Dive In: Middle School Rafting Retreat

Today, the BlueSky blog is pleased to feature a guest post from BlueSky Youth team member Bryce Wilkins, who provides a witty report from the recent Middle School rafting reatreat.

Bryce with some of the students

Guest blogger, Bryce, with some of the students

It’s 10:00am on Saturday morning. Kids and parents are already milling around, waiting for the show to begin. The air is crisp with precocious excitement as we wait for the bus to be loaded. Kids clamber on to the bus, fighting for prime seats in the back. A handful of kids clamber back off of the bus after being reminded to exercise their bladders. We are going rafting! And not only that, but white water rafting.

21 Middle Schoolers confined in a bus for two and a half hours. It was going to take raging rapids to release all the pent up energy. The inevitable pop songs brought life to the cacophony of the bus as we pulled out of the parking lot. It was a joyful beginning to the weekend retreat. We had lots of kids from  a local Christian school as well as a few from the International school.  We were all itching for a little adventure on the river Tana.

We got to the campsite without a hitch, set up camp, lathered up in sun cream and got briefed on what to expect while rafting. The sun fought its way through the clouds bringing just enough heat with it to make for a pleasant afternoon trip through the rapids. My boat was filled with all but one of the guys on the trip. It was an unspoken rule that we would have the most fun. Christening out raft the S.S. Taco, we rode the turbid waters of the Tana exemplifying what it is to be Master Raftsmen. Every once in a while, our ear splitting cry of “AYAYAYAYAYAYAYAHAHAAHAAHAAAA!!!!!!” would shatter the serenity as we rammed our trusty floatation device into any unsuspecting river craft (and sometimes a rock or two). Watching the faces of the boys in the raft as they transitioned from anticipation to enjoying life in the moment was one of the reasons that makes this job the best. Adventure was coursing through our veins as we risked life and limb and, in particular, fingers while we paddled fiercely between the craggy rocks of the river bank.

I looked to my right to see Max, one of the boys from the International school, beaming delight and exclaiming how he couldn’t believe that more of his friends didn’t sign up. Max is a great kid. I hadn’t met him before that morning. In fact, no one on the team had. He heard about the trip and signed up. He only knew one other person on the trip: Ronald, another sixth grader from the International school. I was really excited to see those two jump into the activities with vim and vigor. We were hoping to have more kids from their school sign up, but a lot of them bailed at the last minute. Hearing Max’s unbelief at his friends from school not being able to come was an incredible encouragement. The kids from the Christian school come mostly from solid Christian backgrounds. To hear and see Max and Ronald living life and enjoying creation within the BlueSky setting was a moment of affirmation. God has placed the kids from International school in my path, and, although we didn’t have too many on the trip, it was as if he was saying, “Keep it up! I’m working in their hearts in ways you cannot even imagine.”

We spent the rest of the day on the Tana laughing, screaming, and ransacking the other rafts. Floating into the campsite marked the end of our time rafting, but we still had the evening for fun, games, and the gospel. The theme for the weekend, in a word, was “Home.” I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with the kids about what it means to live in a broken world while knowing that it wasn’t always this way and it won’t always be this way. Jesus was sent to fix all things. And while may sometimes seem hopeless, he has sent his Spirit to live with us. Not to take us out of the trials we go through, but, rather, to provide the support, encouragement, and strength to stand up under the weight of it all. Our home is broken and not right, but Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

The next morning, we awoke and breakfasted. I spoke again on our theme. We cleaned up our campsite, packed some lunches for the road, swam a bit more, loaded up our bus and headed home. It was a phenomenal weekend trip. It went without a hitch. The kids loved it. The leaders loved it. God was present throughout (even on the drive home).

And thus ended our adventure on the River Tana.

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