From my perspective, this trip went better than I could have dreamed. From an administrative standpoint, we had zero hiccups (credit to you parents for being so flexible with last minute forms!). Once we were packed and loaded, we made it to Brevard in about 12 hours safe and sound. The first night we pitched our tents and ate some dinner. All of the food there was incredible. Our Christian Adventures guides, Chad and Rebekah, had brought a gas stove and everything necessary to feed us like kings and queens. The weather was incredible, and we didn't even encounter rain until our very last night there.
On our first official day of hiking, we hiked along a service track in the Dupont state forest. It was incredible. Near the end of the hike we swam in a nearby river, climbed on some rocks, and had a really relaxing evening. Our base camp was located next to a natural trout stream so some students went and played there, while others learned how to play euchre at the campsite. I was blessed to lead devotions every night, and we began by sharing where we had seen God during the day. We moved on to talking about what authentic community really looks like. We spoke about how social media and cultural norms have lulled us into complacency. I had lessons planned for each day, but after the first night they were discarded. As we were talking about what sets apart our community as a youth group from other communities, a student suggested that vulnerability was the key factor. That led to another student suggesting we share testimonies, as we would be able to love one another better and support each other in our struggles. I thought that was a fabulous idea.
The second day of hiking was very different. The trails weren't wide or well traveled and we spent a lot of time going up only to come back down again. By lunchtime it was safe to say that we were pretty well worn, but it was so worth it when we reached the top. The view was incredible, and there were some very comfy rocks to rest on. After the hike, a few of the boys found the swimming hole at our base camp. There was a cement platform where the river was deepest that allowed you to jump into the river, and that quickly became a favorite evening activity. After dinner and some games we sat down for devos again. I began by sharing my testimony, and a few other leaders followed suit. We made a point to focus on how we are still people in need of a Godly community that holds them accountable and values their holiness more than their happiness so that we are continually being molded into Christ's image. And students started to share.
To say that those testimonies were powerful is a gross understatement. After every testimony, another student would volunteer to pray for whoever had just shared. Tears were shed frequently, and the group grew noticeably closer. Anyone who has ever gone on a mission trip or experienced something like this knows how hard it is to put these intangible feelings and experiences into words. The levels of honesty were beautifully shocking, and the outpouring of support was no different. I sound like a broken record, but I could not be more proud of the level of maturity that this group possesses. Without violating trust I can't give you specific examples, but frequently the struggles that were shared were met with a chorus of "I hurt there too." I don't think there was a single night that my heart didn't both break and swell with pride because of their stories. You have some incredible children.
On our third day, we got up bright and early and headed out to the base of looking glass mountain, the same mountain we would hike up the following day. We spent some time getting ready and climbed for the better part of three hours. After that we had a bit of a rest day. We returned to base camp for naps and swimming. Card games were played and a slack line was set up. It was a welcome rest. We continued sharing testimonies after dinner, and went to bed.
On our final day in NC, we hiked to the top of looking glass rock. It was one of the steeper switchback trails we had been on, but we made record time. The view was absolutely incredible. God's creation is stunning. We spent some time eating on the top of the mountain and headed back down after we'd had our fill. That night we finished testimonies and talked about how we are going to bring this kind of community back to the "real world." I also challenged them to bring it outside of the youth group. To be an example for the church as a whole, for their peers and friend groups. People who truly care for one another are rare these days. The question "How are you?" is an automatic greeting, and "fine" is our automatic response. Suffering with and celebrating with one another is something we are called to do. I see your children doing that. And its downright inspiring.
This upcoming Sunday we are going to have a few students share about the things they learned and the experiences that they had. I'm so excited, but I also know that its hard to put something like this into words. I mean, this is my third time trying to revise this post into something that captures what we got to experience together. Thank you for raising your children in Christ. Its evident, and they are going to do amazing things for the kingdom.