You know how sometimes a major event seems to begin with a single phone call? About eight months or so ago, I received one of those phone calls. Matt Fenchel, the UCG elder who leads the young adult Challenger Program, called to ask if we could trade years for that program and Boundary Waters Adventure (BWA) because of some schedule conflicts for his staff.
I was pretty sure I could accommodate that. I checked with the BWA staff and all of them wanted to go in 2020—though some had previous commitments that prevented them. Still, there was enough of us, so the planning was on!
This past July 12-19 those plans came to fruition. Five staff members—Lewis and Lena VanAusdle, Kevin Kenady, Aaron Booth and I—led a group of 13 young adults on a canoeing and camping adventure in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. Coming from around the country, participants ranged in age from 18 to 30.
What is the point of the trip? Well, while it is a lot of fun, and campers explore a beautiful, pristine landscape, those are not the main reasons. Challenger programs are designed to put young adult Church members into situations in which they can grow spiritually while overcoming difficulties. They can learn cooperation and trust through teamwork and interdependence. They can focus on the beauty and wonder of God’s creation without the distractions of modern society.
Fortunately, the travel and meeting restrictions caused by the current health crisis did not force a cancellation of BWA. As a young adult program, no minors were involved. Moreover, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness already has a permanent restriction limiting the size of groups entering to nine people. We avoided wearing face coverings and social distancing by having all participants monitor their health and limit contact for weeks in advance. The plan was for all to come into the program healthy—and there is no danger of contracting the virus out in the wilderness!
This year Church members Glenn and Sherry Erickson donated the use of a farmhouse near Lake Pelican in Orr, Minnesota, so our group could meet there for orientation and training. The book, Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World, by retired Admiral William McRaven, provided a common reading to complete in advance, and the orientation began with an interactive Bible study discussing biblical principles reflected in the book. After instruction on canoeing technique and wilderness camping, the group paddled across Crane Lake as a tune up before dividing into two groups and entering the wilderness on Tuesday morning.
This year’s group faced challenges from tough portages, a new beaver dam, and occasional rain and headwinds. Overcoming these challenges led to a great sense of accomplishment and confidence in the team’s ability to meet and surmount obstacles. On Friday, the groups met in Voyageurs National Park where we camped for the Sabbath. Outdoor services consisted of hymn singing and six sermonettes presented by young men in the program. Several of those commented on the benefit of the challenges faced and conquered.
The BWA gives new meaning to the old saying, “there’s no tired like camp tired,” but the fatigue was worth it. Challenger West is scheduled for next summer, and hopefully a new group of young adults will be ready to embark on a Boundary Waters Adventure in 2022.