events had led up to that moment/situation/conversation? Were you at home, at work, at play, by yourself, with someone else? Did you go into that event expecting to have that meaningful moment, or did it just happen organically?
Well, it’s the night before our Grade 7-8 year-end retreat…an overnighter to Pines Bible Camp near Grand Forks, BC. Don’t get me wrong…I’m sure it’s a great place…but the destination is not the goal. The destination might be a goal…or an implicit goal. But then again, we I bet we could take our kids almost anywhere and we would have a powerful time.
No, the real goal – the explicit goal – the paramount reason for taking two days off school, for asking so much more of our staff than a simple 9-5 job, for giving kids another chance to meet with God in a powerful way – is having 34 continuous hours with our staff & students. These 34 hours will seem much longer than 34 x 60 = 2040 minutes. I guarantee it. I am so confident because of the beauty of camping, because of the simplicity of getting on a bus for an old-fashioned adventure, because of the renewing & eye-opening opportunity that exists when we step away from our well-known/safe/familiar/comfortable day-to-day life and take a peek at something new.
For the past many retreats I have spent the night before getting ready to share – getting ready to speak – trying to
finish start (see my recent post on Planning) my talks. Speaking at camps is a serious art form. But, I’ll save that for a future post. No, this retreat I am so pleased to say that our HCS Chaplain, Josiah Bitgood (Facebook, Twitter, Blog), will be leading the talks. So, rather than getting a good sleep the night before (and really, why pack?)…I’ve got a post on my mind…trying to articulate why retreats & camping play the role they do in our lives of our students.
It should be noted here that student retreats were existent long before I came to Heritage and will continue to exist long after I’m gone. My first experience with meaningful camping was as a boy at summer camp – rustic rural Christian kids camp and also jock sports camp. Either way, it was a great time of personal development, of building friendships, and of eating white break with half-inch think butter and sugar (at the Bible camp, not the sports one…). Seriously…truly amazing.
Camping has been a central piece of my family experience as well. As a young boy, my father and I spent time each summer travelling to Yoho National Park. I’m not sure what was better – the hiking or the car rides…memorizing one entire album while being quizzed on the Capitals of our Canadian Provinces and my 10×10 times-tables. Again, like above, it wasn’t the destination…it was something else…
After I graduated from high school I spent time working with Young Life, a Christian youth organization, who’s modo is, “loving kids in their world, encouraging them to know Jesus Christ.” I never experienced Young Life as a kid – only as a volunteer leader and staff person. [As a side note: As a teacher and principal, there's not a day that goes by that I don't think back to my days with Young Life.] Young Life’s philosophy is quite simple – as stated by its founder, Jim Rayburn,
“It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.”
So, in a nutshell, Young Life is the craziest fun you will ever experience…but…it’s not the fun that keeps kids coming back (destination)…it’s something more…
Young Life boiled its system (although I hate calling it that…perhaps pedagogy would be better here…) into “The 4 Cs”: Campaigners, Contact Work, Club, Camp. One of the best articulations of this can be found right here by former Young Life staff person Bob Perkins: No Banana Splits (PDF). For the record, the name of this document is a caution to youth workers everywhere that your weekly events cannot be bigger and better each week. This is a cycle that can never be maintained. Events (what Young Life calls Club) must draw kids because of something more/extra/deeper than the circus-show of dazzling prizes/events/swag etc.
So what is this extra missing ingredient? What is the value-added experience beyond raffling off cars and having pizza parties each week? What are the components that will keep kids (or should I say all humans) engaged/safe/empowered/encouraged/known?
Relationship. (I’ve tried three times with three different strategies to add 20 lines of space before this word…not wanting to give away the answer until you had scrolled down…#sigh)
This is what makes camp so amazing:
- quality time with peers who accept you and role models who celebrate you
- moments away from our hustle-and-bustle of daily life…our daily life full of our instant-on / instant-stimulus / instant-response gadgets & mind-frames
- basic human needs: food/shelter/warmth…camp is a great neutralizer…[my old Young Life boss used to say, "there's just something humbling and safe-building when you wake up beside someone who has toothpaste all over the side of their mouth...]
- there’s nothing quite like a fire, ocean, star, mountain, sunset/rise, cow & calf moose to force us all to ponder the magnitude of our universe & the infinitude of our role in it…and to consider the basic question of origins & purpose
Camp is about connecting with things around us – nature, comrades, or even ourselves if we venture alone. Camp is about being put in situations that might never happen ‘in real life’. Camp is about building relationships.
So, this is another thing I absolutely love about my school. We spend 2.5 days the first week back from summer at Morning Star Bible Camp on a high school retreat – what a way to come back after the summer break! We take 2 more days in February for our high school mid-winter retreat. And, our grade 7 and 8 (next year’s middle school) classes get two days now enjoying each other’s company and growing together. I trust that these two days will be powerful. Yet, I am reminded often, this is not an equation. You cannot simply add ‘time off school’ + ‘out-of-town over night trip’ + ‘cookies galore’ = ‘amazingly powerful time’. Also, I don’t want to set up too high of an expectation – amazingly powerful time – because any time away as a group this time of year will be great.
Food for thought: Have you had some positive (or negative) camping experiences? What have been some of your meaningful ones and what contributed to making them so?