Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moab Reflections

This week we thought we would share some insights and reflections on the Moab Climbing Course from some of the students and instructors. This course was a challenging 10-day climbing and rappelling course that pushed some students to face fears they had never had to face before. The discussions and applications to life back home began well and will continue throughout the year as students keep building upon these experiences. We hope you enjoy their thoughts!

"I feel like God spoke to me through the silence I was able to experience on this course. It's always easy for my mind to drift when distractions are all around me. But during the solo times we were given, I could listen closer for God's voice, I could see his majesty in the rock all around me. And I could feel his presence when it was just me on the rock. It's peaceful to feel that sense of freedom." --Hawk

"Since it was my first time ever climbing, and having a healthy respect for heights, I was challenged to trust God was in control and have faith that he would take care of me and that the equipment would work. I have a new level of confidence that I can accomplish difficult things and work at them as hard as I do my favorite things."--Jase

"Since this is only my second EMH course and my third month at this school . . . I struggled to show my personality to the other kids. I wanted to be accepted by the other students, and I realized I was inhibiting  myself to not act and react to people as I normally would. I'm still trying to find a balance in this, but I know now--after talking to the students about it that night--that I will be accepted and that pleasing God when I am myself is all the pleasing I should worry about."--Grace

"Some of my favorite moments from the course were sleeping in my hammock, my first lead climb, and ultimate frisbee at the park. I learned a lot about climbing and gained a lot of confidence. It really encouraged me to strive to do new things and excel at old things."--Jacob

"My favorite moments came every time I had completed a climb. The realization that I did it, that I overcame the pain and struggle of the climb, that point when I was at the top."--Joel

"I was really impressed with students' ability to be vulnerable with each other; I think it was

really good for the community aspect of EMH. I was also really moved by the rest of the group's response to the vulnerability. We've got a really solid group of students who care about each and who each want to grow and challenge each other. 

"It was cool to see students learning and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone in terms of both climbing and repelling and also in opening up and being vulnerable. I saw a huge growth in courage and hope that what students learn on the course they'll be able to apply to their everyday life and challenges." --Deanna, EMH Instructor

"The Moab course presents a different set of challenges than the backpacking courses as it incorporates rock climbing, canyoneering, cliff jumping, and quite a bit more driving. While the backcountry setting of the Sand Dunes course is not without its own set of challenges, the Moab course introduces a different way to experience God’s creation… by hanging off of the side of a cliff. Backpacking encourages quiet contemplation and focused reflection, whereas rock climbing and canyoneering shift the focus to an acute awareness of trust. Students experience this trust on many different levels. They must trust that the instructors will keep them safe on the rock wall, they must trust that the gear will hold in the event of a fall, and they must trust their peers as belayers.
The whole of this experience requires students to surrender control; They hold some degree of power as they cling to the wall, but the reality is that no one can hold on forever. At some point we all fall. 

"Pushing the limits of rock climbing is only made possible through the use of reliable equipment. Students must learn how to operate that equipment, but ultimately they are presented with a question of faith. Will this equipment save me? They are armed with the knowledge that the rope is strong enough to save their life but in order to demonstrate their trust in that knowledge, they must surrender full control to the equipment. In the same way, we all must learn to rely on one another when we fall, when we let go, when we fail. As we trust our belayer, we must also learn to lean on the strength of those around us and as we express full commitment when we trust the rope, we must also learn to rest in the assurance that God is in control… That He is able to rescue us if we place our trust in Him." --Mr. Euler, EMH Instructor

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Becoming a Family: The Great Sand Dunes Course 2014

Hiking for miles with 50+ pound packs. Learning to cook an entire meal in one pot over a tiny stove. Climbing a 13,0000 foot peak. Hiking over a mountain pass in a howling windstorm. Learning to keep walking even when cold, wet, and hungry. Struggling with altitude sickness. Discovering giant seesaws made from fallen trees. Worshipping together under a blanket of stars. Laughing, laughing, laughing. Learning to trust. Becoming vulnerable. Letting go of burdens. 

These are a few of the many adventures the EMH team experienced on The Great Sand Dunes backpacking course, August 18-28. Ten juniors and seniors, three instructors, and one instructor-in-training spent ten days in the wilderness in the first of their four core courses.

“This is the foundational course for the year, and we went into it wanting to establish what kind of community we are going to be,” said EMH Director Ben Little.  “We want to be intentional in creating a community centered on openness, trust, growth, and encouragement. We want the students to see themselves as a family.”

Every family faces challenges, and living together in the wilderness is one way to bring those challenges to the surface very quickly. Along with sickness, cold and rainy weather, and the dynamics of a new group, the students faced the everyday reality of different and sometimes conflicting personalities.

“The students handled the challenges well,” said Mr. Little. “It can be difficult to be patient when living that closely together and learning to be vulnerable. When you are a family and you let down your guard, that leads to conflict, and that is where growth often happens.”

Growth did happen in many ways. Kate, a junior, commented, “I learned that strength can come in many different forms, vulnerability being one, and that it is okay and sometimes good to be vulnerable.” Hawk, a senior, added, “I learned that we all can be put in situations we don’t like, but it’s how I react to those situations that really changes the outcome.”

The theme of the course was trust: What things are we trusting God for? How do we trust God with our identity? How do we trust him with our burdens? “We had some really meaningful spiritual conversations and good prayer and worship times,” said Mr. Little. “As we identified our burdens, some students really wrestled with that. We talked about the identity of a “son” versus the identity of an orphan, and how seeing myself as a son changes how I see life. The word Paul uses for “son” is a place of position. For some students that concept was really significant. Being part of a family can be difficult, but having that identity of a son is very important.”

Deanna, one of the instructors on the course, saw students grow in this area. “I watched as students learned to trust each other on an emotional level throughout the week. Each day they seemed to grow in their vulnerability with one another both on individual levels as well as communally. I listened as they grappled with the theme of trust. They shared with me the struggles they were
facing and how they felt either it was drawing them closer to God or it was showing them who God wanted them to be. During evening devotions, most students seemed to dig in; they wanted to discuss some of the hard questions.” 

Sarah, a junior, agreed. “I learned a lot about myself through this course. God reminded me of several areas he wanted me to grow and develop in as a daughter of God, such as my true identity, my dependency on Jesus, and how I need to work on putting Christ first in my life.”

One evening the instructors told the students to pick up a palm-sized rock and carry it with them throughout the evening. They were not allowed to put it down, even while cooking and eating. If they dropped it, they had to pick up a bigger rock. Later the group discussed burdens and named the burdens they carry. They were challenged to take their rock and throw their “burden” off the side of the mountain.

Deanna commented, “In a conversation the next day with a student, he said he was still thinking about his rock and wasn't ready to throw it; he wanted to be sure he was really entrusting it to God before he did.”

She continued, “I had a burden attached to my rock as well. I've had a difficult time trusting God with certain areas of my life, and throughout the week it was pretty heavy on my heart. In throwing my rock, I surrendered a part of my heart that I hadn't before, and it was profoundly freeing and peace-giving. That was a pretty powerful night.”

Another student reflected, “My biggest challenge was confronting my past, coming face-to-face with mistakes and memories I thought I had buried deeper and then having to confront them.”

In the midst of challenges, there was a lot of laughter and fun. “The group really just enjoyed each other,” said Mr. Little. They practiced many of the skills they are learning, such as map reading, route finding, and cooking in the outdoors. They crossed a mountain pass, climbed to the top of a peak, visited beautiful lakes, and hiked off-trail for several days.

A big highlight of this particular course was having Evelyn as the instructor-in-training. Evelyn came to EMH from Louisiana in the very first year of EMH three years ago. This year she will be returning to participate in courses as part of her training to earn a wilderness EMT. “It was really cool for me to be back on the first trip, the start of my journey,” she said. “I think great relationships were started, hard questions were pondered, and walls kind of opened a little bit. Overall it was a great trip.”

 To see many more photos from the course, visit our Flickr page.

Ekklesia Mountain High is a boarding and day-student program for high school juniors and seniors at Darren Patterson Christian Academy, in which approximately forty days of wilderness experience and leadership training is integrated with rigorous academics in DPCA's Biblically-centered environment.  To learn more, please visit the school's website at www.dpcaweb.org, and the EMH program's website at www.emhweb.org.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Community in the backcountry: The EMH Hut Course

"Leadership begins with myself. If I can't lead myself, how can I lead others?"

This question formed a key focus of the recent EMH Hut Course. The course gets its nickname from the Sangree Froelicher Hut just north of Leadville. On December 13, nine students, four instructors, and one EMH alumnus trekked the 3.5 miles to the hut on backcountry skis. Designed in part to introduce the students to winter travel and teach them the basics of backcountry skiing, the four-day course also included the annual EMH Leadership Seminar. 

The students worked together in small groups and listened to classroom teaching about leadership, addressing questions like, What is a leader? What is the difference between a natural leader and a spiritual leader? In what ways are we called to lead, in our schools, in our communities, in life?

"We learned that good leadership begins with self leadership," said EMH Director Ben Little. "We also continued discussing the theme of living a good story. One evening we talked about taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones to pursue God's call. So often fear stands in the way of what God has for us. God has called us to be part of his plan to reach people, and that means facing hard things, challenging things. It takes risk to step out and to reach people."

Students also discussed the idea of leading through excitement and enthusiasm. "People don't want to follow leaders who are pessimistic," said Mr. Little. "If we are excited and passionate about what we do, people are going to be more excited to follow."

As so often happens on course, the physical challenges reinforced the spiritual discussions. Most students had never backcountry skied before, and several students found it to be far more difficult than they had imagined. 

"I learned a lot on this course," said senior Ellen Burdick. "On the way back I got really frustrated and didn't want to ski anymore. I just sat down. But Deanna [an EMH instructor] convinced me to get back on my skis and keep going. I felt so stoked when I made it and kept going when I wanted to give up."

"This was the most challenging course for me physically," junior Hawk White reflected. "Going up the 3.5 miles to the hut was really tough. But being at the hut made it all worth it."

The students enjoyed being able to stay in the beautiful three-story cabin in the midst of the wilderness, which was a change from the two previous courses. "The mattresses were so nice," commented one student. "We had an actual outhouse!" said another. 

The hut also drew the students together into community. "We had some really good times of worship and prayer together," said Mr. Little.

One day the students did a "chalk talk" to deal with conflicts that had arisen within the group. Students were not allowed to speak, but instead wrote comments on paper that others could then read and comment on. Students identified many of the issues and struggles they faced in living and working together, and the chalk talk led to a discussion that helped to resolve those issues. "The students really grew in their ability to handle conflict," Mr. Little said. "We were able to talk about how dealing with these conflicts can transfer to working through conflicts in other areas of life."

A highlight of the course for Mr. Little came during the Leadership Seminar. Becca, Levi, and Ellen, three senior students who had been through the seminar last year, along with 2013 graduate Micah Ritschard, were given the responsibility of leading part of the seminar. "They did such a good job of capturing what they learned last year. It was cool to see how much they had grown as leaders, that they felt comfortable and confident enough to lead their peers and to teach them what they had learned." 

Listening to the students talk, it is clear that this course was a favorite so far. As junior Joel Parker put it, "Getting there was so hard. But it was so worth it once we got there. One evening we went out around 4:30 and did a 1.5 mile ski up to a ridge. We reached the ridge right at sunset, and we could see so far on both sides--it was so beautiful. We had an amazing ski down to the hut just as it was getting dark."

Joel captured the sentiment of the other students when he said, "We all just get along really well. The community we have is so cool."

You can see more photos of the course at our Facebook Page.

Ekklesia Mountain High is a boarding and day-student program for high school juniors and seniors at Darren Patterson Christian Academy, in which approximately forty days of wilderness experience and leadership training is integrated with rigorous academics in DPCA's Biblically-centered environment.  To learn more, please visit the school's website at www.dpcaweb.org, and the EMH program's website at www.emhweb.org.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Becoming a better man: EMH reflections

by EMH student Hawk White

When I first began attending DPCA as a freshman, I was scared to death to sit in a classroom full of strangers and listen to a teacher present material that I would later be tested on. But everyone at this school welcomed me with open arms, teachers and students alike. It made the transition from homeschooling to DPCA so much easer. Everything new that I experienced here excited me, but nothing excited me as much as EMH.

I love to be in the outdoors more than anything on this earth, especially when I get to be with friends.  EMH offered all of this.  What could be better than spending days at a time out of the normal regime of school, mountain and rock climbing, hiking, rappelling, exploring, and simply enjoying God’s creation?  Spending time with friends while doing all of these things truly makes for some of the best times of my life.  Those are the main reasons I participate in EMH.

Some of the best times I've had thus far this year took place on the Sand Dunes course at the beginning of the year.  It’s always tough when you have to step out of your comfort zone for days at a time with people you don't really know that well.  But somehow this trip was different than ones I've been on before.  Everybody acted like family, even though we had new people from out of state. Nobody complained, people started to stretch their limits to entirely new levels, and everyone was willing to take risks, whether it meant hiking farther or being able to walk on steep terrain and keep pushing forward.  Nobody ever got to the point of saying, “I can't go on”; there was always one more step to take. That was probably the biggest highlight this year for me.

During this course I learned that I'm not very good at dealing with people, nor am I very patient with them. This course forced me to confront these issues, and I’ve slowly seen God change my reaction to people. This is the greatest thing I’ve been able to take away from this program for myself so far.  I'm far from being the man I want to be, but this EMH program has helped me to see the man I need to be, whether it's helping and interacting with my group around meals or taking the initiative to be the bad guy for a moment so that things can get done.  Or even if it’s as simple as being a good listener and following instructions well, even when it’s hard. 

I can't wait to see how the upcoming courses play out.  I know God is working to help me become a better man through this program, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my upperclassman years of high school than to be involved in this school and EMH.

Ekklesia Mountain High is a boarding and day-student program for high school juniors and seniors at Darren Patterson Christian Academy, in which approximately forty days of wilderness experience and leadership training is integrated with rigorous academics in DPCA's Biblically-centered environment.  To learn more, please visit the school's website at www.dpcaweb.org, and the EMH program's website at www.emhweb.org.