Witness to an Adventure


BakerRailroadGrade

Michael had it written all over his face. He was done. Ninety minutes into our four-day hike, he was whipped. Michael was not really an athletic kid, a tad overweight and sweating profusely. He was wearing blue jeans and seemingly unprepared to climb a mountain. As an at-risk high schooler on our 12-day adventure called Leadership Pursuits, Michael already had accomplished way more than he probably dreamt he could. He’d gone whitewater rafting and kayaking. He belayed off a rock face, ridden horses, built a campground, and now was on a four-day ascent to the summit of Mt. Adams, a 12,280-foot volcano in Southwest Washington, adjacent to the infamous Mt. St. Helens; and he was ready to quit.

Greg Johnson, the trip leader and our most seasoned mountaineer in Youth Dynamics Adventures, pulled the group of 12 into the shade of some old-growth cedars for a short break and went over to Michael to assess the situation. Michael plopped his 60-pound pack onto the ground and collapsed in a heap onto a log. After we had rested for 10 or 15 minutes, we needed to get back on the trail, but we had a decision to make. Should we continue on with Michael or without him? It was to be a four-day hike to the summit and back. We really only had two options: Either we could pull one of our leaders off the trail, and he and Michael could sit in the parking lot and wait four days for us to return, or we could try as a team to get Michael through the next several days. We let the team decide. They rallied. The team wanted to help Michael complete the journey to the summit and back.

Greg immediately began to rummage through Michael’s pack. He discovered a family-size Bible, some blue jeans, some other heavy items he wouldn’t need, and promptly buried them. (We retrieved them on the way back.) Other members of the group volunteered to take some of his other gear so Michael’s pack would be lighter. Would it be enough? Would he last the day? Would he last four days? Only time would tell.

Our little caravan started back on the trail with me in the lead, followed by six high school boys, with three leaders interspersed, and Greg planted directly behind Michael bringing up the rear. What followed was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. From one pit stop to the next, Greg was right there with Michael chirping in his ear. “You can do this. It’s just around this next bend.” Or, “Let’s make it to that big tree. Just 10 more minutes, then we can rest.” Sometimes Greg would encourage Michael; other times he was stern with him, prodding him forward. Step by step, Michael walked up that mountain. We hiked through the trees in the morning; beautiful forests of pine, cedar, Douglas fir and blue spruce. We emerged through the tree line just after lunch. We were encouraged, spirits were high. Then we encountered a section of the mountain that might as well be Mordor. Straight out of Lord of the Rings, it is a large field of lava rock, and it is brutal. Michael persevered and made it to our campsite above the lava rock at the base of mountain’s face. We spent the night at the snow line with our tents pitched mostly on rocks.

We took most of the evening and the entire next day with lessons about life and leadership and how God fits into the whole picture. We also spent a significant amount of time in snow school, learning how to climb safely in the snow with boots and crampons, how to properly use our ice axes, and most importantly how to stop ourselves if we fell, while not stabbing ourselves with our axes in the process!

The morning of the third day, we awoke early for a mountain ascent, leaving at 2 a.m. so we could summit and climb back down before the snow got soft and dangerous in the afternoon sun. We set out with our headlamps in the dark of the early morning, climbing in a line, one after the other, in a zig-zag pattern up the steep face of Mt. Adams. The face itself is about 1,500 feet of vertical, and it feels as if it’s straight up. Each step was taken carefully, with our ice axes in our uphill hands, planting them firmly in the snow, then scraping out a level foothold before taking our next step—then repeating the process. After three or four hours of climbing, we reached the top of the face, exhausted, coming to grips with the reality that we had only reached a false summit. False because if we hadn’t known better, we would have thought it was the summit while we were climbing only to reach the top and realize the summit was still beyond us, and we couldn’t see it from where we were climbing. While we waited for Michael and Greg to join us, we enjoyed a snack and took in the expansive view of the mountains below us as the sun had risen during our ascent. After a good rest, the team was eager to take on the final push. We set out on a free for all, traversing horizontally across a ½-mile flat field of snow and reconvened at the base for a final ascent of the last couple hundred feet of vertical. The team decided to wait and let Michael lead the team up from here. As we made the final push, here was Michael, the kid I thought was going to quit an hour into our hike, leading the team to the top. As he reached the summit first, a wide smile came across his face as he jumped up and down and shouted at the top of his lungs. It was in all aspects a pinnacle moment in his life. He had accomplished something well beyond what he believed he could do, something no one ever would be able to take away from him, and learned some things about himself that no doubt will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I have witnessed moments such as this again and again with teenagers while climbing mountains, whitewater rafting or rock climbing. The medium really doesn’t matter as long as the elements are the same. Take someone outside his or her comfort zone, include challenge and some risk, create an environment where he or she must exercise faith and dig down inside him or herself to accomplish something that previously seemed impossible, while a team of people surround and support the person. It’s an amazing thing to watch.

~Mark

Originally Published in YouthWorker Journal, March/April 2016

Press On


Mt. Baker, WA - Railroad Grade

My Mt. Baker summit climb with teens from YD Adventures in August 2014

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:12-14

“Press on.” Keep going. It’s what you tell students who are struggling on a long hike. It’s what you tell your friend who is going through a hard time. It’s what the Apostle Paul tells us he is doing here in his letter to the church at Phillipi. Paul has accomplished some significant things at this point in his life. He is under house arrest in Rome. It’s been almost 30 years since his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He’s traveled around the Middle East several times planting churches and encouraging believers. He’s written 10 books of the New Testament by now. At almost 60, Paul is an old man for his day, and he is unaware that it’s actually only a few more years until he is beheaded during Nero’s reign.

But he’s not content. He is not stopping now. He has not arrived yet. The finish line is still a ways off in his mind. The beginning of the race is important, but the race is almost meaningless if you don’t finish. When I read his famous line, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” I automatically think of the pain he has had to go through to get to this point. The shipwreck he survived, the three times he’s been rocked and left for dead. “Forget about the pain, let’s finish strong,” is the first thing I imagine him saying to me. But it’s not just about the pain and the memory of it, that has the potential to hold him back. It’s also the victories he has already seen, the miracles he’s watched firsthand, and the growth of the church from its infancy to its expansion from just a few handful of believers to likely tens of thousands of Christ-followers in cities scattered around the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Rome. But victories can be just as debilitating as pain. “I’ve done enough already,” “I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would”; these thoughts can be the quicksand that prevents you from moving forward. Have you ever seen someone do this? It’s so sad to watch unfold.

In my 49 years, I have seen God do some amazing things, and conversely have slogged through some very painful times. Your personal history is no different. You have experienced both highs and lows. I imagine that right now there are people reading this who are at both ends of the spectrum; some who are experiencing some miracle of God currently, and others who are walking through a very difficult stretch of trail. I don’t know where you are at this moment, but wherever you find yourself, Paul’s message is the same: “Press on.”  But look carefully at what Paul says in Corinthians. We are just not pressing on in our own power. It’s not us, pulling up our bootstraps and moving ahead.

2 Cor 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

This is God’s work. He’s doing something in you. Be encouraged.

Press in and press on.

~Mark

October 2014

Growing Leaders


Yes. I feed them both my leftover coffee. It's a little cannibalistic, I know.

The bamboo plant in my office used to be the size of the coffee plant on my desk…

So, I have this bamboo plant in my office…

It sat on my desk for several years in a 4” pot. It grew to a certain height and stayed that way forever. Then one day I had an idea. What if I put it in a bigger pot? Would it grow? Would it die? I decided to give it the opportunity to grow. And did it ever!

Today that bamboo plant is too big for my desk. Actually it sits on the floor and is now taller than my desk by a foot or more. All I did was give it room to grow, (and a lot of cold coffee).

In Youth Dynamics (YD), we try to do the same thing with teenagers. It’s easy for people to get stuck.

Teenagers especially get put into a box, told by someone that they are this or that, defined by words that people threw carelessly at them.

In relational youth ministry we give students an opportunity to break out of those molds. As we build relational trust with kids, we challenge them to grow beyond where they find themselves.

Adventure ministry often times gives us a framework for those break-out moments.

It’s so great to see students step outside themselves, to risk failure only to find that they can do way more than they ever thought they could, and grow in the process.

In the 6 years that I’ve been with YD, I’ve seen our YD kids blossom and grow. Some have grown to the point where they’ve become interns, others have joined our summer staff teams and a few even have joined us as full-time missionaries. We try to do the same thing with our staff. Create a culture where they can step outside themselves and grow. We desire to create an atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes, to dust yourself off and to try again.

Parents and organizations alike would benefit from creating a culture that provides enough relational security for people to feel safe to step out and try things; to know that their acceptance does not depend on perfection.

One must do this with an open hand however, and a Kingdom mindset.

Your staff may outgrow your job and your organization. Is that okay with you? Your child may grow to become something that you did not have in mind for them to be? Are you alright with that? If you have a Kingdom mindset you will be. You will recognize that Christ has designs and plans for their life that likely differ from your hopes and dreams for their life. Hold them loosely. Develop people anyway. It’s what Christ calls us to do. “Go and make disciples.” And let them go take their place in God’s Kingdom, wherever that may be.

~Mark

Manhauling and Leadership. Life and Death Leadership Lessons from the Race to the South Pole


scottmanhauling2I just finished a fantastic book about the race to the South Pole that happened over 100 years ago. You may be familiar with Shackleton and his incredible story of survival, but this story is primarily about the other two principal explorers in this  epic battle for adventure supremacy, Roald Admundsun and Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

Scott was from England. Scott believed England always did it better. England was perhaps 25-30 years past the peak of it’s colonial power, and was trying to hang on to it’s world dominance. Amundsen in contrast, was from a tiny country, Norway, on the cusp of it’s independence. He believed he could learn from anyone, and spent months with a remote tribe of Eskimos near the North Pole to learn how to survive in the extreme cold. He learned how to dress, build igloos, even how to create a thin layer of ice on the runner blades of sleds by spitting on them, varying the thickness of the ice with the weather. It turns out that one of the most important lessons he learned, was how to use sled dogs. It seems only logical to us today that one would use sled dogs to pull sleds in the extreme cold over ice and snow, but at that time, the use of dogs was new technology (to everyone except the Eskimos). The use of skis for Polar Exploration was in its infancy as well. The old school of thought was to “man-haul.” This meant strapping leather harnesses on men, and having them haul sledges over the ice and snow, up mountains and over crevasses. It seems crazy, but this was the accepted practice for Polar Explorations, especially those from England. In fact, Scott thought there was something glorious in “manhauling.”

“In my mind no journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realised when a party of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts…Surely in this case the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won.” -Captain Scott

Somehow Scott thought it was almost cheating to use dogs or skis. It had to be done the way they had always done it, by “man-hauling.” You must understand the scale of this madness. It was nearly 1500 miles to the South Pole and back from their main camp, with over 10,000 ft of elevation gain. Four men to a sledge, pulling 9-10 hours each day, step by step, in subzero temperatures, for months on end. Amazingly, both teams made it to the South Pole, Amundsen arriving more than a full one month ahead of Scott.  Amundsen was meticulous in his planning. Leaving supply depots as he went, Amundsen religiously marked his supply depots with flags pointing to them for miles on either side of each one. He only allowed his team to do cover 15 miles each day, which most days only took 4-5 hours, pacing themselves for the long journey. They took blizzards as a sign from God to hunker down and rest.

“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”  -Roald Amundsen

Captain Scott in his arrogance did not plan ahead. He gloried in improvisation. He took only the bare minimum amount of supplies, leaving no margin for error. His dumb luck only encouraged him in his arrogance. His team would manhaul in any weather, manhauling for 10-12 hours on most days, sometimes covering only 1/2 the distance that Amundsen and his team did. They wore ill-equipped English clothing that trapped in the sweat which then froze to their bodies, with boots that froze to their feet, literally. Although Scott and his team eventually made it to the South Pole, on their way home, fatigue and lack of planning finally caught up with them and they could not find one of their supply depots only a few days journey from their home base. They died together in their tent, freezing to death only a few miles from supplies that they could not find.

 Here are a few leadership questions I culled from this story:

  • Am I more like Scott or Amundsen? 
  • Do I take the time to plan well or do I enjoy flying by the seat of my pants?
  • Am I overconfident because of past success? 
  • Am I resistant to new ways of doing things? Am I forcing my team to manhaul, when there are obviously new means to do it? (Work Smarter not Harder) 
  • Do I somehow glory in heavy lifting; in “suffering for Jesus?” 
  • Do I have a teachable spirit? Am I hungry to learn?

Lots of good food for thought here, but I’ll leave you with one final interesting tidbit from the lives of Amundsen and Scott, perhaps the most surprising fact of the story. Both men had the same mentor. That’s right, a man named Fridtjof Nansen. Both men greatly admired this legendary Norwegian explorer and in some ways each wanted to be his successor. The big difference was that Amundsen listened to Nansen whereas Scott, ignored his mentor’s advice to bring “dogs, dogs and more dogs.” And that was perhaps indicative of Scott’s greatest downfall. His arrogance and overconfidence eventually cost him his life and the lives of his team.

Are you listening to the people in your life who are pressing you to change? Or do you continue to manhaul, causing both you and the people around you to suffer needlessly?

~Mark

 

Youth Dynamics – Scholarship Video


Take 3 min to watch this and help a teenager. Other than a missions trip, nothing in my 28 years of youth ministry has as much impact on a teenagers life as an extended adventure trip in the wilderness!

Click to Donate

$41 million judgement for teenager on a foreign trip with school


Youth Pastor, if you take teenagers overseas you better pay attention to this lawsuit.

5 years ago, Cara Munn, then a 15 yr old girl at her boarding school in Connecticut, contracted a tick-borne illness while on a trip to China with her school. (an excerpt from the linked article is below)

“On the trip, Munn and fellow students visited an area considered high-risk for tick-borne illness, and, upon her return, she was hospitalized for the disease that ended up ravaging her system and inflicting permanent brain damage.

Antonio Ponvert III, a lawyer for Munn, said of the $41 million award that the school was negligent in not only failing to manage students and protect them but also for neglecting to notify the woman’s family of the extent of her illness.”

“Hotchkiss failed to take basic safety precautions to protect the minor children in its care … I hope that this case will help alert all schools who sponsor overseas trips for minors that they need to check the CDC for disease risks in the areas where they will be travelling, and that they must advise children in their care to use repellant and wear proper clothing when necessary.”

Ponvert added: ”Cara’s injuries were easily preventable.”

While you cannot and should not ever guarantee safety while on a trip, negligence by definition IS preventable. Make sure you (over) communicate to parents and teens about the risks associated with the locations you are attending as well as the activities you will be doing, so that both can make an informed decision regarding their participation and the precautions they may want to take as attendees.

It’s hard to believe that something as simple as bug spray may have prevented both the $41 million judgement, and more importantly, Cara’s health. Save yourself some grief while you’re helping save the world.

Lead well,

~Mark

Teen Gets Sick On School Trip, Awarded $41M – link to original article

Risk.


For the past 2 days I have been at a conference listening to lawyers talk about risk and risk management with 10 members of my team. While most of you will stop reading immediately, you shouldn’t. I wish every youth worker could get the chubby bunnies scared right out of them by some lawyer once in their life. While the conference I’m attending is not a youth ministry conference, it has a lot to say to you and me about what we do.

Here are a few of my takeaways from this conference hosted by NOLS:

1. Permission Slips / Participant Agreements work.

They are the first line of defense by lawyers, although there are something like 1/2 the states where a parent cannot sign away the rights of a minor. If yours is one of those states that doesn’t mean don’t do them. A large component of these agreements is clear communication of what the participant can expect and the risks involved. You need to make sure there are no surprises for either the parent or the participant. A well written participant agreement makes sure this happens. Both parent and child need to be crystal clear on what the participant will be doing and the risks involved. Additionally, NEVER say something like “this thing isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” It will likely invalidate it.

2. Check your website and brochures for absolutes.

Statements like: “Your child will be supervised at ALL times.” or “We will be safe,” should be removed. You cannot guarantee safety. No one can. Making claims of the sort exposes you to litigation. Avoid absolutes and making promises you can’t keep.

3. All material is discoverable in a court case.

Almost nothing is off limits. External docs, internal docs, training manuals, emails, letters, memos, pictures: anything printed or on a hard drive, policies both written and those unwritten; all can be required to be turned over to the opposition’s lawyers during the discovery process and used to create a case against you in a court of law. If that enough to freak your chicken, that’s probably good.

One lawyer said today… imagine your brochure or blog being read back to you on the witness stand in front of a jury someday. That will help you decide what’s appropriate.

There is so much more that could be said here, but honestly, I’m a tad nervous about setting myself as some kind of an expert here. I’m not. But as a 27 yr youth ministry veteran and a parent, I wish more youth workers would take issues of safety more seriously.

Btw… please take the time to read the following statement carefully:

This blog is intended to be general information only – not specific legal advice.  Consult with competent counsel familiar with your organization and the laws pertinent to its operations.

~Mark

New infographic on avg U.S. teen and ‘the power of camp’ or any outdoor ministry I’d say…


http://thepowerofcamp.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/POC-Infographic-Final-small.jpg

You’ve never seen stars like this! Yosemite’s night sky in timelapse.


I think I just added something else to my bucket list. I discovered this clip on another blog today. It’s unbelievably amazing just to watch this on your pc, let alone to experience this in person at Yosemite, I imagine. To quote my Pinterest friends: “I’m so doing this.” Isn’t it almost tragic how much time we spend indside these days? Kids are being raised almost exclusively indoors. And I get it, we need to keep our children safe. But wow, what we’re missing. Newsweek’s Tony Dokoupil’s recent article “Is the Internet Making us Crazy?” looks at some of the current trends and poses some great questions. I just discovered a new book called “Your Brain on Nature.” A scientific look at nature’s impact on our brains. I suspect that as I read it this week I”ll find what many of us in Youth Dynamics and YD Adventures know anecdotally, that nature is the antidote to tech. Obviously, I’m more than just a fan of tech, seriously, I know this. But getting outside helps keep my life in balance. It de-stresses and unwinds me where tech tends to add stress and winds me up. We’re finding this in our working with teenagers as well. We haven’t done any hard studies yet, but many of the 5,000 teenagers we work with each year have not been outside much at all. My staff know that being out in God’s creation gives you a fantastic platform to discuss the deeper issues of life. People relax when they are surrounded by nature. It’s significantly easier to believe in a Creator God when you’re watching a sunset, or looking up at the stars, or sitting on top of a mountain. In fact, I have a friend who as a teenager, was a complete atheist, who did not believe God could exist, until he experienced Him during a thunderstorm high up on a mountain while on an adventure trip. He is now a Christ-follower and is interning with us. We’ve been doing Adventure ministry for over 30 years here in the Northwest, and I feel like what we’re doing is more relevant, more necessary than ever. How many significant conversations have you had around a campfire late at night?If you’re a parent or a youth worker, do you kids a favor and get them outside!

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