June 2009 - Vol. 31

"The Fellowship" scouts out a scenic spot in the Appalachian mountains for lunch 

Appalachian Rendezvous: “The Fellowship”

And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ – 1 John 1:3

By John Karagoulis

Last summer a rag-tag group of Kairos youth workers organized a team of five middle school guys and set out into the deep wilderness of southwestern Virginia. Armed only with what they could carry on their backs, this was the launch of the first ever Appalachian Rendezvous trip. Who in their right mind would go willingly into the wild with such a potentially volatile group of young people? Only the toughest youth workers would do! George Firn and I joined with Stan Mathay, our trip organizer, to lead the charge. 

after a day of hiking the young men enjoy an overlook view

Why is it necessary to launch yet another youth program in the SOS-NAR, aimed at middle-schoolers no less? Well, we have strong programs for youth in elementary school, like summer camp and children’s gatherings. And at the high school level they can serve on mission trips, and attend the YES retreat. But what do they do for those years when they’re too old for camp, but too young for the high school program? There is a need to help our youth in those ‘tween years to grow in their charismatic spirituality, to challenge them  to live the life of discipleship, and to help them develop cross-community relationships with other people their own age. These experiences, in turn, will help to further their relationship with the Lord, and to gain a broader vision for the work of the Sword of the Spirit. Backpacking is a perfect way to achieve all of this and more. 

we passed through narrow gaps

Why backpacking? It gets the boys out of their normal lives and into a challenging environment where they can take nothing for granted. If it rains, we get wet. If it’s cold, we can’t just turn up the heat. If we’re hungry, there isn’t a dollar menu within twenty miles. And those aren’t just made-up hardships used for teaching effect. On our trip we experienced all three of those trials, and while they were not fun to bear, they strengthened us in the end. 

hikers encounter some friendly wild ponies

Despite the challenges to our comfort, backpacking can teach that some of the best things in life are experienced when we seem to have nothing – at least nothing that the world values. The boys found that climbing rocks, playing golf with pebbles and sticks, and merely looking off into the distance at a beautiful vista, can be far more entertaining than anything produced by MTV. They also learned that a person can’t appreciate the savory aroma of fried spam until he’s been on the trail for three days. In short, backpacking gives these boys an opportunity to find that they can not only live without all the things the world tells them are necessary for survival (i-pods, ESPN, baconators, hamburgers, etc.), they can actually find fulfillment in the absence of these distractions.  And in this environment, real spiritual growth can take place.

the last day of hiking and final group photo 

Although the trip was called Appalachian Rendezvous, our group quickly adopted the name “The Fellowship.” Why The Fellowship? We chose it because we wanted to emphasize the importance of brotherhood and community with boys this age. We wanted them to be a part of something special, something that takes guts, something that some people wouldn’t understand. Sounds like being a Christian. 

For the five young men who took part in this adventure it was a transforming experience. Now we look forward to offering more trips like this in the future. 
John Karagoulis is the administrator for Kairos in North America
Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, 
university and post university aged people.

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