by Jerrie Miller
Most adults have good memories of nature play. Whether catching fireflies, finding the shapes in the clouds, splashing in mud puddles or “digging a hole to China,” playing outdoors was an important part of growing up. But as more time is spent by children locked safely indoors, there has been a paradigm shift. The days of going outdoors to explore and learn have been replaced with reality television and virtual gardens.
The Salvation Army Outdoors (TSAO) began as a way to bring together concerned adults who wanted to provide opportunities for children to experience the joys of discovering and learning through encounters with nature. It soon was apparent that while many adults agreed this was an important goal, few possessed the confidence or skills to take a child fishing, pitch a tent or lead a hike.
Several Salvationists and friends met together to develop a sustainable initiative to expose, energize and equip more adults to get kids back outdoors. As we began to talk about what we should include in a well-resourced program, a “God-thing” happened. He sent wonderful partners to us in the form of friends at Safari Club International who shared their training program.
It’s hard to believe eight years have passed since Jill Johnson and I set off on the adventure of a lifetime at Safari Club International’s American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS) in Jackson Hole, Wyo. We learned about ecology by collecting bugs from a nearby stream to measure the health of the water system. We learned why plants grow on one side of the mountain, but the other side is bare. We studied wilderness survival, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the interrelatedness of all things created within God’s gazillion-dollar classroom, the Tetons.
Thus began a journey that would provide intense training for more than 100 individuals over the next several years. Since that first year when we stepped out of our comfort zones, the Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) annually has provided scholarships to bring other Salvationists to AWLS. All return with a renewed passion for outdoor experiences and sharing what they’ve learned.
Still something has been missing. Since AWLS is a secular educators’ experience open to formal and non-formal educators from all areas and fields, there has not been an intentional tie-in to the spiritual connectedness of nature or practical application for putting to work what we learned when we got back home. While I remember clearly the lesson God taught me personally about building fences in my life while on a hike to look at the knock-down fences of the West, there was no formal lesson for applying that or time to discuss it with like-minded students.
This year at the end of August, SCIF will host a separate week exclusively for The Salvation Army where we will still be able to learn all the things taught during normal sessions, but there will be the freedom to reflect on what those lessons mean to a Christian educator and how to incorporate those lessons into character-building, camping and other Salvation Army programs. This experience is geared for officers and lay leaders who work directly with kids and who want to expand and enhance their ability to take them outside to get up close with creation and our Creator.
REGISTRATION IS STILL OPEN FOR THIS YEAR!
Email [email protected] for more information and a registration application.