Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Over the edge: Moab Rock Climbing Course

Levi climbing "Looking Glass Rock"
She stands on the edge of the precipice, rope dangling into the dark chasm below.  Her anchor is secure, her belayer at the ready. Heart pounding, breath shaking, she pushes through the fear and over the edge into the void.

This was junior Katie Busch’s “favorite but most terrifying” moment of the Moab Rock Climbing Course. Looking Glass Rock towers 185 feet above the ground. After climbing this daunting slab in three “pitches” or stages, the students had nowhere to go but down.

“I was scared getting up there,” Katie remembered. “But I was terrified getting down.” Sitting on a precipice overlooking empty air, she had to push off the edge and trust the rope to hold her. “Going over that edge was the hardest thing to do. But when I did it, I was so happy. It was so fun. I wish I could go back and do it again.”

Climbing at "Wall Street"
On the Moab Rock Climbing Course, October 2-12, 2013, students confronted the edge in multiple ways. Physically they had to learn to trust one another and to trust the rope as they climbed and rappelled in demanding and challenging environments. Standing at the top of a 200 foot drop, you have to know the person on the other end of the rope is trustworthy.

Hanging out after a good day

More of "Wall Street"
In the same way, students had to learn to trust one another as they shared about their fears and experiences. Many students faced the edge of a precipice emotionally: if I open up and talk about my struggles, what will happen? As they stepped over the edge and began to trust one another, they found a community of support waiting to hold them up.

EMH Director Ben Little shared his observations from the course. “When students reflected at the end of the course about some of their favorite moments, they talked about overcoming challenges and fears. Some of these included learning to trust in a physical sense, but even more so in an emotional sense with their fears and struggles. Many of the students said they had a lot of great one-on-one conversations where they shared their fears and temptations with someone else for the first time in their life. Once they did it—once they stepped over the edge—they found value and acceptance. They enjoyed the freedom of being able to share their struggles with someone else. The connection between the physical fears and the emotional fears became even greater as the week went on. Some amazing relationships were built.”

Juan ascends "Wall Street" while Levi looks on 
A big part of building relationships includes the cook groups for the course. These are groups of three or four students put together by the instructors before the course even begins. Why are they so important?

Food group fun
“These groups are together constantly,” says Mr. Little. “They work together before the course to put together all the food they will need for the entire ten days. Then they work together during the course to prepare three meals a day. They have to decide who is doing what, what meal they will make with what they have, and so forth. If they don’t work well together, they won’t have a very good experience.”

Students don’t get to choose their own groups, and instructors often deliberately place them with other students they may not know well. To make breakfast and dinner, these groups spend an hour or more preparing the meal and then eating it together. If one person is not participating, it becomes obvious, and the whole group suffers. They learn to self-manage and solve conflict among themselves.

Study time at the park
Several of the students shared about how important the food group became to them during the course as they learned to know new people.

“This group of students really enjoyed each other, and that was a big highlight of the course for me,” remarked Mr. Little. “The students were so encouraging to one another and had so much fun together. They often began games or other activities spontaneously, without prompting or initiation by the instructors. It was fun to see them initiating their own group activities.”

The activities and discussion for the course all focused on the theme of the year: “The Mission of God’s People.” Continuing discussions begun on the Sand Dunes course and in Bible class at school, the group talked about the calling of Abraham to be a blessing to all nations. Our calling as God’s children is to be a part of that mission to be a blessing to the nations. What does that look like in our own community, culture and school? Students were challenged to think about what God is calling them to do to reach the people around them and “keep the way of the Lord.” (For a more detailed look at the theme of The Mission of God’s People, click here.)

At the top of "Wall Street"

Becca makes it look easy

Canyoneering in "Morning Glory"

Climbing "The Fin"
On the last night of the course, the students came together for a community celebration. Each food group prepared a meal and brought it to share with the whole group, potluck style. (“Of course, everyone loved the instructors’ meal the most,” Mr. Little pointed out with a grin.) After the meal, the students had opportunity to share what the course meant to them and what they liked. The evening ended with communion together, a celebration of what Christ was doing in their lives individually and corporately. It became a close time of sharing and worship.

“I grew a lot spiritually on this course,” said senior Ellen Burdick. “I also really enjoyed it. It was so much fun.”

Hawk enjoys the view from "Little Finger Rock"
Joel and Mr. Little on "Little Finger Rock"

For more photos of the course, visit the EMH 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, and the EMH program's website at

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