Safety and Challenge

Safety and Challenge

A Menno Minute

by Jon Olfert, Director, Camp Valaqua

child ringing the bell at the top of the climbing wallThe clanging sound of a bell being struck and the echo of voices cheering in support drift to me through the forest.  Someone has just mastered a face of the climbing wall and I smile to myself, music to my ears.  Slightly further away I can hear the shrieks of bodies hitting cold water as swimmers get enter the river.  It’s activity time at camp and I am walking around checking in. 

Activity time is when the ‘features’ of camp are put on display.  When parents contact us in the off season to ask questions, it is often about what activities we offer and so when camps advertise, we advertise features.  Climbing walls, canoeing, archery, sky swing… features.  These may be flashy and fun, but ultimately they serve the purpose of the mission and not the other way around.  Valaqua’s primary mission is to create a place where people grow and we’ve found this takes two things:  safety and challenge.

Safety means not only physical safety, but emotional support so that kids feel safe to try something that they might not succeed at right away.  Whether that is the next hardest route on the climbing wall, singing at campfire, or answering a hard question during a devo, it is critical that kids feel safe enough to try.  Once we accomplish that, we need to have a challenge!

Challenges at camp take all sorts of shapes.  The obvious challenges are physical, but there are emotional, spiritual, and relational challenges too.  Challenges create opportunities to grow in some new way and we strive to present campers with challenges that are somehow different from the campers day to day. 

And so I smile when I hear the climbing wall bell ring; not only because someone has used the power of their arms and legs to overcome and obstacle, but also because it means they felt safe enough to try. The bell sounds to me like someone growing a little.