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Jungle Boys’ Camp

Three canoes glide on the dark surface of a large river; two are beautiful wood/fiberglass combinations and the third a Coleman canoe with a 6 hp outboard motor. A breeze ripples the water and the sound of paddles break the stillness of the night. The sky is black with clouds, but an occasional glimpse of stars can still be seen. Voices can be heard and flashlights seen from time to time as the occupants of the crafts call to each other to keep track of the progress of time and to track the distance covered. Tonight is survival night, and the schedule is strenuous.

The goals of this camp include teaching young men the importance of a strong faith in God, good leadership skills, working together, caring for one another, and personal responsibility. A daily Bible lesson and theme goes along with the day’s activities, teaching life lessons from nature and the day’s events.

The camp began Monday morning when two counselors and five boys left from El Chal. The counselors were there to map out activities and to give advice if asked, but they allowed the boy who was day leader plenty of leeway to make decisions, unless he was heading for total disaster. The goal was to put the canoes in the San Pedro River at El Naranjo, and work out any problems with learning to handle a canoe in an easy afternoon run to Santa Rosita.

As the run was to be an easy one, the counselors decided to make a younger boy the day leader. Things went pretty much as expected with a novice leader; he and his assistant were soon on the far horizon and beyond.

When they reached Santa Rosita in the late afternoon the boys and the day leader decided it was time for a swim before carrying gear to the campsite. The swim carried its own penalty: it was getting dark before camp was set up and supper was cooked.

Tuesday’s day leader decided on an early start, as the trek was going to be a long one with rapids to cross and 16 hours of hard paddling beyond. Breakfast was eaten in the dark. Gear was hauled to the boats and lashed down so that nothing would be lost in the rapids.

With the canoes loaded, the group sat down and studied the day’s lesson. One of the points was how it is impossible to live a Christian life without God’s help. This was illustrated as soon as the group reached the rapids. The boys paddled upstream as hard as they could  and still could make no headway past a certain point. After spending several hours trying to inch up the rapids by sending a companion ahead with a rope to pull, they decided to mount the outboard on the canoe and use it as a tugboat. Even so, some canoes shipped water and it was slow going.

After crossing the rapids, the group decided that to keep on schedule the motor should continue to be used. The day leader decided to cut saplings and fasten the canoes side by side with the motorized canoe in the middle. The setup worked extremely well. They were able to set up camp in the early afternoon and still cool off with a refreshing swim. When the boys talked about the day before going to sleep, the hero of the day was decidedly the outboard motor. It had made possible something that was otherwise impossible. It was a vivid example of the day’s lesson: how God helps Christians live victoriously even through impossible circumstances.

Wednesday’s activities included a first-aid class and learning to use a compass. The Bible lesson of the day was trusting the Bible as our ultimate guide and doing what it says. The day leader was a younger lad who was timid in leading out, so the day started late. It was sweltering hot with the mosquitoes out in force by the time the group got under way. The objective of the day was for the day leader to lead the way to a boundary fencepost a half mile away. The compass was explained and a heading given, but the way was through thick brush and brambles. In most places it was impossible to see more than a few feet. This made things extremely difficult and at one point the day leader became so discouraged that he sat down and told the others he couldn’t continue. The boys chaffed him a bit, then one of the counselors told him that as leader he could delegate and didn’t have to do everything himself. This he proceeded to do, and things went better. After spending what seemed to them like forty years wandering about in the wilderness, they came out of the brush and onto the boundary line—right on target.

So much fuel had been used in coming upriver that only a small amount was left. The counselors informed the group that the next day’s goal was to return to Santa Rosita. They had the option of camping at the same spot again that night and paddling through tomorrow’s heat, or starting that afternoon and paddling all night long. The boys decided unanimously to start that afternoon. Thus “survival night” was born.

They broke camp in record time and by mid-afternoon the group was under way. Rain set in towards evening, but with the help of plastic tarps and garbage bags, everyone managed to stay reasonably dry. And paddling has a way of keeping a fellow warm. After dark the rain stopped, and around 9:00 pm the day leader carefully boiled coffee on a camp stove in one of the canoes, which was much appreciated by the group. They tried fishing in the dark, but without success.

Hour by hour the night passed. Near morning, a heavy rainstorm set in. As the sky lightened in the east, a stiff head wind sprang up, making progress more difficult. During the night the boys had traded off paddling so that everyone got some sleep (some more than their share), but with fourteen hours of paddling behind them everyone was ready for a rest. They called a halt midstream, and took a short nap. Then they witnessed a perfectly glorious sunrise with yellows, golds, and reds running together in the clouds against a blue sky.

Thursday’s goal was to get to Santa Rosita, continue working on compass skills, and prepare for solo night. After breakfast and the day’s lesson, the day leader decided on an hour of sleep for everyone, since they still seemed sleepy. One of the counselors went on ahead of the group with most of the gear, which he dropped at the campsite. He continued on to Naranjo to buy pop and ice cream, which the boys later found, much to their delight, with their compasses. After the treat the boys picked and prepared their campsites for their night alone, the younger ones with a certain amount of fear and trembling at being alone in the dark.

Friday dawned bright and clear. The day’s goals were to clean up the canoes, learn to cook tortillas, find edible things in the area, and to get to El Naranjo where Jeff and Crystal would feed and lodge everyone for the night.

Saturday, the last day of camp, was spent driving to El Chal and preparing for the small program that was given Sunday morning. As we reflect on the lessons learned, the miseries endured, and the enjoyable times together, our prayer is that God will use this time to help these boys through this journey called “life.”

~ Benj Martin

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