I watched the clouds roll by quickly above me as I tried to fall asleep. Only a mat and sleeping bag protected my back from the pebbles on the ground while my face lay bare to the open sky. I was joined by another leader from Macedonia and 12 teenagers from various former-Yugoslavian countries. We were camping next to a lake in the rugged mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the Royal Rangers Junior Leadership Camp.
One of the challenges specific to this camping trip was that we packed no tents. Instead, we brought ponchos that would serve as shelter. There are various ways to set them up, but because they can't be closed or sealed there's no surefire way to prevent rain from coming in. We decided to connect the ponchos to make a long tent for the 12 boys.
Rain dripped slowly through the sparse brush above me. I had resolved not to change positions but my mind changed as the sprinkle turned to a steady rain. I turned my body so my head was inside the tent like the 15 year old to my right and my colleague to the left. The younger one snored while the other, who shared my responsibility for the teenagers, lay awake. After an hour or so, the rain became heavy.
The outside of my sleeping bag was already damp. But now the cloth inside began sticking to my feet and legs like a cold heavy glue. As the noise of the rain increased, our covering began sagging, the mat became more raft-like and the question of how much longer to keep the teenagers in these conditions rang louder and louder in my head. We were at least a mile from a building with showers and beds.
"I think we should go!" my fellow leader told me as our watches showed 2 am. I agreed. We talked details, woke up the few sleeping campers and took our packs to an abandoned cafe terrace, leaving our sleeping bags and mats behind. Once everyone had gathered, we marched quickly through the downpour to shelter.
"Why do I need this?" I asked myself as I sloshed through one of the many ankle deep mud puddles. My thoughts first turned to the 12 teenagers behind me and the others who passed this training last year. "I'm here for them," I resolved. "I'm offering them a chance to grow and mature," I said in my head.
But that led me to a question. "Are they the only ones who need to grow and mature?" The obvious answer challenged me to embrace the situation I was in.
As a leader, sometimes I get too comfortable. It's easy to believe that I've become an expert at solving problems or knowing answers. Experiences like the one I had last weekend allow me to expose my weaknesses, inexperience and fears while growing in my dependence on God. I need to grow too. And I need those who are walking alongside me to know that I don't have it all figured out.
That's the beautiful thing about making disciples of Jesus Christ - we can be in the process of becoming and making disciples at the same time. We grow together. This outlook allows us to be vulnerable, share our struggles and burdens knowing that the other has similar difficulties. This is one of the strengths of the Royal Rangers program: leaders and participants go through challenges together.
The teenagers showered and drank hot tea when we got back. We were all in bed by 4. It was a gracious end to the unpredictable camping trip. As I lay in my dry bed, I sensed God's hand of mercy upon us. He had cared for, watched over and protected us. But he had also provided a way for us to grow in our dependence on him. For all of those things I am thankful.