Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Outdoors

I've been thinking lately that I really need to get our youth camping more. This has been a chronic problem in our ward since before I moved in.

The Scouts (deacons) go camping exactly once each year--to summer camp. They should be camping monthly. I have volunteered to take them on a camp or two, but I can't do it all.

The Varsity Scouts are even worse. A few of them have gone with the Scouts to summer camp, but mostly not. The tradition has kind of been that once you turn 14, you're done. I've been trying to change that, and our most recent set of leaders is helping, but it's taking longer to turn things around than I would like.

I have tried to have the Venturers do one weekend activity each month, but that hasn't worked as well as I would have hoped. Those darn kids are so busy with school sports and work that it seems all but impossible to get them together for activities. We also haven't done very well with the annual super activity we should have, partly because I'm trying to get the youth to lead instead of doing it for them, and partly because I'm not as good at that sort of thing as I should be.

Getting the youth to plan and lead activities presents it's own challenges. A lot of the time they don't do it (they are getting better, though) so the activity isn't as good as it could be. A lot of the time the things they want to do involve stuff like dating, movies, video games, etc. I need to do better about steering them toward the outdoors, but so far I've been happy to have them plan and lead.

The thought of getting them outdoors has actually been the answer to a different problem I've been trying to solve--that of increasing the spiritual side of our activities.

It all started after a recent combined activity with our young women. We did the activity, the kids had fun, and we all went home without having done anything (that I could tell, at least) to bring the youth closer to Christ. I started to really think about how to improve those combined activities, and then migrated to our regular Venturing/Scouting/YM activities.

As I thought about it, the one thing that kept coming to me over and over again was that we need to do more camping, hiking, and backpacking. For the longest time, I couldn't figure it out. Why, if I'm trying to increase spirituality in our activities, would camping, hiking, and backpacking be the answer? What does that have to do with anything? I was baffled.

And then I read Trails to Testimony by Brad Harris. One thing he mentioned has helped me begin to understand. I still don't claim to fully understand the connection--I'm sure more will come as we try to implement things--but here it is:

Throughout recorded scripture, whenever the Lord wanted to speak to his prophets, or they needed a spiritual experience, they went to the mountains or into the wilderness. They separated themselves from the world and communed with God. (Paraphrasing here, as I don't have the book with me at the moment....)

There is something about that separation that is important for our young men. We need to separate them from worldly influences--television, cell phones, the internet, etc.--and get them to a location where their Father in Heaven can speak to their souls without distraction.

This reminded me of a poem I came across a while ago by Robert Service, titled The Three Voices. I don't really do poetry, so I can't say I completely understand the poem, but it has affected me, especially the last two stanzas.
The waves have a story to tell me,
       As I lie on the lonely beach;
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,
       The wind has a lesson to teach;
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
       I cannot put into speech.

The waves tell of ocean spaces,
       Of hearts that are wild and brave,
Of populous city places,
       Of desolate shores they lave,
Of men who sally in quest of gold
       To sink in an ocean grave.

The wind is a mighty roamer;
       He bids me keep me free,
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust,
       Hardy and pure as he;
Cling with my love to nature,
       As a child to the mother-knee.

But the stars throng out in their glory,
       And they sing of the God in man;
They sing of the Mighty Master,
       Of the loom his fingers span,
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
       And weft in the wondrous plan.

Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
       Deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
       When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
And the wind and the wave are silent,
       And world is singing to world.

So I'm going to try to do better. I'm going to really work on getting them out more. Camping, hiking and backpacking. I've already spoken with my young men about it and they were all in favor of the idea. Now we just have to work out the scheduling issues.


  1. This is another hurdle we have had to overcome in my unit. Previous leaders would take the boys 1.5 hours away to an old Scout Camp and they would sleep on cots they brought in the old open air mess hall. Not very campy if you ask me........

    So we have changed the way we do things. No Varsity Scouts go camping but we are seeing more of the new Varsity Scouts coming on the camping (see? Good tradition!). And we camp religiously. It is a set weekend every month and we go come hell or high water. If band has something or football has something (which those have become bad words in my vocabulary~these are big deals in Texas), we go anyway. I had my feelings hurt at first that none of my boys would come but I now use it as a time to focus myself as a Scout leader and get to know the younger Scouts and build my relationship with them now before they are in my group.

    In fact, this past weekend we went hiking for the first time EVER! The boys packed backpacks and we had a shake down (to which less than half brought their packs). They brought their own water (another issue we have had to overcome). It rained and was muddy but the boys enjoyed the adventure.

  2. Great post! I've been in a similar situation - I'm actually working my Woodbadge ticket right now and the theme surrounds providing/supporting a better outdoor program for the young men (I'm a Scoutmaster). Things like working with the committee for support (appointing an actual committee member for outings), working with the youth leadership to support them in planning outings, working with them to set a year-long calendar that includes monthly outings, etc.

    Doing hard things away from every day workings lets the youth learn that they can do hard things in life. Plus, if done right, it can be a lot of fun.

    Letting the Scouts (at whichever level) plan it is certainly key. I did find, however, that I had to do a few things to support it:
    - While the scouts plan what they want to do and when they want to do it, we pretty much sat down with the youth leaders and let them know that they needed to plan an overnight outing nearly every month (we take November, December and sometimes January off for the holidays). After the first year of doing it, they boys came to expect and enjoy it and began planning monthly things themselves.
    - I had to (and still do) go on pretty much every outing to ensure there are enough adults. It's also a critical piece to setting the example and getting everyone excited about it. I really enjoy the outdoors, which makes it way easier.

    Good luck - a strong Outdoor program is one of the keys of a successful scouting program!