Our students got back from their canoe adventure in Temagami, Ontario almost 2 weeks ago now, and it was just last Thursday that we drove back down from Coldwater‘s base camp to our home in Hamilton. Our students returned with countless stories of challenge, growth, teamwork, and good fun; it was a rich time for each of the students as individuals as well as for the two groups as a whole.
Our student Rieneke reflects on her trip, writing the following:
“There was a certain fullness to this trip. Of course, there were jam-packed days and progress to always be made. The fullness I mean, however, was in the resilience I saw all around me.
In our morning thought at Emerald Lake, our trip leader, Chantal, talked about resilience as “adapting to change and using what we have to bounce back and face challenges.” She referenced Romans 8, encouraging us to be fueled by God’s love for us. Out on trip, we were almost certainly fueled primarily by our hunger levels and daydreams about our sleeping bags; yet I also found myself surrounded by servant hearts and who sang their way through thunderstorms and endless portages, fueled by His love. Huddled under a tarp in the middle of a wild forest in Temagami, we sang “The Littlest Worm” and “Down by the Bay” while thunder echoed around us. And this chorus of resilience in the form of soaking wet children’s songs sang out through the rest of the trip.
Our hardest portages and longest days were also some of our favourite moments, and I think it’s because of the joy we tried our very best to pour into each other, even while running on empty. By the final days, I felt this spirit of perseverance bubbling up inside of me. Our praise to God started to take shape as a struggle together to face challenges.
From the start of the trip, the phrase, ‘all creation sings his praises’ ran through my thoughts. Our method of praise through perseverance started to show up in the creation around me. I saw it in the stones that looked like they’d been there for all of time, in the peaks and valleys carved out by glaciers, even in the waves and headwinds God sent to challenge us. I started to value all the ways I saw God’s hand around me.
Laced into that fullness, we experienced a feeling of emptiness – mostly through our exploration of silence. We spent a full day on our own in Temagami, sitting in the woods in sunny patches or on smooth rocks. All we had were the essentials, like Nalgenes full of fruit punch and sleeping bags to keep us warm. For some of us, Solo Day was uncomfortable, frustrating and seemingly never-ending. For others, it felt natural, relaxing, and was just what they needed. Regardless, we all learned in some way or another that God can and will use silence to approach us.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we all learned more about ourselves than we thought we would when we signed up for a ten day canoe trip with a group of strangers. For me and others who come from busy, bustling homes, we learned about painful silence and what it is to crave company. Others learned how to discover the crazy beautiful talents and gifts that God plants in strangers-turned-family. But most of all, I think we all learned that these next eight months are about to be chaotic, challenging, and so much more than we thought.”
Our student Shir-El writes the following about her experience:
“I approached Act Five unsure of what to expect. This was evident in the way that I’d attempt and often fail to explain the program to friends, family and interested customers at the gas station at which I worked. Though I didn’t know a lot, I knew that God had given me peace about being here. Though many of the experiences of the program were to be new to me, I was feeling generally confident concerning the canoe trip. I’d done two five day trips with my summer camp over the past two summers and I loved them. I was a little intimidated by some of the new challenges we’d be facing- like the cold, sleeping under tarps, eating dehydrated food and doing this all with strangers I’d met the week before.
God took these confidences and fears of mine and taught me so many things that I’m still trying to process. Though I learned so much about the world and the creation around me as well as the now-friends with which I ventured, I want to explain one of the most prevalent and currently generally clear lessons that God taught me over the ten days.
One of the most obvious themes of my trip was the concept of strength. We took camping rope and made burn bracelets and were encouraged to attach a word of significance to the bracelet to summarize what we had learned or a theme from the trip. I attached the concept of strength. As a small, 5’2, not the most athletic girl, I love challenging myself and proving to myself and others that I am capable of more than I think. I had experience on a couple of canoe trips like this and I was excited to do that and to challenge myself more than I had before.
On day six, I prayed myself through a rough portage and God borough Isaiah 40:28-31 to my mind – verses about God’s strength and how when we trust in Him, our strength will be renewed and we will soar on wings like eagles. Renewal sounded good. God provided time for that on day seven – Solo Day – to really take the time to rest in Jesus and to be still to take a moment in His beautiful creation and remember who He is and who I am and give Him my burdens. I could clearly see my old rhythm of striving, crashing, hibernating and repeating that brought me through high school. I then made a choice to give my pride to Him and to give up my strength and let His strength permeate my life and actions for the rest of the trip.
As I learned what it meant to walk in the strength of the Lord, I found myself less stressed, less concerned with proving myself, more confident and unafraid of failure and reproval. The joy I’d attempted to portray at the beginning of the week became real and deep and came with a particular peace. I feel like I began to understand what Wendell Berry meant when he described the wilderness as being a place of restoration. Now out of this restoration, we get to live in a house in Hamilton, living in community with others and within a greater community and we get to practice what we learned in the microcosm of life the canoe trip was now in the real world with real people where our distractions and schedules still exist, but so does rest and so does our God.”
Students are heading now into their first week of “ordinary time” at Blake Street: they are learning how to ride the bus, explore Hamilton’s churches, clean (and clean and clean!), attend class, and cook together. They, along with their four Resident Leaders, are looking forward to enjoying the home, the neighbourhood and the city, and growing as a community.