This past weekend our youth group went on a field trip. I had this field trip in mind when I wrote the grant, when the youth group was "just a twinkle in my eye" or a dream on a page. Our trip was to a ropes course.
I am a child of the 1980's. I grew up during a time when every summer camp included low ropes elements and many also included high ropes courses. When I was in college in the early 1990's I was even a facilitator for the local Girl Scout ropes course. I know the value of a well facilitated ropes course.
For those of you who have never had the experience, let me summarize. In low ropes you take part in a variety of activities which challenge you to work as a team to solve problems. Low ropes activities are GREAT team-building activities for any age. They're also good for seeing what kind of critical thinking skills youth have. But that's not what our youth did, they weren't ready for that yet. (I know, it seems counter-intuitive to say they weren't ready for the LOW stuff so we made them do the HIGH ropes first... but bear with me).
In high ropes you are less focused on team success and more focused on testing your own comfort level, your own sense of bravery and adventure, your own limits. High ropes are completely safe (on the course we used we were always strapped into a harness which is attached to a cable - we weren't going anywhere if we slipped).
On the van ride to the course our youth acted much the same way they have at all the other meetings we have had so far this year.
The few who spoke admitted that they were a little nervous about our trip because they weren't sure what to expect and they weren't sure it was safe.
Once we arrived we ate lunch (food is always important, especially with growing youth), took time for them to look around and imagine what the day might involve, and were introduced to our facilitators for the day. We then engaged in some icebreaker activities which were somewhat silly, but also got them thinking about their relationships with one another (and the adult mentors) in new ways. We were building trust without them realizing it.
Then we moved to the high ropes course. This is when they had to really test their own limits. Each person there, including our adult mentors, took their time assessing their own fear of heights (or lack there of). They also each took time trying things on their own and encouraging their friends to try things within their own comfort level. And if someone said they were scared or not comfortable, not one person was teased. They were encouraged and supported.
When we completed the course, the youth were asked some questions to reflect upon their day. I won't go into details but overall they expressed how impressed they were with themselves. They were surprised at how much they had accomplished on the course. They were proud of themselves. We also discussed the importance of knowing that this was a safe place to try new things. Then the conversation turned to times when they do not feel so safe.
For those of you not in Winston-Salem, NC, you may not be as aware of the gun violence that is prevalent in our city. The violence recently became a national news story because one student brought a gun to a local high school and killed another student. Since that time there have been several other guns reported in area schools and several schools have been locked down multiple times. (I am not linking to any news stories due to the continuing trauma to our youth). Our youth are scared. They often feel unsafe at school and in their own neighborhoods. I am grateful that we have a youth group where they are learning to trust one another and trust the adults who are modeling the love of Jesus for them.