Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grand Canyon Stories

What kind of story are you living?
Every day we write our story. The way we live and the choices we make help to determine how that story unfolds. Three EMH students, along with EMH instructors Ben Little and Carmen and Linsey Curro, recently took an in-depth look at their stories on a ten-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.

With story as the theme of the trip, the group read through the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. “God calls us to a greater story,” said EMH Director Ben Little. “He has things for us to do in this greater story, but often we settle for much less, living out of selfish desires and fears.”

“We really encouraged the students to look at their stories and write down their observations and thoughts,” added Linsey Curro. “Each student had insightful thoughts to share with us at our debriefs.”

In a great story, characters who want something are willing to overcome conflict to get it. Who are we as characters in this greater story? And how is God transforming us through conflict?

Conflict started early for the students with their first night camping on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Expecting warm weather all week, the group was not prepared for a night of 12 degrees and wind chills below zero. Though the weather did become warmer, the physical conflict continued: the students had to descend 5000 feet from the rim down to the Colorado River, then back up, covering a 25-mile loop. Learning from last year’s course, the group arose early each morning and began hiking before sunrise. This made a huge difference in their speed and comfort of travel. The group hiked 3 to 6 miles every day but arrived at their campsites by early afternoon, allowing more time to talk, study, enjoy one another, and play in the rivers and waterfalls along the way.

“My favorite part was hiking all morning in the heat and getting rewarded by the cool water at our camps,” said Junior Becca Wade. Senior Micah Ritschard added, “I was inspired by the grandeur of the canyon and by the boundless creativity of God in the sunset.”

The physical challenges—steep and difficult hiking, carrying heavy packs, cooking and sleeping outdoors, and going without comforts they were used to—set the stage for deeper discussions about life and story. Conversations often focused on God’s ability to redeem past failures, wounds, and regrets. Mr. Little commented: “We had several nights of deep sharing and intense prayer for each other. The students were really vulnerable in talking about their pasts, sharing areas in which they want to grow and see God redeem.” As God began to heal their pasts, they discussed how they could be part of writing a greater story for their lives.

The course was transformational for Senior Tori Houseknecht.  The challenges and discussions of the course sparked a desire to begin to live seriously in her relationship with Christ and live a greater story. As an expression of her new-found commitment, she was convicted to be baptized. After a lot of prayer and a two-hour conversation with Mr. Little, he baptized her in the Colorado River.

“Baptizing Tori was a big highlight of the course for me,” said Mr. Little. “It was an honor to be able to talk about what baptism means and the journey of being a follower of Christ.”

Near the end of the course, the students went on their own for an 18-hour overnight solo, which gave them opportunity to be alone with God, processing some of the ideas they had been discussing on the trail all week. The instructors challenged them to think about what they wanted to take back with them to life after the course.

This solo time became one of the most transformational points of the course, especially for Becca Wade. As she later shared with the group, she had been struggling all school year with some doubts and questions, feeling distant from God. During her solo time, God clearly and directly spoke to her through specific scriptures, even to the point of describing her physical surroundings. This became a very personal time of hearing from God, a time of finding hope and healing.  

In the context of story, Mr. Little said, “life is very much like hiking in the Grand Canyon. When you think about traversing the entire canyon, it is so overwhelming. You say, ‘There is no way I can do that. It is too steep, too long. I am not strong enough. This weight I am carrying is too much.’ But when you take one step at a time, one day at a time, you are able to do it. This story of life is about taking the next step. God gives me the strength for this moment and then the next. He tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Just be content for today.”

Tori couldn’t agree more. The biggest lesson she learned from the course? “Live in the now, not in the future."

To see more pictures from the 2013 Grand Canyon course, visit the Ekklesia Mountain High Facebook page here.

Ekklesia Mountain High (EMH) is a wilderness program of Darren Patterson Christian Academy offered to high school juniors and seniors that integrates approximately 40 days of wilderness adventure and training plus an international mission trip into the school year. For more general information about EMH, please click here.  

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