Becky Gillig, a rising junior at Wesleyan University, has been coming to Blue Ridge since she was in high school. Growing up in Kentucky, she participated in the youth Conference On National Affairs (CONA) for several years. This July we were fortunate enough to have her back at Blue Ridge. She worked as an intern for several weeks, as well as attended the CVC Excel conference for college-aged leaders.
Several weeks ago, the 43rd annual YMCA Christian Values Conference, sponsored by the YMCA of Montgomery, Alabama visited Blue Ridge Assembly. The week of July 18-22 was dedicated to High School-aged leaders, while the Junior High conference was held a few days later, from July 23-25. The YMCA Christian Values Conference brings together hundreds of young people from across the country to focus on Christian leadership, developing important life skills for teens, and the Y values of building a healthy mind, body and spirit. Becky wrote the following essays about her meaningful first-hand experiences at Blue Ridge in working with both the High School and Junior High CVC this summer.
The Odyssey: Finding Trust and the Blue Ridge Spirit
By Becky Gillig
In previous years, the Christian Values Conference (CVC) has done team-building activities on the ground, but this year they were able to take it to the next level- and into the air. On Monday at Blue Ridge, throughout the day 100′ s of 3rd-year students attending the CVC were able to experience the Odyssey, a ropes course donated by the Watts family to Blue Ridge. The Odyssey climb serves not only as a team building activity, but also as an exercise in trust. For many of the students this was no easy task. But with the safety assurances of the staff and the constant flow of encouragement from staff, other students, and those on the ground, everyone completed the course. While some elements of the course were challenging to students as individuals (the lower level of the course), and others focused on the group (upper), the overarching spirit of teamwork, support, and trust was never lost, whatever the challenge.
The first part, called “The Matrix,” requires the participant to leap from one square to another…squares that are on separate wires next to each other, are separated by a few feet of air, and are not terribly large. Your teammates are in front of and behind you, but ultimately each person has to make that decision to finally jump. That is what is the most difficult and daunting. That first little jump of faith and trust, with hands outstretched to the person just a few feet ahead, who seems to be the only thing preventing you from falling. When asked what they discovered, students replied, “I discovered a brand new level of trust,” “I should learn to trust people more,” and “I can trust others, but I can also be trusted.”
After “The Matrix,” students traversed on a wire using two crossed ropes. Of course you had to switch sides in the middle, requiring you to cross over the ropes and balance briefly on one foot. This was where the nerves really kicked in, for the more you shake the more the wire shakes, and the stability of the rope (or lack thereof) is less than comforting. One student was visibly nervous doing this. As people on the ground cheered she stated with a hint of a smile that she was about to cry. She made it over where the ropes crossed, but a few steps later started to loose her balance. She began to tear up and said “I can’t do this” but the staff member calmed her down and she finished that last four feet. Once on the platform, she seemed in disbelief, and rapidly losing any remaining self-control to hold it together. But then the staff member gave her a high-five and she smiled. You could see her mentality shifting from being afraid and uncertain to having confidence in herself and what she had just accomplished.
Many students that day discovered that the Odyssey “made me trust myself a lot more than I normally do.” Another found, “that I don’t give myself enough credit” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens.” The Odyssey isn’t just about finding trust in your team for these few days on the mountain. It is a journey of discovery, where the CVC students learned how to trust the staff, their team, God, and themselves. By letting themselves trust, they found that “It was nice to be able to trust” and surprised even themselves with what they could do.
In the upper level of the course, students must cross to the “gate” (a framework to rest on and which separates the different challenges) on their own wire while remaining connected. Oh, and there are hanging beams in the way too. One participant started singing to stay calm, and the rest of the group joined in as they crossed (unfortunately dancing was out of the question). This prompted a group on the other side to sing as well, resulting in a stirring rendition of the “Shaving Cream” song and good humor all around. If the lower levels had pushed participants as individuals, the upper levels made groups into teams and individuals into leaders. For these challenges there was no option of doing it alone. You had to do it together and you were completely dependent on the other three members of the team, just as they were dependent on you. This was where students learned that “at some times you can’t be by yourself. You need others.” Here in the YMCA we teach that everyone can be a leader in their own way, and these students who participated in the Odyssey course learned that. It goes beyond literally giving a helping hand or being there to catch someone. These students learned that “I can be a leader. You have to be supportive,” and “everyone can encourage.” You don’t have to be in charge or giving direction to be a leader. You just have to know “that I can inspire confidence in others.”
For the last leg of the course, each person in the group of four must hold onto a rope (which is connected to the others at the top), and using only their own rope must walk on their own wire to get to the final “tree house” and the zip line. Each person finds balance by pulling on their own rope, which in turn helps the others balance and create stability for the whole team. For one delegate, the experience went beyond merely finding trust. It was about learning that “I loved having to truly put my trust in my friends.” When asked what the experience meant to them, delegates responded, “It meant selflessness” and “I thought I would never do anything like this. It means a whole lot to me.” One delegate even said “the experience to me was that God is the rope that saves us when we fall into the world and the world’s temptations.”
The final part of the course, the zip line, sums up much of what the Odyssey course, the Christian Values Conference, and Blue Ridge, teach. By the time you reach the zip line, your team has become family, and you have not only discovered what trust truly is, but you have learned to trust yourself and others. You now have the knowledge that you will always have the help and support of your Y family, and you know you can do anything. It is that knowledge which allows you to make that final leap of faith. Going on the zip line doesn’t involve skill, but you still have to make the decision to do it. What you have learned on this mountain tells you that you can do it, now it is just up to you to find the strength to act upon that knowledge. For the zip line there is no holding back. The theme of this years Values Conference was “Our Everything” – a lesson about not simply going through the motions, but giving all of yourself to God. By the time you have completed the Odyssey course and spent a week on this mountain, you want to give everything. You want to share this knowledge, and share yourself with everyone.
Anyone who has been to Blue Ridge knows that it changes people. I could try to explain how, but the best way is just to read the comments that students wrote after going on the Odyssey climb. The prompt was, “Please share your thoughts about your whole adventure at Blue Ridge:”
“It’s a life changing experience.”
“It’s an amazing and safe place that will change your life.”
“I love Blue Ridge. I wish I could be here every year. Forever.”
“I can’t live without it!”
“Words can’t explain this wonderful place.”
“It helps you become a stronger person and a true believer.”
“This trip is everything to me. I love it here.”
“There is not enough paper to explain my adventure and experience at BR.”
“Already feeling the BR spirit.”
“It is the best week of my life.”
“I live for Blue Ridge.”
Now the challenge for students as they leave Blue Ridge is to take what they have learned on the mountain back out into the world. They have learned how to not hold back and to give “everything” in all aspects of their lives. They have found the Blue Ridge Spirit and they will carry that with them for the rest of their lives. Of course once you have found the Blue Ridge Spirit, the only way to hold onto it is to give it away.
The Hike: A Journey to the Top
By Becky Gillig
At the Junior High Christian Values Conference, the importance of communication, teamwork, prayer, responsibility and mission were impressed on the delegates. Influences in our lives and how the distractions we face everyday can deter us from our goals were also a main focus. Events of the weekend included running around the mountain on a scavenger hunt, enjoying an ice cream social of Eureka treats (which resulted in a “sugar rush!” as one delegate exclaimed), followed by a dance party in Lee hall (including a dance off and line dancing to Justin Bieber’s song “Baby”).
But the event that was most meaningful to many delegates was the hike up the mountain to “High Top.” Anyone who has gone on or attempted that hike knows that it is strenuous to say the least. Steep and rocky, the hike to a 7th or 8th grader seems like an impossible and endless task. The only thing that drove them to keep pushing onward were the comments from adults and delegates who had gone on the hike before: “Just wait until you get to the top,” and “the view makes it all worth it.” What is so great about the hike is that it is a naturally made team building activity. While the conference had its own activities to focus on communication, prayer, mission, teamwork, responsibility, influences, and distractions, the hike to the delegates was just something fun to do (or alternately, something they didn’t understand why they had to do it).
In my experiences with 7th and 8th graders, I have found that they think they are really smart and are not hesitant to give you a hard time (though granted they can be lovable enough and I know I was just like them once). They will see right through you and enjoy guessing at the purpose and meaning of activities such as these. They often know what answer you are looking for and will give it to you even before you ask the question, but in doing that they miss the meaning behind the activity and discussion. They are in fact very intelligent, and they know what they are supposed to get out of activities, but that is different from finding meaning in the activity itself and truly learning from it. Because the hike didn’t seem to be written in the program or created just for them (as the other activities were), the delegates actually had a learning experience on the hike and many found the meaning and purpose behind it. They didn’t just know what teamwork and helping were; they actually felt that for themselves in a new way.
On the hike there is no sitting back and letting someone else do the work or the talking, and no shirking or hiding from teamwork. Since everyone has to get up that mountain by themselves (something they might not normally choose to do), each person has their own sense of accomplishment when they reach the top, as well as a respect for the other people. You have to take the steps to get there, but everyone gets there in the end and that creates a bond between people. In striving for the same goal and achieving it together, whether you were the first to the top or struggling behind everyone else in the “caboose” (CAAAABOOOOOOSE!), the hike puts us on the same team.
At the Christian Values Conference, every activity is a chance to slip in more team building. For the scavenger hunt, the teams were the “families,” the group you are in for the weekend for discussions and all the conference activities. As you went around finding items on the mountain, you had to travel together. Even for the dance party, people separated into circles of families so that no one is left out. And nothing brings people together like a good ol’ line dance to “Cotton Eye Joe,”“Party in the USA,”“Kung Fu Fighting,” or “Baby.” The hike was another such bonding activity, but one that at least for me has always had the most significance and depth. In a week, or a year, five, ten years even, do you think these kids are going to remember what they danced too or whether or not they won the scavenger hunt? Maybe, but I doubt it. They might remember what they learned, but the details become fuzzy. With the hike though, you retain more. The hike is in itself almost a separate experience from any conference. It is an intrinsic part of Blue Ridge, and yet at the same time it is a world away.
When you are on the hike everything else goes away. All you are thinking about is making it to the top. You see the train of people in front of you and behind you through the trees on the winding trail, the person directly in front of you sweating and focused, the person behind you breathing hard. And then you realize that everyone else is struggling the same way you are, thinking “am I ever going to make it?” and “where is the top?!” Working with so many people all towards the same goal is an experience that you cannot recreate, and one that stays with you in same way forever. On the hike it’s ok to make friends, to ask for help, to give a helping hand, to sing songs, to be Christian, to be patriotic, to be whatever it is that you want to be. Once you get to the top, going around that corner to applause, cheering for yourself even, you step out into that view and everything stops. You are hit with a wave of accomplishment, of awe at the beauty surrounding you, of knowing you can do anything and be anything because you made it to the top of the mountain and are looking out at the world. It is hard not to be profoundly moved in that moment, even for a few self-conscious, giggly, too cool for school junior high kids. Now, that moment might not have lasted very long for a few anxious delegates who were ready for the hike down (after all there was a belly flop contest to get too). But however long or short, however profound the experience was or seemingly was not, the fact remains that each person made it up the mountain. And that, coupled with even the smallest moment of the smallest significance, looking out from the top of that craggy rock face, is enough to change a life.
Read Full Post »