Somewhere in life you cross this invisible line and begin to be a little more nostalgic. I guess it's all about experience. And probably not necessarily the number or years of experience, but the quality of the road you walk and the journey along the way. Yesterday was no exception for me. A flood of memories came washing over me, bringing me to laughter and even some tears of joy. The years I spent as a youth pastor - 10+ of them in one place - brought me opportunities and experiences that changed my life forever. And as the students here at our church left for camp yesterday morning, this brought to mind the experience and event that was probably more mind-blowing and life-changing than all the others put together: Survive!
It was 10 years ago this week that we loaded up for the first time and headed out to Shepherd of the Ozarks in Arkansas. I had this vision birthed in my mind of what I thought "camp" should look like, and as I visited this place the winter before the Lord affirmed to me that this was the place to come and make it happen. I had no idea that God would take my dreams and expectations and blow them out of the water!
Our week together in the mountains was all about one thing: TRIBE! And this (I believe) is what set the tone for the foundation of our youth ministry: FAMILY! This was not about putting up with each other, but fighting for each other. It was an opportunity to discover that true worship is found in the vulnerable moments of standing before the Lord (and each other), stripped bare of pride and self-centeredness. There are specific moments that I can recall, standing in the great room of a log cabin, guitar wrapped around me, tears flowing down my face, believing that if the Spirit of the God was any more present it might knock me to the ground. So many moments of comfort and others filled with conviction. Moments that could have never been manufactured by any human - or even preconceived for that matter. They were life-changing!
The week of Survive was not just about being spiritually challenged, but also being physically pushed to limits that you wouldn't push yourself. I saw students who got on the bus to go to camp who "couldn't swim" run down a river bed, dive under water and retrieve a boulder. There were students who were petrified of heights who - holding the hand of a friend - took a leap off an 18-foot cliff. Kids, who probably would have spent the week sitting on the couch, eating Cheetos, watching TV or playing X-Box, who were instead hooked to a rope with their tribe, trying to find their way out of the woods. Mind-blowing! And more than anything, what I saw year after year, moment after moment, was Jesus words in John 13:34-35 being cemented into the hearts and lives of our students and leaders: "The world will know you are mine by your love for one another". And there is nothing better than seeing God's people begin to believe this and live it out!
I hope that many of you who experienced Survive - whether it was just for one summer or all of them - will spend some moments reflecting on what the Lord did in your lives there. I would love to hear some of the memories you have. I know many of your memories are probably filled with Jeff Mangum and Nathan Hubble - two of my greatest friends! Or you may be so old school that you remember Jarrod being there those first 2 years - or remember my poor brother running up and down the river all those summers trying to video every move we made. (And God help me, I thought I was going to kill him if he videoed one more thing!) Physical, relational, spiritual - there are so many life-changing memories.
So, at the risk of sounding "nostalgic" after all these years, I'd love to ask you one last time: "Do you have what it takes...to SURVIVE?"