Jon Cox, executive director of Adventure Plus

A FEW years ago I was privileged to spend a summer as an activity instructor and cabin leader at Birch Bay Ranch, a Christian adventure centre in Canada.

With daily activities including canoeing, rock-climbing, horse-riding and archery, this was always going to be an exciting summer… and every evening there was a camp fire – with a speaker who would share ‘the Good News’ in a relevant and fun way for kids of that age.

It was a camper called ‘Simon’ who taught me a life lesson, which I have never forgotten.

‘Placed’ on camp by Alberta Social Services for several weeks, Simon was in my cabin for the final three weeks of his stay – which was not easy for either of us. He didn’t want to be there and he was not going to hide that from anyone. Simon consistently failed to show up for activities, remained sullen at camp fires and would not participate in cabin discussions.

When I tried to talk to him he looked at the ground and said he was only there because no-one else wanted him – they certainly did not want him at home.

I tried everything to cheer him up but all to no avail.

He simply did not want to be there. In fact, he said, he didn’t really want to be anywhere.

Then, about halfway through his third week, with three days to go before he was sent to a new foster family, Simon suddenly ‘came alive’. He appeared ‘released’ from the heaviness that was weighing him down and developed a voracious appetite for life, fun and making the most of the day.

Where he had been absent from activities, we were amazed that he was first to arrive.

At camp fire, he volunteered for every ‘skit’ or game, and sang as loud as anyone during the songs.

It was during our cabin discussion that evening that I realised he had made a massive leap forward in his self-confidence and appetite for life. He had also grasped a profound insight which I knew I could learn from: With two days to go, I felt it was important to talk about going home. What had we learned? What would be different as a result of our shared week together?

When I asked how everyone felt about ‘going back to the real world’ after such a fun time together, we could barely believe it when Simon spoke up immediately: “I don’t see it like that !”

Every eye turned towards a boy who had been pretty well silent for 18 days.

“What do you mean?” I said. “You guys are all heading home the day after tomorrow.”

“I know”, he continued, “but to me the real world is what we have shared here this week.

“We are now all just going back to the mess that man is making of the world we live in!”

It was humbling to see this change in Simon, sparked by his time at Birch Bay – and it is reassuring to know that BBR would be there for him each year for subsequent summers as he was growing up.

Since that BBR summer, alongside Tessa Cox, I have been working here in Oxfordshire encouraging thousands of young people through the work of Adventure Plus. We also offer a Christian Adventure Instructor Training Gap Year.

We have seen so many examples of God’s faithfulness, guidance and provision that I decided to capture the story – including the anecdote above –in a recent book, Life to the Max.

  • Adventure Plus is an interdenominational Christian charity based in Clanfield that provides outdoor adventure activities for young people and adults.