A Rite of Passage for Sophomore Students

By Gina Kortuem, Upper School English

Almost every October, I pack a bag of full of sweats, junk food, and a toothbrush and willingly depart on a trip away from my family and my classes. As I write my sub plans and kiss my kids goodbye, I wonder why I would volunteer to chaperone a trip where I’m confined in a cabin with cell phone-deprived teenagers, in the woods no less. And yet, when we finally turn that sharp corner and descend into Living Waters Bible Camp, it never ceases to catch my breath. The sophomore retreat is a powerful rite of passage for New Life students, one I look forward to witnessing each year. 

Our experience at Living Waters always includes several permanent elements, including climbing a rock wall (which you must zip line to get down), participation in various games, including those of the night, board, and outdoor variety, and canoeing down the Kickapoo River. The latter often includes a cold and wet ride home, as canoes tend to tip. In the past few years, we’ve worked with the camp to integrate orienteering, a mock evangelism experience that the counselors plan. Orienteering gets the kids hiking all morning and crossing the local lake in makeshift boats in the afternoon (another opportunity for getting wet!) 

We also hold two chapels on the trip, one each evening. This year was Mr. Bostrom’s first experience with the sophomore trip and he planned relevant and motivating messages for this year’s group. On the first night we discussed what it means to own your faith, as well as the barriers that interfere with it. On the second night, he challenged us to share our faith. He pointed out that if a person discovered a cure for cancer and didn’t share it, it would be one of the biggest tragedies in human history. And yet, we have the biggest gift of all, Christ’s love and salvation, and we keep it bottled up inside. Each night ended in small group discussions, where students shared ways we could own and show our faith in our personal lives and at New Life. 

And while I love the itinerary, the camp, and especially the weather this year, there is still one element that brings that smile to my face as I descend the hills of Westby, Wisconsin. That element is the growing bonds among the students themselves. Each year in the days that lead up to our departure, they worry about who they will have to room with, how they will survive without their phones, who they want (or don’t want) to sit by on the bus, and so on. But on the way home, the mood can be described simply as satisfied exhaustion. 

This year as we dried our canoes on the bank of the river, I overheard one sophomore boy say to his friends, “This is the most fun our class has ever had.” I smiled and looked around the scene as he said this. There was a group of students sunk knee-deep in mud on the outer bank. Another group was floating down a current on their backs, led by Mr. Westlund of course. A few students down the bank were building a sandcastle with Mr. Bronson. And the rest were smiling, laughing, and relating their adventures on the trip. If there’s any moment that summarizes the mission and vision of the sophomore retreat, I would capture it there: as we relaxed on the bank of a river and simply enjoyed each other’s company and God’s creation.