Friday, October 9, 2009

Back in the days of outdoor ministry life, there was a 'Hiking Camp' destined for Old Rag Mountain. It was to be the high point of the week. The small group of junior high youth began each day with decisions on how best to prepare themselves for the day of the big hike.

They worked on hiking skills, traveling around the camp over rough trails. They worked on endurance by canoeing for long stretches. They swam and played and cooked meals together becoming a close and well-functioning group. They created worship times around the campfire and had quiet times alone in creation. They divided up tasks and truly lived in Christian community, just like all our brochures said they would.

I knew their parents would be pleased that they had become such a tight-knit group and I was sure their trip to Old Rag would be successful. This small group might be the best of the summer, achieving every goal and enjoying the highlight of the week; the view from Old Rag.

The day before the big hike, one boy sprained his ankle. He wasn't sent home, but it was serious enough that he would not be able to hike the strenuous trail of Old Rag. We made the best of it, telling him he could spend the day in the center of camp with the Health Hut attendants and visit the pool as often as he liked. He was even promised ice cream while his group was away on the hike. It was sad to think he wouldn't get to realize the goal of the week's camp.

The next morning I saw several members of the group pulling a ponycart (with their breakfast) and traveling across the field. I asked why the group hadn't left earlier for the drive to Old Rag. "They aren't going." I was told. I was shocked. All I could do was wonder what happened and try to think of what I would tell their parents. I was sure to field a few complaints that the kids didn't get their money's worth. I had to know more and asked what had happened.

The group met for their daily planning session and they decided that it would mean more to all of them to be together on the last day of camp than to hike Old Rag. They didn't want to leave their friend behind, even in order to accomplish the hike they had prepared for. They decided to do some more on-site hiking and all have ice cream together. There was extra swimming for everyone and much more time for friendships to deepen.

I was surprised, but I realized that they HAD accomplished the intended purpose of the camp. They were to learn to live in Christian community during the week and hiking Old Rag was part of it. It turned out they had something to teach me. Christian community meant they could easily 'give up' the accomplishment of hiking Old Rag because they had already received much more in the deep relationships that had formed among them. They didn't give up in order to get - their priorities had been transformed by Christian living.

In Mark 10:17-31 Jesus looks at the man intently and invites him to shed the baggage of wealth. He is invited to be less - that he might be whole. These kids showed me how that is done and they didn't miss what they gave up at all. The hike to Old Rag would have held them back from being all the group could be. Living in Christian community, that's treasure in heaven.

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