Most people today do not spend nearly enough time outdoors—and this sad reality is even more debilitating for our young people than it is for adults. A quick Google search on the topic reveals titles like “Survey Finds Today’s Children Are Spending 35% Less Time Playing Freely Outside,” “Most parents today say their kids don’t spend enough time outside anymore,” and “Researchers warn kids don’t get enough outdoor playtime.” The truth is painfully clear—we’re less and less in touch with the natural world that God created, and the problem is steadily worsening in the lives of our children.
But did you know that the Living Church of God is actively working to reverse this trend? Living Youth Program camps are part of that effort, as campers spend a sizable part of each day outdoors. Our adventure camps, especially, involve outdoor living. What follows is a description of that program and why it is such an important component of our service to the youth in the Church.
What We Do
Each year, our Presiding Evangelist, Mr. Gerald Weston, oversees planning the locations for our different adventures. Since one of our goals is to provide an opportunity for as many young people in God’s Church as possible to experience the great outdoors, we focus our attention on where our members live. For example, this past summer, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail in northern Arkansas was selected as the site to serve our young people in the lower Midwest. We hiked a part of this 223-mile trail through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas, which is listed as one of “The Best Thru-Hikes You’ve Never Heard Of” in Outside magazine and so remote that you’ll rarely see another person as you hike. Trip leader Mr. Bobby Jacques commented afterward that the beauty of the mountains and the different types of terrain were highlights of the three-day adventure. He wrote, “Traveling in the canopy of the forest among different types of terrain made for an adventure and experience of a lifetime.”
To serve the members on the East Coast, we planned a trip along the Linville Gorge Wilderness in the Great Smoky Mountains. I was tasked with planning and leading the trip, assisted by Mr. Bill Long, who had led last year’s trip in Montana. This year, however, his primary camp assignment was the Speech Class that he was to give at our Texas teen camp. But as it turned out, I came down with COVID-19 the day before our trip began and he stepped up to lead it! Linville Gorge, also called the “Grand Canyon of the Southeast,” is in Pisgah National Forest. It is the third-largest wilderness area in North Carolina and rewards hikers with spectacular scenery from outlook points with names such as “Table Rock” and “The Chimneys.”
Why We Do It
One circumstance that is effective in bringing people together is facing a common challenge. We have all experienced this—perhaps on the basketball court, on the soccer field, or in the classroom or office. The bond we build in marriage may also come to mind; as they navigate the complexities of making a home, raising a family, and paying the bills, a husband and wife draw closer through their shared experiences. Knowing that your partner—whether on a team or in a marriage—has been by your side through thick and thin is a comforting and encouraging part of our human experience.
The adventure camps breathe life into this principle for their young participants. As Mr. Long noted,
Over the course of three days and two nights, the hike in and around the Linville Gorge in North Carolina was very challenging but also extremely rewarding. The camaraderie and willingness to serve that was demonstrated by everyone was truly inspiring. The focus by each person on the hike was to work as a team and fill the gaps in order for everyone to enjoy the trip. We learned a lot about each other and grew together in ways that only a burst of intense, physical activity can accomplish in a group of people.
Facing challenges brings growth, and facing challenges with other people builds bonds that are both precious and strong. Mr. Jacques echoed the same theme in his report:
God always took care of our needs, and we had many who were willing to help out another hiker who was running low on energy. We grew as a team and became a tight group as we focused on the next portion of the trail lifting each other up. It was great to see those of like mind working together to reach a common goal.
Learning to overcome challenges together is only one of the benefits of our adventure program. Here are a few other benefits of group hiking, cited by a popular outdoor adventure organization called “Adventure Treks.”
- A much-needed break from technology and digital media
- A chance to “rewrite” one’s narrative or story
- Multiple opportunities to step outside one’s comfort zone and experience personal growth
- Connecting to and developing an appreciation of nature
- Building lifelong friendships in a supportive, welcoming community
- Developing skills to thrive in the 21st century
(“The Benefits of Teen Outdoor Adventure Camps,”
AdventureTreks.com, March 4, 2019.)
Many of these skills closely echo Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s “seven laws of success,” which can guide us in developing a framework of personal skills that can be applied directly to the adventure camps—and to life itself. The powerful truth is that they can be tested and developed through practice during each step of the hike.
You may ask, “If there are adventure programs run by experienced organizations like Outward Bound, Adventure Treks, and others, why participate in a Living Church of God camp?” Consider these three advantages:
- Typical adventure programs run by non-Church organizations take place over the Sabbath. We observe the Sabbath, so when one of our trips does extend over it, we modify our activities and keep the Sabbath appropriately wherever we are.
- Our adventure trips cost much less than typical trips run by other organizations—most outdoor adventure programs are extremely expensive. Our program is subsidized by the Church to help defray some of the costs, and our staff work as volunteers, making it affordable for our young people.
- Our adventures build bonds between people who have the same fundamental convictions about life. Building connections between us as those striving to be followers of Christ is extremely important, and this is a terrific way to make that happen.
Plans for the summer of 2023 are in the works right now. A trip is planned for the lower Midwest again, as is an adventure in the Southeast. We are also looking at the possibility of adding a third location. These trips are generally geared toward older teens and young adults, but we are able to work with some exceptions, depending on how quickly our trip rosters fill up.
Our adventure camps give young people in the Church a challenging experience that enables them to expand the boundaries of their comfort zones. If you desire to reach greater heights, we invite you to join us for adventure in the great outdoors!