As a long-time Scouting volunteer I have seen that one of the miracles of Scouting is in the process of turning boys into young men of courage and confidence in a world where those traits are hard to find. I marvel at the many life stories I have seen built around campfires, on mountainsides, in canoes and kayaks, and dangling off a cliff in a harness. I want to tell you about one of these stories.
As a Varsity Scout Team many years ago we had chosen to go to Camp Loll in the Trapper Trails Council and partake of the High Adventure program there. By the middle of a boy’s Scouting adventures, like these Varsity Scouts, many boys have developed a lot of great leadership skills and some have already earned their Eagle Scout award. They have been hiking, biking, fishing and snowshoeing into the backcountry. Many are already well on their way to becoming men of honor and respect. Yet there is always a small number of those who are in difficult circumstances that have been set back in their growth due to issues beyond their personal control.
Javier (name is changed to protect privacy of course) was one of those boys who all of us leaders, both youth and adult, were concerned about. We wondered together what we could do to help him. His parents were recently divorced and he and his siblings were divided between Mom and Dad. He had always been a quiet boy, but his confidence and communication skills were greatly affected by this event. His quiet personality and social shyness had all of us wondering how we could get him to come out of his shell.
The best news of all, as far as we were concerned, was that he had decided to come to camp that summer. He had missed many of our activities for quite some time as he was dealing with his difficult circumstance, but we had convinced him to come and be with us at Camp Loll.
The moment was breathtaking as we stood at the top of the 90-foot cliff. On one side before us was the Teton mountain range. On the other side we could look right into Yellowstone Park. As the well-trained staff began their safety discussion for those of us who had chosen to rappel down this cliff, it was clear that many of us, including this Varsity Coach, felt a little trepidation about hanging off a 90-foot cliff attached to a rope! We listened closely as the staff described how they had three safety measures in place and what they were. If the first failed, the second was in place to keep you from falling. If the second failed, there was a third in place to make sure you would not plummet to your death. Some of the Varsity Scouts were really excited to do this. Some were not. Javier was not.
After strapping on our safety gear, some of us went back to our backpacks to retrieve and/or put back some items. I was one who had a couple of extra things to put back and I also wanted a last drink of water before heading down to the bottom. I noticed that Javier had followed me and the couple of others that were headed back. As I grabbed my water and started to drink, it became clear that he wanted to talk to me.
“Umm…uh…uh…well… I don’t quite know how to say this, but I don’t think I can do this,” he said to me. He had already put on his gear including his helmet, so I knew he really wanted to do this. “It is a pretty scary thing,” I told him. “I’m pretty scared myself.” I knew that the camp staff had set up two different lines down the cliff face so that two of us could go down at the same time. “How about if we help each other by going down together?” “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m still kinda scared.” “Boy, me too” I told him, “but if you will go down with me maybe both of us can make it down together?”
I could tell that he was not 100% convinced it was a good idea, but he reluctantly said, “Okay…let’s see if that works.”
Soon it was our turn at the front of the line. We were helped by the Staffers to get attached to the ropes and shown where to step off backwards down the cliff face. I admit that I was nervous. No matter how many times I have done this, my innate fear of heights kicks in and I start to sweat a little. I looked over at Javier and could see he was still very worried himself. Knowing that I had to be strong to get him to have this experience helped me gather enough guts to take that first step. “Okay….we are going to do this…together!” I told him with a fake confidence that I hoped would inspire him.
“One step at a time…OK?” I then took one step down and waited for him to take his first. He finally took that first step, then another, then another. With encouragement, he hung backwards off that cliff and started to go down with me following him tentatively. What a thrill! You feel like the bravest of the brave as you let gravity pull at you toward the ground so far below, suspended only by a little rappelling gear.
It was a rush! We screamed a little, we laughed a little, we talked to each other as we came down, side by side. In the meantime, the Team members both above and below were shouting great words of encouragement to both of us, but more especially to Javier. I think they all sensed the importance of this moment. As we touched down at the bottom on the good flat ground, a feeling of great accomplishment and the exhilaration of doing such a feat filled us to the brim with joy! He quickly released his gear and ran over to the other boys who had already made it to the bottom. They slapped him on the back and high-fived him and they laughed and talked like they were all the best friends ever.
He spoke more words in those two minutes with his team than I had heard him speak in a year. The truth is that they had all accomplished something that was pretty cool. I watched with greater appreciation as these young men showed a level of comradery that could only exist because of the hard thing they had accomplished together.
This may seem like a small thing to you, but I can tell you with full confidence that this young man was forever changed by this accomplishment. He came more consistently to our activities. He raised his head up when he spoke to me and the other leaders and boys. He had more friends than before. He gained a confidence about himself that was clear to all that were around him. I could not help but notice that both his mom and dad came to me separately and asked what in the world had happened to their son at Camp!
I am grateful to report that this is not the end of this story. This young man continued to grow. We watched him become a great young man who graduated from school and chose to go on to college. He then chose to serve a two-year mission for his Church. As he returned home it was clear that he had become an even greater man through his service to others. He has gone back to college and has chosen a wonderful young woman to become his bride and create a new family.
I know that this little event at Camp Loll is by no means the only tipping point this young man had in his development, but I know it is many little threads like this one in our lives that tie together to become a cord, then a rope, that will carry us safely through life’s challenges. That day on the top of a cliff, I grew a little myself, and thanked God for the opportunity to serve with these young men so that I could see these kind of things come together. It is truly a miracle as we see these boys become men one little cliff at a time.