Few things in life remind you of God’s majesty quite like seeing His creation, beyond the reach of roads, motors and cell towers. During the Boundary Waters Adventure, 15 of us tasted that grandeur, on a canoe trip taken from July 9-16, 2023 as part of United Youth Camps’ Challenger program for young adults.
Coordinated by Dr. Frank Dunkle and held in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota along the Canadian border, the camp gave 10 participants and five staff the chance to grow in faith and leadership skills while bonding as a team.
After a Monday training run along Crane Lake, we set out into the wild. The Forest Service limits groups in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to nine people, so we spent Tuesday through Friday in two separate teams.
On the water, we enjoyed seeing bald eagles, beavers and loons. We crossed lakes large and small and paddled through sunshine, rain, wind and waves. One of the groups woke up once in the early morning hours to view the Northern Lights. Though it did not turn out as bright as we hoped, we spent an hour watching satellites and meteors under a brilliant starry sky only the wilderness can offer.
We then crossed over to Voyageurs National Park, where the teams reunited and spent the entire Sabbath together along the pristine, spring-fed waters of Mukooda Lake. On the Sabbath, the men gave sermonettes and the ladies presented trail talks on themes related to spiritual goals for the trip.
After setting up camp Friday afternoon, we received a special treat: Floyd and Mardell Kielczewski came to visit, bringing us a sumptuous feast of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, fresh watermelon, and various other treats. This was a particularly meaningful gesture because the only access to the camp is by boat followed by a steep trail. Now in their 90s, they were assisted by their daughter Marlette and the Havirs. They regaled us with many astonishing stories of living and working in the wilderness of southern Ontario.
In 1965 Mr. Kielczewski helped build the Orr, Minnesota S.E.P. camp for the Worldwide Church of God, founding the Boundary Waters canoe program and coordinating it until his retirement in 2000, making this unique experience possible for thousands of Church youth. Without them, our current program would not exist.
This year’s trip certainly lived up to the Challenger name! Due to unusual circumstances this year, the path we took was the most arduous of any in the nearly 60 years since the Church began the canoeing program. In total, we paddled about 41 miles and portaged our canoes and equipment on foot for another 16 miles over many kinds of terrain. Future routes should be less intense but will still offer plenty of challenges and adventure.
Challenger is run quite differently than our teen camps. It is designed to help participants take the next step in leadership, so Challenger staff train the participants and then they hand over key responsibilities during the voyage. You will learn to navigate using contour maps and may be called on to direct where and how to set up camp for the evening.
I heard many participants talk about the sense of accomplishment they felt in stretching beyond their known limits, persevering and finding ways to assist and encourage others. I think all of us returned a little different than we came, gaining a greater sense of what’s possible when we tackle life’s challenges with trust in God, wise choices and paddling together.
If you are a young adult looking to stretch yourself, to experience God’s pure creation and to forge deep bonds with others in the Church, save space in your calendar for next summer’s Challenger program!