Scout-led Troop Blog #15: The Converting Power of the Outdoors

Bill Chapman

When I was a boy growing up, my parents took us five kids camping every summer for two or three weeks. We traveled to places all over the Western United States: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Lake Tahoe, Bryce, Zion, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone, to name a few. We had no money for hotel rooms, restaurants, or other luxuries. We cooked our food on a Coleman stove or over an open fire. We ate at picnic tables, or sitting in camp chairs, or on a picnic blanket. We knew our way to the outhouse and took sponge baths to stay clean. Most often, we got our water from a spigot or sometimes from a nearby stream or river. The definition of “luxury” on those trips was on a rare occasion when a campsite had both running water and flush toilets.

Being far away from the city lights, at night you could look up and see the moon and stars filling up the sky. Coyotes would howl, deer would silently prance by, squirrels would scurry, and we were always on the lookout for bears. The majesty of the mountains was commanding. Rivers and lakes shimmered in the sunlight. Skies were usually clear with occasional mountain clouds swirling above us.

I do not recall precisely when it happened, but at some point I became converted to the outdoors. I knew that there was a power greater than man and I knew it was good. Although not everyone who loves the outdoors believes in God and not everyone who believes in God loves the outdoors, many feel a connection between the two. It is not uncommon to hear a believer testify of the connection they see between God and His creations. These testimonies are powerful and heartfelt. When I hear them, they resonate within my soul.

I have participated in two 50-mile backpacking trips with Boy Scout troops in the High Sierra and many other high adventure trips. Although demanding and at times grueling, trips like these have their moments of greatness. Words cannot adequately describe the feeling one experiences when witnessing a breathtaking view from a mountain peak. To make an assent up a tough set of switchbacks and make it to the top is an exhilarating feeling. Your heart pounds, sweat pours down your face, and the weight of your pack reminds you of your mortality. But for a brief moment, you are on top of the world. For a Scout, this can be a character building experience. 

I have sat around many campfires and listened to our youth (both young men and young women) bear testimony of the converting power of being in the outdoors with their friends and reflecting on the connection between God and His universe. Backpacking trips, river rafting, white water kayaking, rock climbing, you name it. They are worth every minute of planning, every penny spent on supplies and food. When planned carefully, these trips can be done at a low cost.

When our Scouts are separated from the luxuries and conveniences of home and given the challenge to show that they have the skills to live without those conveniences, typically, they rise to the occasion. They prove to themselves, their friends, and adult advisers that they can achieve much more than we think they can. In doing so, they cannot help but be struck with awe as they look around and see the beauty and power of God’s creations.

 

One of the great debates of all time about the existence of God was between the prophet Alma and the antichrist, Korihor. When Korihor denied there was a God, Alma built his case, in part, on the beauties and complexity of God’s creations. He said, “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” Alma 30:44.

The potential converting power of the outdoors is unmistakable. Hiking over a mountain pass, witnessing the alpine tundra, catching a glimpse of wildlife, listening to a roaring waterfall, tasting a meal cooked in the wild, or smelling the fresh scent of pine needles; all of these things bring us closer to God. With such powerful evidences all around us, why not facilitate opportunities for our Scouts to be first-hand witnesses of God’s creations and, in so doing, give them another opportunity to become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s go outdoors!

 

-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, and do anything in the outdoors. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  1. Mac McIntire says:

    Great article, Bill! Your best yet!

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Mac, you have so many great posts over the years that it is hard to pick one out. You have influenced how I think about scouting in the gospel very deeply. You always focus on the why and the big picture and let everything else fall into place. It’s great to have a friend like you who I know is such a great supporter.

  2. Rodney J. Gagnon says:

    Your reflections bring back so many wonderful cherished memories of my youth in scouting! I don’t remember a lot of details but I certainly haven’t forgotten the feelings on those outings; just as you described! Guess thats why I serve as a District Chair now that I’m retired; trying to assist units deliver the promise of scouting. Keep the articles coming!

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Rodney, thank you for reading and commenting. Those of us who have felt the magic of the mountains and witnessed God’s creations in the wild will never be the same. Please keep up the good work in your district and wherever you go!

  3. Daniel Ward says:

    Another great post Bill! Reading your thoughts brought back the memories I had from my first trip through the Philmont backcountry. On a Sunday we took time to have Sacrament meeting overlooking a valley below. I remember the feeling of the spirit as we reverently worshiped together in such a beautiful setting. The beauty of Gods creations deeply touched me that day.

  4. Bill Chapman says:

    Daniel, it’s so great to have friends like you and Mac! Even though you and I are on opposite sides of the country, I feel like we are brothers. I guess some of us just feel a natural connection because we value the same things.

    Not only the gospel but the great creations of Our Heavenly Father. Thank you for reading and commenting. And thank you for implementing these great principles in your own troop. Keep up the good work.

  5. Michael says:

    Bill, a truly wonderful post! Brings back so many great memories of working with the young men as a scoutmaster and participating in testimony, spiritual thought and reflection sessions around the campfires, on rest breaks during hikes, and other times. Also brings to memory one of the most powerful times that I felt the spirit as a youth myself. On the shores of Lake Superior while traveling to the Boundary Waters, we had pulled up driftwood logs to form a circle of seating. We had Bishopric and Stake Presidency members in our group and we had a testimony/sacrament meeting there on the shore. Passed the sacrament cup – in this case a cup from the mess-kit. All of us dressed in our finest camping duds… The spirit was strong on that shore as both the youth and the adult leaders shared their testimony of Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, and the gospel. It is truly amazing what can happen when we acknowledge and testify of God, Jesus, their creations, and the gospel while out in those creations.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Amazing what strong and common experiences we have all shared connecting with God through the outdoors. I love these posts sharing how everyone else has experienced a slightly different but personal version of the same thing. I think we are on to something here.

  6. Tom Hunsaker says:

    Bill, I LOVE your article. It took me back – I could see the vistas and remember the feelings. My boyhood ward in Los Angeles had a 2 week campout every summer. Church meetings in the city were suspended and were held in the mountains – yes, passing the tin cup around during the sacrament.
    Every summer of high school I took a 50 Miler with my quorum members – and with troop committee approval of our itinerary, menu, and transportation. We went under our own leadership. Adults only came on one trip – when we had the troop go with us. Those were great times back then. Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Mount Wilson, and a 120 miler from Yosemite south to Edison Lake on the John Muir Trail.
    Thanks for stirring these memories. And thanks to Mac, Mark, and others who post. Your faithfulness and insights are always inspiring.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Tom, great response, wonderful memories, thanks for sharing those personal experiences. I am impressed that although not all God-fearing people love the outdoors, so many do. We find a common bond and it connects us not only with Our Heavenly Father but with each other, as well. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  7. Chuck Darnall says:

    Bill,
    I have many great memories of the times we spent in the outdoors with the scouts. Good friends, good times, all in the beauty of God’s great creation.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Chuck, thank you for reading and commenting. But more importantly, thank you for being such an example and role model for me as we traipsed over many a trail with our Scouts from Troop 736! Of course, our 50-miler on the John Muir trail was a highlight but there were so many others that I will never forget.

      Nor will I ever forget one of the first hikes I went on with you and our Scouts when you picked up a shotgun shell and started telling the Scouts stories about your personal experiences with weaponry and the adventures that went with that. It was an honor and a privilege to work with you in those times.. Some of the greatest memories of my life! Hope all is going well.

      1. Chuck Darnall says:

        Thanks Bill! I too have many great memories of our times afield. As I write this we are one week away from being in Patagonia. I’l let you know how it stacks up to the Sierras.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

LDS-BSA Relationships