Secret Sojourn: One Youth Group’s Surprise Adventure

Post a Comment » Written on August 8th, 2008     
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WORCESTER, MA (August 8, 2008) – The members of the Salem Covenant Church youth group had no idea on the morning of July 22 that they would be boarding an airplane bound for California, where they would spend several days in Yosemite National Park and San Francisco.

The group had left Worcester three days earlier on their “Secret Sojourn,” which would involve numerous “missions” throughout the trip that covered 6,587 miles and concluded July 27. The students would know none of the destinations until they actually arrived.

Sojourn oneBy the time the 15 teenagers and four adults arrived at JFK Airport in New York City, they already had worshiped with Covenant Congregational Church in Boston, climbed a ropes course in Wenham, helped at a school that serves at-risk students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, spent the night at Trinity Covenant Church in Livingston, New Jersey, and traveled 500 miles.

The students were less than thrilled to learn they would have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the next leg of their journey. That changed, however, after they were transported to the airport and received their boarding passes.

“California was mentioned by several of the students as one of the places they hoped to go,” says Mike Nyman, the Salem Covenant Church’s youth pastor. “Most of them didn’t think California was realistic because of the expense to get there, so that was a big surprise.”

This was the third Sojourn for the youth group, which made trips in 2002 and 2005. Nyman says he started the Sojourns to fill in a three-year cycle that includes CHIC and a mission trip. Each Sojourn focuses on a theme that the students can experience. Faith and hope were previous themes. This year the students focused on love.

Organizers used C.S. Lewis’ classic The Four Loves as an initial resource. “We started thinking theologically about love – specifically how God’s love for us affects our ability to love in all the ways we use the term, from love of ice cream to erotic love,” says Nyman.

“Parks like Yosemite are perfect places to illustrate God’s extravagant love for all of creation,” Nyman says. “It’s an overwhelming experience, particularly for people who have never been out west. I’ve been to Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks before, but when we first entered Yosemite Valley and pulled over to see Half Dome in the distance, I was literally speechless.” For additional photos from the trip, visit Secret Sojourn.

Sojourn-2The students participated in a breadth of activities through which they explored issues related to love:
•    The residents of Covenant Village of Turlock shared how they viewed marriage over the years.
•    A day of silence at a retreat center in which they could go on self-guided walk through the stations of the cross, a prayer labyrinth, and explore other spiritual disciplines.
•    A visit to SafeHouse, which provides a sober environment and life skills to help restore homeless women who have been working in prostitution. The women took the students on a tour of the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, which Nyman says deeply impacted the students. “You can only look at so many crack addicts in the face before it starts to affect your view of the world pretty deeply.”

Throughout the trip, the group engaged in deep discussions related to the missions. “We pack so much into one week that the experience is a bit overwhelming,” Nyman says. “It takes some time – hopefully a lifetime – for things to sink in, so we’ll be processing for some time to come. Ultimately, I hope that they will have a new appreciation for God’s love, and as a result of that, be better equipped to live out that love in meaningful ways.”

Nyman says he begins to conceive of the next Sojourn almost as soon as one trip ends, but the bulk of the planning begins a year before the trip starts. He tries to consider places the students have never been, could be reached at a reasonable cost, and fit together logistically. “A lot of juggling takes place for everything to line up, and one change here causes a domino effect down the line,” he adds.

Two California Covenant churches assisting the students were Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City and Modesto Covenant Church in Modesto.

For more information on the trip and discussion questions, visit the Secret Sojourn website.

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