Like the Challenger West program, the Boundary Waters Adventure (BWA), which is planned to be held every other year, is much more than just a guided tour of beautiful scenery. It stresses spiritual growth, leadership training and building positive relationships. A program based on canoeing and camping inherently involves cooperation, trust and teamwork—which are vital traits for Christians seeking to serve God’s people. Along with taking turns steering their canoe, each participant was assigned to lead his or her team for camp set-up or take-down and a portion of the group’s travel. Each young adult also presented a 10-minute talk on a biblical character or a leadership principle.
In participating in this trip, campers became a part of the existing group of people within the Church of God who had taken part in the Boundary Waters canoeing program that was for decades a part of SEP (Summer Educational Program) based in Orr, Minnesota.
The Boundary Waters provides an excellent setting for UCG’s new adventure program. After orientation and training at a campsite on Echo Lake, the group divided into three teams and began their adventure paddling down the Little Indian Sioux River to Loon Lake and beyond. The adventurers saw bald eagles and beavers and heard the call of the wild loon. They endured two surprise thunderstorms, but it rained only after camp had been set up and the rest of the trip they had ideal weather. Called the Boundary Waters (lakes and rivers) because they divide the U.S. and Canada, part of the time campers were in the U.S. and part of the time they were in Canada. The entire group reunited for a restful Sabbath at a campground on Lake Mukooda before emerging from the wilderness the next day.
Along with gaining valuable lessons and experiences, and pushing their comfort zones, the adventurers created new friendships and deepened old ones.
In 1979, I had a similar experience when I attended SEP at 15 years old. Going on a Boundary Waters canoe trip was one of the most memorable things I experienced there. Near the end of the first week of camp, one boy from each dorm was chosen for the trip and we were in the wilderness for four days and three nights. We traveled 60 miles. It was the hardest work I had ever done at that point in my life, but it was thrilling. I enjoyed every minute of it—or at least almost every minute.
At one point in the trip we stopped at a rock face on the lake shore and staff said that we could cliff jump. It was about 20 feet down, and several of the boys took the plunge. I held back though. I don’t remember if it was from fear or just not wanting to get wet. What I do remember is that I regretted missing that opportunity for years afterward.
I’ve told of that experience many times to encourage teens at summer camp to not miss out on special opportunities.
Leading the Boundary Waters Adventure this summer was a very special opportunity, and I’m glad I did not let it pass. Along with getting to camp in beautiful wilderness with an outstanding group of people, BWA gave me another opportunity to reverse a regret after 40 years. Near the end of our second day of paddling, we came to the exact same place for cliff jumping. This time I did not hesitate! I joined almost everyone else in our group climbing up and experiencing the thrill of a leaping plunge into the water.
Don Hooser and Bill Cowan helped establish the Boundary Waters canoe trip at SEP in 1965. Mr. Hooser wrote,
“Bill Cowan and I were blessed to be in charge of the canoeing program for that very first summer of SEP in 1965. To spend a whole summer canoeing, camping, teaching kids and seeing gorgeous scenery was almost a paradise for us.
“After a week of teaching canoeing at Pelican Lake, we spent the rest of the summer leading canoe trips. Bill and I would take two of these five-day trips back-to-back before returning to camp to rest for a few days. While on the trip, we were out of contact with anyone for those five days. Most of the time, no civilization was within sight, and even today that area has almost no cellphone coverage. On each trip, we taught canoeing, camping, outdoor cooking and an appreciation for God’s awesome creation with no distractions. I am delighted that United Church of God is doing something similar now.”
Kevin Kenady led many Boundary Waters canoe trips during SEP. He reflected on some highlights and the value of that experience:
“The benefits to campers who went on the canoe trips was obvious. By the 1980’s, all campers were able to experience the trip of a lifetime. Each dorm would be sent on five to seven different routes; some with long arduous portages, others with no portages but plenty of paddling. Each camper went on a trip that was challenging to them.
“Life is like a canoe trip. Highs, lows, scary situations, majestic views, trials and overcoming of trials. In a short time in this environment, campers felt they had experienced a lifetime of growth.
“Every camp director from those days expressed the same sentiment: we wished that all the campers could go on their canoe trip at the very beginning of camp because they always returned as a close and well-functioning family. Challenging experiences like this took the dorm from a hodgepodge group to a team with stories to share for life.
“Some campers saw moose, bears, beavers, loons and a host of other wildlife close-up. Some experienced beautiful waterfalls, sunsets, campsites and sunrises. Some floated rapids, cliff jumped and fished. But the growth that these campers experienced was obvious back at the regular camp.
“At the end of each three-week camp, canoeing staff shared stories, many of which involved miracles. For example, on one trip it was getting dark and the campers were tired and lost. They couldn’t find a place to camp. While they had stopped on a point and were looking at a map in a desperate attempt to find a camping spot, they decided to pray about it. When the prayer was over, a camper pointed out an arrow-shaped rock nearby. After some discussion, the group climbed into their canoes and paddled in the direction the rock was pointing. They reached a perfect camp site in only a few minutes.
“Another trip had what could have been a disaster. A staff member cutting wood with a hatchet struck his foot. The cut went clear to his bone. Almost immediately, a man appeared and asked what all the commotion was about. He then explained that he and his canoe partner were surgeons who just happened to bring their surgery bag. When the staff member got back to camp and was checked out, they found no infection and perfect sutures.
“Go to any place where longtime Church members are and bring up canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. You’re bound to soon be talking with an excited former camper who remembers their canoe trip as a life-changing event. So, after a 20-year hiatus from trips into the BWCA, it was decided that it was time to give a new generation a growth-infused experience they would never forget.”