Teens Find God on the Rocks
By Rachel Scribner

Imagine dangling from a cliff in a harness, holding on to your rope. The view is incredible, but it’s strange to see treetops and clouds below you.

Feel the sun on your back, the flutter in your stomach, and the wind in your hair.

Now let out some rope, and jump down the rock face as you watch the world go flying by. Is it exhilarating? Terrifying? A little of both?

Rock climbing can be an emotional experience, especially for teens. And according to teen event planner Bob Gaede, that’s precisely why extreme adventures help teens open up about God.

“It’s a hands on experience … a spiritual journey,” says Gaede, who has lead teen events for 20 years. “The spiritual part is the most important.”

Spiritual Exercise
This year, Michael Gregory planned Oregon’s Pathfinder Teen Rock Climbing event with Gaede and his team.

Teen Pathfinders converged at Smith Rock State Park from April 24-26 to scramble, swing, and rappel up, down and across the imposing rock faces. And as the teens exercised their muscles on the cliffs, group leaders shared applications to stretch them spiritually.

Taylor Kielman planned the spiritual applications with his wife Crystal, Gregory, and Gregory’s wife Lauren.

Kielman and his team brainstormed aspects of climbing that relate to the Christian walk. The team asked group leaders to “bring up spiritual conversations” with their teens through the weekend. “I wanted to talk about how God can save us even though sometimes we may fall,” Kielman says.

Living Lessons
Friday night, teens divided into groups to learn skills they’d need for climbing, such as knot tying, always with a spiritual side.

Sabbath morning, groups rotated through 10 spiritually-themed stations including rappelling, prayer, and a balancing slack line that taught teens to stay focused on their goal.

When teens explored a dark chasm, group leaders reminded them that even if they couldn’t see the light, it was still there. “When life seems dark … don’t lose hope,” Kielman says. “God never leaves you or forsakes you.”

New Found Courage
One year, Gaede recalls, a 15-year-old non-Adventist Pathfinder panicked and refused to step off the cliff and start repelling. “[The] kid’s about 6’2”, but he’s scared to death,” Gaede says. Gaede suggested a prayer, but the young man said he didn’t know how to pray.

“So I just prayed a simple prayer, ‘Lord … he doesn’t have the courage to go over the edge, and he needs that right now, amen,’” Gaede says.

Gaede finished his prayer and turned to the young man. “I said, ‘You ready to go?’ He said ‘Yeah,’ and he stepped back and he went over the edge.”

Gaede’s eyes light up as he smiles. “That’s the kind of experience that makes you want to come back again and again,” he says. “And those kind of experiences happen every year.”