One school’s annual outdoor adventure teaches eighth-graders life-long lessons
By Ryan Barnhart
After nearly 40 minutes of hiking down a steep, three-mile, gravel road, while carrying a backpack with a week’s supply of clothing, necessities and a sleeping bag, Ben Lytle finally reached his destination. Lytle, and more than 100 other eighth-grade students from Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas, spent the next five school days away from Liberty and in the wilderness at Kyles Landing on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas.
A team of male and female teachers, carefully selected older LCS student junior leaders and recent graduates, lead the excursion to Kyles Landing in May to allow the eighth graders an opportunity to bond and grow closer to Christ, while away from a normal daily routine. The campers sleep in tents, cook two meals per day, hike, rock-climb, explore caves, canoe and bathe in the river. They discover God’s creation in the wilderness, and the spiritual lessons they take home remain with them forever.
“A college student on the trip explained to me about how to have a personal relationship with Christ, and it was then that I truly became a Christian,” Lytle says.
No electronics or cell phones are allowed, and communication with the outside world is reduced to a payphone near the campsite bathrooms. The kids have a constructive “quiet time” with their Bible each morning, and every night all the campers and leaders huddle around a campfire. Millions of stars are visible as junior leaders perform skits, lead the campers in worship songs, share testimonies and offer encouragement.
At the final campfire, the campers are given an open forum to talk about what’s happening in their lives or to praise anyone in the group. They dish out numerous thank-yous and offer encouragement while the tears often run like a river. Some of the typically quietest students spend up to five minutes releasing their burdens and raving about their new friends and their week in the woods.
LCS junior high youth pastor Matt Bowles, a graduate who went on Wilderness Trip in 1996 as an eighth grader, said, “I love to get our kids out into what has been made [for people] to see God in a different way. It’s completely different than putting together an event with lights and loud music. They open up so much more.”
Organization and Planning
A caravan consisting of three buses and six 15-passenger vans with trailers leaves LCS at approximately 3 a.m. for a 10-hour bus ride on day one. Each kid pays a fee to offset the costs. Leading up to departure, organizers purchase, package and load a week’s supply of food for nearly 140 people along with about 20 tents, camping stoves, biodegradable soap, medical equipment and other necessities.
A few days before departure, the leaders divide the 100 students into about 15 cook groups and then pray over them. Each cook group consists of six or seven students of the same-sex and serves as an opportunity for campers to get to know one another better while interacting with the three or four adults or junior leaders who serve as their cook group leaders.
Lytle’s mother, Heather, is a teacher at LCS and has made the trip six times. Naturally, her favorite trip was the one she shared with her son. “After witnessing the impact that the high school and college leaders have on these eighth graders each May, I really enjoyed seeing my son on the receiving end of that experience,” she says. “He can't wait until he's old enough to go as a junior leader.”
Junior leaders set up a campsite conducive and safe for such a large group, and for the entire trip, the cook groups of six or seven campers are responsible for cooking their breakfast and dinner and cleaning the supplies twice per day. A breakfast consists of something like scrambled eggs, bacon and French toast. Dinner is traditional campfire courses like hamburgers and hot dogs. But for some, the highlight of the trip is milk-and-cookies at the mess tent just before the campers depart to their tents for bedtime each night.
Fun activities typically take place as female cook groups are prone to invite male cook groups over to their cook site for dinner. They combine supplies, and the boys, in turn, will repay the offer by cleaning all of the cookware and stoves. In the process, they learn how to treat a lady under the guidance of their male leaders.
“The campers are challenged both as a group and individually by their leaders to choose the right fork in the road and choose to follow Christ,” Mrs. Lytle says. “Having the awesome upperclassmen role models who genuinely care about their walk with the Lord is a wonderful impetus for them to make great choices.”
Leaders separate the 15 cook groups into three tribes, and throughout the trip, the tribes take part in a daily activity together. The three daily activities include canoeing the river, hiking along a creek and rappelling from a cliff. Lunches have been prepared in advance for a cluster of three campers to share during their activity. Tribal games conclude the daily activities, and junior leaders create tribal chants, songs and rituals to encourage the kids to have fun with their tribe and enjoy the friendly competition. By the second or third day of the trip, the campers really begin to understand why they are there.
“It takes your average junior-high student a couple of days to get quiet and focus on the Lord,” Bowles says. “We get out in nature, and by midway in the week, with the kids out of their comfort zones, they really start to connect with the Lord.”
Leaving a Legacy
To conclude the trip, the campers pack their belongings, tear down tents, pick up trash and load all supplies. Then, the trek up the three-mile hill begins. At the top, air-conditioned buses await the campers, along with a camp T-shirt that serves as a token of accomplishment.
Some of the kids neglect personal hygiene the entire week, and on the ride home the buses wreak of body odor, campfire smoke and stale condensation. But the kids quickly wind down, and sleep comes easier. They depart knowing a week’s worth of lifetime memories and friendships have been made.
“Wilderness Trip is a jumpstart to a spiritual walk with the Lord,” says Ian Harbor, a sophomore at LCS. “It’s easy to forget what you felt on the trip, but it can also have a lasting benefit.”
A large majority of the campers hale from Dallas suburbs and had never spent a night away from their bed or a four-star hotel before Wilderness Trip. And many of the urbanites arrive dreading the upcoming week and the thought of making their own meals and bathing in a freezing river, but almost all of the campers leave with an irreplaceable feeling of joy and excitement. Many, even years later, still rave about the lasting effects of the trip.
“Everything was amazing!” Lytle says. “Best week of my life!”
“Wilderness Trip was the greatest week of my life, and I loved everything about it,” Harber echoes.
Most of the adult leaders leave saying the same thing. And so do the female campers, who were given a week to forego worrying about makeup, fixing their hair and impressing their male classmates.
Liberty Christian School’s annual adventure into the wild is a trip that all will remember forever.
Ryan Barnhart is a freelance journalist from Denton, Texas. He is also a teacher at LCS and has been on Wilderness Trip.
Editor’s Note: Nearly 250 CCCA member Christian camps and conferences offer adventure/wilderness trips similar to LCS’s Wilderness Trip described in this article. Search for opportunities in your area by visiting www.findachristiancamp.com.