I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a Wisconsin church’s outdoor family ministry banquet. The banquet is a few months off, but as I started preparing for what I might share – perhaps some personal stories from the great outdoors, tying a life of outdoor pursuits into the life of a disciple of Christ, using outdoor skills for missions – I was compelled to start by writing this piece.
It seems appropriate to take pause for a minute and reflect. All the more sweet is the fact that I’m writing it while I fly to Portland, OR to attend a friend’s wedding. More than a friend’s wedding though, but a fellow adventurer who I “did life with” 10 years ago as we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Life with Jesus and outdoor life is pure adventure, joy, endurance and reliance on God!
It has been nearly 5 years since Betsy and I shared the initial vision for Endurance DTS with our colleagues and partners in ministry and this summer marks the 4th 22-week Endurance DTS that we have led at YWAM Montana – Lakeside.
We’ve learned a lot about outdoor ministry over the past years, adding to a foundation that we have always had for reaching out to those in the industry and those on a journey, along with our life-long enjoyment of camping, hiking and adventure.
What I think is most remarkable about the EDTS program are the outreaches that EDTS has been a part of in the past four years. They are worth listing, and they communicate a dedication among the 45 EDTS students and 12 different staff through the years to know God and make Him known to the nations and the global outdoor community.
2011 – Banner Elk, NC and Spain
2012 – Canmore, Canada and Cambodia
2013 – Nepal
2014 – Nepal and Cambodia
But we can’t talk about outreach without emphasizing all of the outreach, networking and Jesus-sharing that happens on a day-to-day basis as we run the EDTS program. There are dozens of local, national and international partnerships with both Christian and non-Christian local businesses, churches, camps, permitting/regulatory agencies, ministries and outdoor professionals that we rub shoulders with year in and year out.
Furthermore, there are the amazing conversations, relationships and presentations of the gospel message that happen around a campfire at a campground in the states, in a 3-sided shelter along a trail, in a tea house in the mountains of the Himalayas, in a remote village in Cambodia, in a gear shop in a sea town in Northern Spain or on top of a mountain in Montana.
What has struck me most about our 5 years of focused outdoor ministry is God’s faithfulness. When we started out we had a clear direction for EDTS. First of all, we knew it would truly be first and foremost a YWAM Discipleship Training School where students come to know God and make Him known. On top of that we wanted to add in the outdoor elements and use them strategically in missions. But we’ve come to realize that we aren’t just “adding in” outdoor components to a DTS but running a true outdoor school on top of a true DTS program. Ask any of the staff or students… it’s a 2-in-1 experience! (As a side note, my parents recently visited and asked, “When do you get some down time?” I told them that that rest comes around Thanksgiving and Christmas and sticks around until Memorial Day. Outside of that, well, it’s all-in.)
EDTS is an all-out effort by both staff and students. But the fruit of these efforts only comes to ripen by the grace of God and his commitment to reach all people, and particularly, those in the outdoor industry.
Some of you reading this may by EDTS alumni, or friends of the program, while for others this may be your introduction to what God is doing here at YWAM Montana – Lakeside through EDTS. Either way, the vision that God gave us for outdoor ministry through EDTS is happening! The following outlines our goals, focus and vision. God has faithfully, and continues to be faithful to accomplish the work that he has given us.
- Know God and make Him known in the outdoor industry.
- Support, serve and encourage Christians within the outdoor industry and Christian outdoor ministries worldwide.
- Teach backcountry skills with an eye for use as mission-field skills (i.e. “translatable skills”).
- Teach, learn and execute excellent outdoor skills in such a way to build credibility with those we interact with within the outdoor industry.
- Interact with as many people as we can within the outdoors and the industry by offering fellowship and hospitality to all we meet, from the family on vacation together to the elite athlete in competition.
- Build relationships and communicate with integrity with parks, agencies, businesses and individuals.
Outdoor ministry and EDTS have been no easy task. It has been fun, challenging, and, at times, stressful, but overall it is a privilege and huge responsibility we’re blessed to be a part of.
The 2014 EDTS is in its 11th week. Two EDTS teams head out for Cambodia and Nepal, respectively, in less than two weeks (this is our first year with two smaller outreach teams vs. one larger team). Applications and inquires are coming in for the 2015 EDTS. The staff team for next summer is also taking shape. We head to Glacier National Park for one last week of “summer camping” before outreach (the forecast is for highs in the 40’s and lows in the 30’s). If you’re thinking that facilitating outdoor ministry is a lot of work, you’re right. But the rewards are endless…
To see students grow in their relationship with Christ is a blessing. To see students step out and share their faith with other outdoor enthusiasts is an honor. To see staff walk with students and point them to Christ through discipleship is to see the same work that Christ did with his disciples. To see a mountain top reached, a rock pitch overcome, a fear of public speaking conquered, a new skill learned, a gospel presentation in a village that has never heard the good news, a person healed physically, mentally and emotionally, a Jesus-following community along a journey with other journeyers, an outreach focused program doing outreach, a Russell family of 4 doing life and ministry together… Well that is outdoor ministry and that is Endurance DTS.
Let the adventure continue…