If you attended the early service at Imago Dei on Sunday August 12th, you may have felt an unusual electricity in the air that morning. Perhaps you noticed that birds were chirping more sweetly, that the sun shone a little brighter in the sky, or that there was a giant pile of sleeping bags on the sidewalk blocking your path to church. Indeed, August 12th was a very special day because after months of breathless anticipation it was time for Imago Dei High School Group to set off on our third annual summer adventure to conquer the rapids of the Rogue River with little more than our legendary courage and lots and lots of sunscreen.
That morning, nearly 30 high schoolers and a handful of intrepid leaders headed south to Indian Mary Campground, to what would be our home base from which to venture forth and jump off very tall rocks, slide down mossy waterfalls and run around with glowsticks in the woods in the middle of the night.
After a long day of travel and set-up in triple-digit weather, we gathered around the fire (yes, the fire in hundred degree weather, that’s how brave we are) and discussed the expectations for the week. With a different excursion each day, our time would be filled with fun and laughter, but camp would also be a time for reflection. All around the circle, heads nodded in agreement as our youth pastor, Ben, encouraged students to read through the book of Hebrews on their own time and to take this opportunity away from the distractions of their busy modern lives to listen to what God was saying to them, maybe even yelling at them at the top of His lungs. By the end of the week, it would be clear that this group of students had taken that message to heart.
The first full day of camp was spent cliff jumping, swimming and soaking up the sun in what might be the world’s most perfect lagoon.
Day two we found ourselves at South Umpqua Falls, aka Slippery Rocks, where you can slide, jump, dive, tumble, cannonball and scissor kick off some seriously impressive natural water slides.
On the third and final full day of camp it was time to take on some Class II rapids during a six-hour trip down the Rogue River with stops to eat lunch, push each other out of kayaks, and, yes, jump off very tall rocks.
Each evening, after a long day of excitement, we would gather around the campfire to consider a message from Hebrews before breaking off into small groups to further reflect on what God was teaching us in this place. Throughout the week, whenever I took my own time for quiet reflection, whenever I sat just outside the gathering, observing the scene around me, I was hit with one thought: This group is different.
This group is surprisingly different from what I expected from high schoolers when I started volunteering as a leader just over a year ago. They’re different from what our society, media and pop culture tells us is a stereotypical teenager: lazy, despondent, disrespectful, petty and rebellious. All week I saw a group of young adults who were just the opposite. Again and again, I witnessed moments of encouragement, respect, self-reflection and kindness.
On the last night of camp, after our discussion of Hebrews, after heartfelt small group conversations, after an incredible night game of Capture the Flag that involved several kids running full tilt into picnic tables in the pitch black and totally just walking it off, I saw nearly 30 teenagers sitting around the fire, talking excitedly, making sure to gently hush each other when the volume rose so they wouldn’t disturb the other campers around us. Kids who’d been strangers just a few days before, now sat together in community with the biggest smiles on their faces. Not a soul was left out. This group is different because these students take time to pause, to really hear God’s lessons and to reflect on His wisdom. That light shines outward from each of them. It’s visible in the way they encourage each other. It’s visible when they go out of their way to make new members feel welcome or when they offer to help wash dishes at the end of every meal.
Throughout the week, I saw tons of laughter and smiling faces, but also plenty of tears and moments of true connection and fellowship. This is a group of young people that has all kinds of fun, can get into some crazy shenanigans, but doesn’t shy away from the tough conversations, the real issues and quiet moments. This is a group that hopes in things unseen.
I could not be more encouraged and excited to be involved with such an amazing group of young people and to see what God has in store for them in the coming school year.
Imago Dei High School Group officially kicks off its Active Word gatherings Sunday, September 16th at 6:00 p.m. in the Imago youth room. Believe me, you’re gonna want to be there.
*This post was written by Karen Green, volunteer with Imago Dei Community’s High School Ministry.