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Where men’s hearts are redeemed and restored

by Dean Ridings

This world is no friend to a man’s heart. So says John Eldredge, author of the hugely popular Wild at Heart (Nelson Books, 2001), among other books. Society is saturated with “soul-killing stuff”—seductions and distractions, duties and chores. Each day brings a barrage of heart assaults, leaving casualties where men work and play.

“Every man carries a wound in his soul,” Eldredge says. He adds that fathers are one of the most prevalent sources of those wounds. Boys look to receive their primary validation—an answer to the question, “Do I have what it takes?”—from their fathers, Eldredge says.

“That’s why boys jump out of the tree onto the trampoline and ride bikes with no hands,” he says. And that’s why they continue to seek adventure as adults.

“Most men carry a profound wound in their soul because their father didn’t answer their question well. He either was silent, absent, or answered it badly, saying, ‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ ‘You’re a disappointment,’ ‘You’re an idiot.’”

Through his writing and unique Christian camp experiences, Eldredge extends a healing salve: Jesus, the One who heals the brokenhearted and sets the prisoners free.

“We bring men into an encounter with God where He can speak the validation into their lives that they’ve never received,” Eldredge says.

Facing God
While some men encounter Jesus in church on Sunday mornings, Eldredge maintains there’s nothing like the call of the wild to disconnect men from worldly attachments—“the cell phone, computer, fax machine, triple-venti nonfat sugar-free latte”—and to prepare hearts.

That’s why, through several conferences and retreats conducted each year, Eldredge and his team at Colorado Springs-based Ransomed Heart Ministries lead 350 to 450 men at a time outdoors for an unusual adventure.

“Taking them out into the wilderness is like taking them into a place where they’re face to face with God and with their own soul,” Eldredge says. “Then we can raise these deeper issues: their longings, fears, hopes and dreams, disappointments, and brokenness.”
It all starts with a trek to the wilds of Colorado, in pristine, majestic locations such as Winter Park and Buena Vista.

“There’s something of the adventure of a man even getting here in driving into the mountains to experience the beauty and ‘awayness’ of it,” he says.

Heart Expedition
What takes place at camp is far from the experiences men might have had as children.

“It’s not hand-clapping and campfires and sing-alongs,” Eldredge says. “It’s the spiritual equivalent of open-heart surgery.”

Everything they do during the four-plus days—from fishing to discussion—is designed to show men that they have hearts, get them to see how wounded they are, and prepare for the Great Physician to work.

“We show a lot of clips from typical ‘guy’ movies like Braveheart and Gladiator, because that speaks quickly to the heart of a man,” Eldredge says. “We want to awaken their passion again, their passion to be the warrior, to play the man, to come through—their passion for adventure and for a beauty to rescue.”

The clips, along with teaching, question-and-answer sessions, and guided periods of reflection and journaling provide an “expedition of the heart.” During this journey, Eldredge says, “men hear the voice of God.”

“Some of these guys have been Christians 30 years,” he says. “And they didn’t even know that that kind of intimacy with their Father in heaven was available, and that He wants to talk to them, He wants to answer their questions, He wants to heal their wounds.

“One of the key things we want to show them is that every man needs a battle to fight; every man is called to be a warrior,” he adds. “Not every man will actually go to Iraq or another literal battlefield. His battle may be in his law practice, where he fights injustice. Or it may be in his medical clinic, where he fights illness. It will definitely be for the hearts of those he loves, his wife and kids.”

Finally Alive
In the past five years, thousands of men of all ages and stages have attended Eldredge’s retreats, and changed-life stories abound.

“One guy threw his wedding ring out the car window on the way to the retreat,” he says. “He was planning to leave his wife when he got back. And because of what God did in his heart at the retreat, not only did he not leave her; he went back to fight for and win her. Their marriage was transformed because of that.”

Eldredge recalls a non-Christian man at another retreat who, by day two, had packed his bags to leave. He was on the back steps of the building when he looked inside and saw a film clip that illustrated how a father wounded his son.

“The clip was the story of the way his father treated him—physical abuse,” Eldredge says. “He broke down on the steps just weeping.” Jesus became that man’s healer and Lord that day. Two years later, he volunteers on Eldredge’s team as a prayer warrior for the camps.

And there’s the story of a senior citizen who, after his camp experience last year, responded, “I have come alive for the first time!”

“It was amazing,” Eldredge says. “He’s 80 and he came alive!”

While this world is no friend to the human heart, there’s a place in this world—in the outdoors—where men find redeemed and restored hearts, the Father’s validation that they have what it takes, and a battle to fight.

Dean works as director of communications for The Navigators in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is author of The Pray! Prayer Journal (NavPress, 2003). He also serves as a men’s ministry leader at his church, Woodmen Valley Chapel.

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