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.