Last year at this time, my wife Cheryl and I hosted a Spring Break camping adventure for boys from the Brookshire community, located west of Houston. Brookshire has the highest number of fatherless homes in the greater Houston area.
Several years ago, our church entered into a strategic partnership with a local ministry called Eyes On Me — a ministry that exists to mentor, disciple, and serve at-risk youth and their families. EOM has a presence in Brookshire at The Hangar Unity Center.
My friend Ryan Orbin is the Director of The Hangar. Among their many community initiatives, Ryan and his team have a mentoring program for boys, many of whom have never ventured far outside their community. The Hangar provides opportunities for these boys to participate in outdoor adventures along with their mentors,
For the second year, Cheryl and I were thrilled to host the boys from Brookshire at Dos Arbolitos, our off-grid property located outside of Big Bend National Park. The boys arrived on Sunday afternoon for a week of hiking, working, and adventuring in the Chihuahuan Desert.
The first order of business was to set up base camp at the property. For many of these boys, this was their first time to set up a tent. Because of the size of the tents, the boys had to work together to get the task done.
One of the lessons we want to drive home is the importance of cooperating in order to get a task done. And the boys did just that — they worked together to set up their tents. Teaching boys to work together and to do life in community with others is important because trying to do things alone is difficult and often dangerous.
On the first evening, we enjoyed hamburgers around the campfire. Afterward we gave each of the boys a hydration backpack and the hiking and survival gear they would need for the week. We took the time to talk about why a particular item was important and how that item was a metaphor for how to be better prepared for life in general.
After we gave the boys their hiking gear, my friend and fellow pastor Bobby Cooley shared his personal story around the campfire. Bobby is an outdoorsman who has hiked every trail in Big Bend National Park. He and his kids joined us for a couple of days.
Bobby grew up in an at-risk home — a very broken home — and shared his remarkable story of how a caring adult changed the course of his life. I have heard his story more than once and always wonder what might have happened to Bobby had that one caring adult not come into his life. His is a story of hope and one that encouraged the boys.
The boys enjoyed two and a half days of hiking in Big Bend — recently recognized by National Geographic as one the top places to visit in the world. Once again, we stressed the importance of having adventures in community with others because alone is dangerous.
For most of the boys, this was their first visit to a national park. They hiked, climbed, soaked in hot springs, swam in the Rio Grade River, and enjoyed lunch under the endless Big Bend sky.
Of course, the sky is one of the best things about the Big Bend region of Texas. Big Bend offers visitors some of the darkest skies in the nation. So when the sun goes down, the stars come out — more stars than are visible from Brookshire and the light-polluted skies of the greater Houston area.
I invited my friend Joseph Bear, known as Yogi to locals, to do a star party for the boys. Yogi and my neighbors were kind enough to set up one of his large telescopes. As we sat around the fire, Yogi told stories about the night sky and how the constellations got their names and so much more.
The boys then formed a queue at the telescope to see planets and stars. So cool to see their curiosity spill out into questions about the night sky. The following night Yogi returned with his laser pointer to continue teaching about the Big Bend night sky.
Our campfire times in the evening were special times for reflecting on their day and for sharing stories. Two friends from El Paso joined us and shared their personal stories around the fire.
One of the men shared about the death of his dad in a suicide by cop encounter and how that set him on a destructive course until he had an encounter with Jesus. The other shared about growing up in a broken home, spending fifteen years in prison, and how Christ transformed his life. Both men offered encouragement and hope.
We set aside one day to do work projects at the property — tasks that can only be completed by working in cooperation with one another. Cooperation requires good communication, asking for help, taking the initiative to offer help, and doing what it takes to finish a task well.
The boys cleared a fence line on our newest tract, set t-posts, and stretched field fencing. They learned to nail the fencing to the cedar fence posts and to use clips to attach it to the t-posts.
Once again, every hike and task was designed to teach life lessons. Before working on the fence we talked about doing all things with excellence because the quality of our work is like our signature. Red Steagall is one of my favorite cowboy poets and The Fence That Me and Shorty Built is one of my favorite poems about doing your work with excellence. It’s worth listening to this story.
On the final day, three of the boys who professed their faith in Christ chose to be baptized in the Rio Grande River. This was a special time for everyone and another reason why the work of Ryan and his team at The Hangar is so important.
Of course, every adventure needs fuel — lots of good food to provide the energy to hike and climb and swim and drive t-posts. Once again, my friend James Meredith ran point on providing all of our meals. My friend Doug Rogers and others assisted in meal preparation. One thing is certain, we ate like kings. Every meal was outstanding.
This Spring Break adventure is important, especially when you consider that many boys from at-risk homes are just one decision away from becoming a statistic. But, in the words of motivational speaker Josh Shipp, every kid is one caring adult away from becoming a success story.
I am grateful for every caring adult who participated in this second annual Spring Break Big Bend adventure. This was time well spent — and only time will reveal the full impact of this investment in the lives of a group of boys from Brookshire on the road to manhood.