Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Buffalo Canoe Trip

“…the testing of your faith produces…” –James 1:2 When we face difficulty, we’re presented with two options: go around it or learn through it. Years ago, I faced adversity with a group of high school kids. As glad as we were to be finished with the trip and the trial, all these years later, the memory is still sweet. The Ozarks are absolutely beautiful this time of year. The red buds and dogwood have bloomed and all the vegetation is at its peak. It’s awesome! Years ago, when I was working with the wonderful ministry called Doulos-Shelterwood, we often took our teenagers on canoe trips on the beautiful Buffalo River, just a few hours south of Branson, in Arkansas. The Buffalo River has the rare distinction of being classified as a National River. It is an amazing experience to spend time there. This particular summer, another youth group coming to town needed our facility in Branson. My boss asked nicely if I would take the group of boy’s (12 boys and 8 Staff) on a river trip. He knew I taken several groups on the Buffalo over the years. Excited for the opportunity to go canoeing for a couple of days, I said, “Sure.” Then he informed me, “Joey, not for a day, but for five days." “Five days on the Buffalo,” I thought? But I was up for the challenge. Lesson #1: High risk brings high reward. When we’re up for the big challenge (for the right reason), it brings a big reward, whether it succeeds or not. So the outfitting began. We collected food, tents, fishing poles and flashlights and, a few weeks later, we loaded up the vans. I psyched up the group and challenged all of us to “embrace the adventure.” We headed to the Buffalo River and the trip began. We knew that 4 nights on the river would be a challenge because we would have to travel a minimal amount of mileage each day lest we finish the trip too soon and twiddle our thumbs at the end. But as it turned out, the forced slow pace made all the difference. We only canoed a few miles every day and spent the rest of the time hiking, swimming, exploring, telling stories and just being together. Yes, the time together produced some altercations and fights, but it was life on life. It was real. Lesson #2: when we slow down our lives, we speed up the process of relationship. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rich. From the beginning, food was a big issue. All of the canoes were loaded down with 5 five days of food supply. But it’s difficult to predict how much food a bunch of teenage guys will eat in a week. I thought we had more than enough food, but in the end, food was scarce. I remember we intentionally saved the Dinty Moore Stew for the last night on the river. Just writing about the stew makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. We wanted to eat it so badly during the week, but it was worth waiting for the feast on the last night. Lesson #3: we have to be nourished, not just physically, but emotionally as well. And it needs be enough and it needs to be healthy. We survived to the end. Most of us were sunburned, stinky and scratched, but as we headed back to Branson, we knew we’d accomplished something special. We felt like we had conquered a National Geographic obstacle and survived. Through the struggles and the hunger, relationships had grown and deepened and, in hindsight, we had a great time. The memory of that trip reminds me, “If nothing is ventured, then nothing is gained.” When was the last time you went on an adventure? Gary Smalley is always challenging families to “go camping." He was speaking of the adventure, of the common struggle that comes with bugs and snakes and firewood. And, most importantly, it’s awesome to be in the presence of God in the expanse of His creation. Be willing to “get out there.” Pull away from the TV, the job and the Wifi. You’ll deepen your relationships and you might just create sweet memories you will never forget… …along with a few bug bites. By Eric Joseph Staples ©