A common question we get here at Project Forty is why does this matter? How does unplugging in the wilderness crossover into ministry? This last trip we guided was a fresh reminder of why we believe in what we do. After trip with 8 guys, over 3 days with 2 rappels, and 1000 push-ups later, it was abundantly clear to me why we do what we do.

It all started with a connection through our former Pastor Doug Schmidt who introduced me to Russell Harris. Russell has a heart for ministering to young men and has established many mentorships with kids in Detroit, Flint, and Pontiac. We first met over some jerk chicken in Detroit and after a few minutes of conversation we realized we had a lot more in common than we knew. Many years ago Russell spent some time with Beyond Malibu, a Young Life camp in British Columbia where he discovered for himself the power of using God’s creation and isolation in the wilderness to push character and relationships. It seemed like an instant connection and began to discuss the potential of getting a trip together with Project Forty.

Russell gathered a group of five young men and we began to prepare for a trip out to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I was first introduced to this group of guys at a backyard barbecue at Matt’s house where we circled around the SpikeBall net and threw down burgers on the grill. My first impression of the guys was that they were respectful of their elders and reserved in their personalities. Let me tell you, it didn’t take long before their real personalities came out. We had some real goofballs in this group and I could already tell this trip was going to be a fun ride.

The following week we planned to meet up after the boys got off school and drive down to Kentucky. The only small issue was that one of our guys didn’t show on time so we had to track him down. Don’t worry, we found him, we just had to leave a few hours later. This small setback meant we had to start our hike at 1am to set-up camp. We did have a record breaking pitstop at Chick-fil-A on the way with eight meals, eight bathroom breaks and a full tank of gas later, we were back on the road in just over 10 minutes.

Our trip consisted of four days of backcountry hiking in and out of the Gorge with lots of hills and valleys. The guys carried backpacks loaded down with gear which provided another challenge for some of them- it was the worst Stair Master they had ever been on. It was awesome to watch the guys push through these challenges beyond what they thought they could physically and mentally handle. On Thursday we introduced them to rappelling with a short 40 foot rappel. Some of the guys were hesitant to do this at first but their demeanor changed as they descended down and realized they could trust the rope and their ability. The following day we took them on a 100 foot rappel and it proved to be one of their favorite moments from the entire trip (in addition to the delicious pancakes we cooked on the cliff beforehand). At night the guys cozied up in three and four-man tents. I was lucky enough to take a solo-hammock to avoid the snoring, sleep talkers, and occasional tooting.

Wilderness ministry is needed more now than ever. Nowadays kids are getting lost in their phones and social media influences. Project Forty trips give kids a unique opportunity to unplug without their phones. Something I think bonds people more than anything is “Type 2 Fun”, our trips push students and even leaders into some hard days, long miles, and heavy bags. We struggle together and help each other, but we always remember some of the funny moments looking back on the struggle. What better way to learn about God than in his purest creation while also providing an isolated and safe place for guys to be vulnerable with each other. These trips not only accelerate our connection with students but deepens the relationship with their current leader. We are excited to continue this partnership with Russell and take more trips with new guys soon.

-Chris (Topher)