Wow, what a summer we had this year. With fall in full swing and new extracurriculars having inevitably taken over, each of us is feeling the pull of competing obligations and priorities. Have we already forgotten what happened at SpringHill?
I hope not – I sure haven’t. From the middle of May, until the final SpringHill Experience is finished in the middle of August, I feel as though I’m shouldering a great weight: the responsibility for the lives of all these people. But at the same time, I’ve also just lived four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed, and diverse SpringHill community: professional staff who worked hard the prior eight months to have us ready for summer and then served tirelessly almost every day, all day, for four straight months.
Last year, when our summer ended, we said goodbye to nearly 27,000 children and teens and 950 young adult leaders in over 130 SpringHill locations throughout nine states. Yes, at SpringHill, we pack 80 percent of our direct missional work into four months.
Like anything that is hard work and requires much of us, it’s both fulfilling and difficult to have it come to an end…temporarily. As happens when finishing a long race, or accomplishing a significant goal, or coming off an adrenaline high, finishing a SpringHill summer means coming off the mountain. It means adapting to a new season of planning and steady work, looking ahead to what’s next.
So, what is next? Where do we all – campers, leaders, etc. – go from here?
As we tell kids at SpringHill, you can’t stay on the mountain forever; you have to go back home. For us too, SpringHill summers don’t last forever. We have to go back home (or to the office) and begin hosting retreats and getting ready for another summer. There’s new work to be done, places to go, people to meet.
My hope is that we will all reflect on the life-changing experiences that occurred this past summer – those that happened to us personally and those that we witnessed. I hope that we can reflect on two separate groups of questions that have been asked of SpringHill as an organization, but could be asked of ourselves as individuals having had the SpringHill experience:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is, typically, expressed in a purpose or mission statement. At SpringHill, we answer this question with our mission: “To glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences where young people can come to know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.”
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? At SpringHill, we answer this question with an acronym we have for our core values: ARCH, which stands for adventurous faith, relationally focused, contagious joy, and holy discontent. These core values define the kind of organization we are, as well as how we work with each other and all our stakeholder groups: kids, families, allies, donors, and staff.
Now that it’s Fall, I hope we can each reflect on why we exist and what is most important to us with new perspectives and inspiration. I hope those quiet – and not so quiet – moments of personal faith-building help answer those questions with clarity that carry all of us through the rest of this year and onto another amazing SpringHill summer.
If you’re interested in creating similar experiences for your youth group or faith group, check out one of my workshops.
We are now reflecting on this past life-changing summer with kids of all ages throughout our SpringHill camp programs! Many people wonder what makes SpringHill so special, so effective. There are several reasons I could share to answer that question, but undoubtedly one universal explanation amongst all our campers is the sense of adventure that they experience during their time at SpringHill. Ultimately, these moments connect them to God in a different and significant way.
Some of the biggest spiritual lessons happen while engaged in some of our high-adventure activities. One of the stories that comes to mind is of a middle-school girl describing her experience at SpringHill. She had been a regular for years, and I just sort of casually asked her one day what it was that kept her coming back to SpringHill.
Very seriously, she said, “Every time I come to SpringHill, I encounter God. I have an experience with God and my faith grows.”
And so I pressed her: “What exactly is it that happens every time?”
“You know,” she said, “it just happens when we’re doing camp stuff.”
I smiled as she elaborated. “Like this last summer, I was on our zipline and I had been struggling … should I really trust Jesus? I mean, really trust Him with my life? And then we go on the zipline and the leaders talk about how, for us to go down the zipline, we have to trust the cable that goes across the lake, trust the harness that we’re in. We have to trust the pulleys that will go down the cable. We have to put our trust in them. If we don’t do that and we don’t take the step off the platform, we’ll never get to the end. We’ll never get across the lake. But it requires this trust.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“The leaders said…it’s the same with Jesus. We need to trust Him. We need to be able to step out with Him and know that He has us, holding onto us so that we won’t fall. So I stepped off the platform, went down, and got to the end of the zipline, and I realized, yeah, this is what I need to do with Jesus. I need to trust Him just like I trusted the cable and the harness and everything else that comes down the zipline.”
That’s SpringHill, in that young girl, in that moment. This experience describes how kids find God more intimately when they stretch themselves, have fun, and find a sense of adventure. Those are experiences that aren’t readily available throughout the rest of the year. As a result, these experiences and memories create something altogether new and exciting, activities that transform into an extremely impactful, spiritual moment.
Learn more about the SpringHill experience by visiting www.springhillexperience.com
I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor. I can barely put it down.
I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way. I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD. I do background research on the people, the places and the times. Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.
I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so. In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories. They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious. But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world. I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.
In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style? Was it effective? What can I apply in my context? If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership. But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing. And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.
Every fall I make two trips to northern Ontario, Canada fishing with two different groups of friends. We stay at one of the great places in the world – Camp Anjigami. By making Camp Anjigami our home base we’re able to fish many lakes for different species of fish (Walleye, Northern Pike, and Brook Trout).
Each species provides its own challenges and thrills. But my favorite species, by far, is the Brook Trout, or as the Canadians call them “Speckled Trout”. They’re beautiful (and elusive) fish that put up a big fight. The only issue with catching these little darlings (at least for some of my buddies) is that the best Speckled Trout lake is also the most challenging one to get to. The trip requires us to boat over four separate lakes (including 2 sets of rapids) and make 5 portages, all of which takes about 3 hours, one way.
There is no short cut (unless you charter a floatplane) to this lake. So if you want the chance to catch Speckled Trout, you boat and hike. Now for me I love to catch these fish, but truthfully I may even love the journey there and back more than the fishing.
Now why would I love the journey more than the fishing?
First, because it’s an adventure. Every time I make the trip something unexpected happens.
Second, the lakes and walks are absolutely rugged and beautiful.
But primarily the journey reminds me of the most important work and activities in my life such as raising kids, building a lasting marriage, achieving career goals or becoming the man God’s created me to be. I’m reminded that these endeavors are also journeys. And like my Speckled Trout journey, if seen in the right perspective, all have a sense of adventure, beauty, and a quest for something big, meaningful, and lasting which makes the journey itself as joyful as the destination.43.928283-85.286682