Youth On the Road
By Christopher Raley
To this day, when I think of youth group trips, I think of the time I was in high school and our youth group went down to L.A. for spring break. The church-owned, blue and white Plymouth van broke down in the waste land that is the I-5 corridor between Stockton and Castaic. There we were on the side of the road, somewhere north of Coalinga, and the adventure had only just begun.
By the time we arrived at the church where we were staying off Pico Blvd, the already long trip had nearly doubled in time and we were all telling increasingly epic versions of it. That trip became a touchpoint for the group. Something we all remembered, had experienced together, and could reference with just a few apt words.
Experience is the hot brand that burns learning into memory. Among the many lessons we learned: what it means when an engine throws a rod; why you should never play with a hacky sack if you aren’t wearing a shirt and the hacky sack has landed in a bush of thorns; and how little you need to order to be able to sit around for hours in Denny’s.
We also learned about each other. I still remember that a girl named Beth had flown in a glider and I hadn’t known anyone else who had done that. I remember that a boy name Bret, who was the rebel of the group, showed an endearing soft side watching out for the youth pastor’s son who was two or three at the time.
And, significantly, we learned how to interact with God in difficult circumstances. Our youth pastor never got angry about the situation, and the other leaders remained calm and supportive of him. He prayed, and he worked through it. He organized the other leaders to shuttle us all into Coalinga. When he took the van to the mechanic we all prayed for the mechanic. When we were told the van was shot (i.e. it threw a rod) we prayed over whether we were supposed to continue south. And when our youth pastor and another leader showed up with a van that they had rented from who-knew-where, we all prayed again thanking God for answering prayers and got back on the road.
Later when we would reference this touchpoint of experience, all these things—the instructional, the relational, the spiritual—were rolled into those conversations. For me it remains a picture of the potential of youth trips. They are an opportunity for kids to see God work in real time.