KNOXVILLE, TN (July 16, 2015) — Anyone who’s ever loaded up the family car and trekked across the country knows long days on the road build character.
That’s what Steve Wong was banking on. Last week he and his youth group from River Life Covenant Church embarked on a different kind of road trip as they biked and drove 2,700 miles from their church in Sacramento, California, to attend CHIC 2015.
“Students will do road trips when they get older,” Wong said. “I wanted to do one in the midst of their character development.”
Eight of his students took on the challenge of biking to CHIC as part of Team Will to raise cancer awareness. (For a previous story on their trip, click here.) They alternated between biking and driving to cover about 300 miles a day, biking around 80 of those miles.
“When you’re in a car together four or five hours at a time and you can’t get away, you really find one another’s character—what annoys you, what your conflict styles are, how we work as a team,” Wong said. “You cannot teach those things, it has to be experienced.”
So each day after traveling hundreds of miles together, they were intentional about debriefing. As the days passed, the students became more and more articulate about what they saw God doing in their lives along the way.
Every morning each person drew the name of another team member, and throughout the day they kept an eye out for that person. In the evening, they shared encouraging words for the person—thanks for hoisting up a bike, thanks for picking up that trash, for helping with a flat tire. “Having youth speak into the lives of the adults on the team and do it in a way that could actually bring an adult to tears was very powerful,” said Wong. “It drew us together in a way that only a road on a mission—not a wandering road trip—could do.”
By day three, Wong says, the novelty had worn off, and it was time to learn to keep short accounts. They were learning a gospel of reconciliation, of compassion and discipleship. “The seeds of reconciliation are being sown in them. I don’t know the implications of that when they get older, but I’m seeing little sprouts of fruit even this week at CHIC,” Wong said. “That is God’s gift to me.”
But the trip wasn’t just for the high school students in the congregation. It was for the whole church. Riding with Team Will meant their fundraising costs increased from $2,400 a student for registration and travel to the conference to $3,200—a significant leap. And a big commitment.
The church rallied around them. The men’s and women’s ministries made personalized journals for each student to carry, inscribing Scripture and reflections throughout the pages. The knitting group helped sew Survivor-style bandannas for the students to wear, and the junior high students spray-painted them. “My hope was that everybody would feel part of this,” said Wong. “Mission trips aren’t just about who we send but about who we are as we’re sending them, and receiving the wisdom that they bring back.”
Of the 120 people at River Life on a summer Sunday, more than 70 signed up to be members of the prayer chain for the students at CHIC. “You can tell the prayer covering is present,” said Wong.