Youth Ministry: September 2016

img_0616There are no easy trails. You can look at a two-dimensional map and mark out a path that seems to minimize difficult hills and cliffs, but to reduce one risk can make you vulnerable to an unforeseen other. Both in life and on the Appalachian Trail, there is no way to assure yourself that challenges will not arise. This year, our middle schoolers and intrepid leaders learned just this.

Pastor Gordon and I knew we were in a transition year. The first hike without Larry meant a new generation of leaders. So in order to build skills like camp set up and caring for youth while being exhausted yourself, we decided to pick a less difficult terrain. Instead of a trail filled with rocky inclines, which is pretty standard in the northern sections of the trail, we opted for Tennessee and Virginia. Most of our trail followed a ridgeline, placing us above challenging hills and stifling southern humidity. But what we didn’t count on was that it would also place us above water sources and into the territory of bears.

Yes. Bears. Our very first night required a bit of flexibility, when we learned the campsite we picked on the trail’s edge was closed indefinitely due to too much bear activity. Thankfully we found a wonderful substitute location, complete with kind lemonade-bearing hosts and even wi-fi! (Sorry, Larry. How many demerits would that get us?) The next two days of hiking brought stepping over more bear scat than root systems and rocks. On our second night, we even had a visitation of curious furry friends, who smelled our food, safely stored a couple hundred feet off site! If you can believe it, the youth hikers slept completely through the irritated moaning of the bears. There was only one actual sighting of a bear “in the fur” though. Leader Grace Miguel saw an adorable brown beauty cross her path on our second day of hiking.

But while the presence of bears caused us a little excitement, they were nothing compared to the challenge of finding water sources. Last year’s course took us by multiple streams and springs, meaning we had more access to water than what we could carry. But this year, the higher elevation and the unusually dry southern spring meant even a trickle of water was harder to come by.

But even with some of the unique challenges this year, one thing stayed the same as the past, God’s creative and unrelenting care. This year’s trail included several access points from surrounding roads. This meant that rather than our usual one meet up with our precious Sherpa, Bruce tenHaken, we had three or four. Each connection brought us not only fresh blueberries, bananas, and trail mix, but also fresh cold water. It’s amazing what you take for granted in your regular every day life. The snacks and water nourished not only our bodies, but our souls.

Beyond the care of Bruce, I also continue to be amazed by the resiliency and endurance of our youth. This year’s crew brought tremendous unity, as the hikers cared for each other, even as they were exhausted themselves. They were quick to help the adults and filled the long hours on the trail with laughter and fun. They never complained, even when a leader forgot a precious container of peanut butter in the van instead of in her pack. There are no easy trails, but there is always a gracious and caring God.

~Beth Carroll, Resident Pastor of Youth and Young Adults