What’s the Alternative?

The Highway 507 WyldLife leaders from Washington sat in stunned silence. The team was preparing last-minute details for camp, which was only three days away, when the cell phone rang. The news was not good — their week at Washington Family Ranch would be canceled due to the Oregon State Health Department’s concerns over flu symptoms at the camp.

“What was an extreme high of preparing to leave for camp with 67 kids and leaders turned into an extreme low!” said Chris Holterman, a teacher and volunteer leader at Rainier Middle School.

Immediately, Area Director Mariah Warner suggested, “Well, let’s pray and see where the Lord leads.” So the team prayed, Holterman said, “thanking God for all He’d done throughout the year by preparing kids for camp, praising Him for the funds raised and asking for guidance on what to do next.” The team then started brainstorming, because “we felt that God didn’t pull all these kids together and raise all this money just to have it go for naught.”

After four hours on the phone and Internet, the team had formed the blueprint for their “Highway 507 WyldLife Alternative Camp Experience Road Trip.” This didn’t mean, however, that the leaders weren’t hesitant about the outcome. “I just didn’t know how we could perform every part of camp while still trying to spend quality time with the kids we were bringing,” volunteer leader Shannon Gubser said. “Let’s be honest, the people who put on camp begin the preparations a year in advance. How could we do in 72 hours what they do in a year?” Hesitant or not, three days later the trip was under way.

The element of surprise

In true Young Life fashion, kids never knew what was coming next during the five days and four nights. Traveling more than 1,500 miles through Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the kids enjoyed Young Life clubs, water parks, amusement parks, go-karts, miniature golf, bumper boats, arcade games, all-you-can-eat dinners, motel stays, church sleepovers and Young Life’s Breakaway Lodge in Gearhart, Ore.

Armed with an in-house program team, speaker, musician and two-person work crew, the leaders made sure that the standard of excellence you find at Young Life camps carried over to their own “traveling camp.” The five clubs — held in a different location each night — were filled with songs, surprises and the Savior.

All the quantity and quality time spent together helped kids open up to their leaders and the message. “We did one-on-one meetings on the bus, by the creek, in hallways, at Taco Bell, in the pool and more.”

“Cabin time was mind-blowing!” Holterman said. “Kids were letting go of their hurts and pains; they were opening up about needing God in their lives.” Along the way, the response was profound, as many kids began relationships with Jesus.

An opportunity realized

 “To be honest, I was skeptical at first about how this was all going to play out,” Holterman confessed. “How could we possibly do this and how could it possibly be as good as camp? I should know when God is involved, nothing is impossible — absolutely nothing. We don’t need to go to camp to have kids meet Jesus. He is everywhere.”

The Highway 507 Young Life area obviously wasn’t the only one impacted by the flu this summer. Other areas also had to “think on their feet” when coming up with alternatives to the planned camp week. For many areas, the challenge didn’t deter spirits, but instead afforded them the chance to think outside the box and treat kids to new experiences.

“You would think that more than 1,000 kids not being able to go to camp would be a lost opportunity,” said Mason Rutledge, Evergreen regional director. “That is not true for our staff and leaders. What might look like a camp being closed, just turned into another ‘camp’ being opened.”

“I’m still so grateful,” Warner said, “for the loud and clear message we sent our community that we’ll never miss a chance to share the great news of Jesus with a generation that wants to hear.”