WELCOME! This blog chronicles the ministry events of Emily's work with the Outdoor Leadership Team (OLT) of the CCO. OLT staff invest in the lives of college students often by "suspending the normal rhythms of campus life" through adventure activities that allow students to check their bearings in life. We engage in recreation for the sake of re-creation, learning, and growth that can transform lives into those of leadership and service.

Please note: the views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCO or OLT.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

City Meets Forest

What do you get when you combine a camp full of enthusiastic, passionate staff with a powerful vision for ministry to Pittsburgh's youth? You get a foundation to life-changing encounters for children and their communities. This is what Laurel Mountain Christian Camp is about. Directors of LMCC, George & Lisa Foose, put it this way: "Imagine our city's children, together with significant adults who love them, exploring their identity and relationships in LMCC's forest, fields and streams. Our hope is that in this space God's reconciling work will flourish - renewing their hope in Christ and His work in our families, schools, communities and city. It's a new thing...to the glory of God and the blessing of Pittsburgh."

CCO staff Rashad's son helps us try out the new climbing wall.

George & Lisa's vision is contagious, and I've definitely caught it as I've worked for them over the past month. The tasks that have become normal and sometimes mundane for me like facilitating team building and training people to lead rock climbing, came to life in this setting. I watched many staff step out of their comfort zones to succeed at something they never thought they'd try, like the climbing wall. I felt their accomplishment as my own. And while facilitating a day of team building initiatives for summer staff I was delightfully surprised when activities I've seen performed many times took on a new flavor as staff added their own rhythms and music.

Kathy & Elizabeth learn how to tie knots & work the safety ropes for the climbing wall.

Kathy belays Mickey on her first ever climbing experience.

I was supposed to be serving the camp (and I did), but I felt like I had received so much by being there. I was energized and encouraged to finish strong in my work with CCO, and inspired to continue to dream big and live life fully while following God's leading.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nephews, Prophetic Imagination, & Barn Painting

Ok, so the three items in the list above are not necessarily related, except by the fact that they are highlights of three of my weeks in May. Most of the month I was away from home:

May 8-15 I spent with my family near Ocean City, MD. It was a wonderful & fun week full of sun, playing with my nephews (Andrea's boys), laughter, long bike rides, card games, walks along the beach, and sand everywhere. :-) My highlight was watching the boys' enthusiasm and delight in the smallest things of life. For example, Stephen (4 yrs. old) saw sea shells and asked full of wonder, "What are those?" And another day while walking through deep sand on the shore he exclaimed, "It's a giant sandbox!" I was reminded to slow down, look around me and marvel at the beauty I see.

The family: Dad (John), Susanna, Emily, Izayah, Andrea, Jonathan holding Stephen & Mom (Pauline)

Exploring our new environment with Stephen & Izayah

May 17-21 was Spring Institute with CCO, during which all the staff gathered for continued education, encouragement and training. I took an Old Testament Prophets class. I expected to learn about what was written in those books - perhaps some facts that I've heard and forgotten many times before. Instead, I discovered meaningful discussion on the concept of "prophetic imagination" (based on Walter Bruggemann's book by the same title). I was struck with the idea that as Christians we can and should be a voice that breaks through the status quo and speaks of an alternate reality - life as it could be and as God has intended it to be. Essentially, it's the idea of a Kingdom vision spoken to those who are unable to see for themselves. What a powerful and hopeful calling we have.

For May 26-29 I joined the Outdoor Leadership Team of CCO for Spring Institute II, a week devoted to the development of OLT staff. In addition to honing our skills, increasing knowledge and strengthening our community, we spent Friday in service to the owner of our equipment room barn. Take a look at these photos and you can probably figure out what we did!

You'd never guess how big a barn is until you start painting it by hand!

We got coated in paint & wood dust from scraping the barn, but the painting wasn't half bad.

My highlight! I got to maneuver a bucket lift that allowed us to reach the highest parts of the barn! That was so much fun!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Keeping Busy...

Spring break season has come and gone, and the school year is wrapping up for colleges & universities. So how do I fill my days in a potentially slow time? Well, let's just say that my days have no problem with being empty. On the other hand, most of them overflow.

I currently have two main projects with CCO:

1) I am excited to be assisting Laurel Mountain Christian Camp in their development of a small challenge course and a wonderulf new climbing wall.

George Foose, LMCC Director, by the "Wall" - a teambuilding challenge element.

The climbing wall on the outside of LMCC's new recreational building. I wish I had one like this!

LMCC is on the verge of entering its inaugural summer during which it will "partner with Pittsburgh's school, churches and organizations to offer tangible expressions of hope to our city's children." Check out their website for more info (http://www.lmchristiancamp.org/about).

The new dining hall at Laurel Mountain Christian Camp

It's situated in beautiful woodlands, run by dedicated & caring staff, and driven by a powerful vision. I'm eager to continue this project, training their summer staff, and seeing the young people who will be changed because of it.

Camper Cabins

2) I am spending a lot of time communicating with supporters and hosting supporter openhouses as my time with the CCO draws to an end. Last Sunday I had a wonderful time with supporters from the Pittsburgh area, and I plan to be heading east in June for more visiting and openhouses, so stay tuned! The details of my future plans should soon be established, and I will keep you posted when that happens. I believe it will involve working for at least two years in rural southwestern Uganda with a Christian community development organization. For those of you who support me financially, I will also be getting details to you soon. I will be working through July, and the last day to send donations will be July 15th. Any automatic payments will also be stopped at that time.

Peace & blessings to you!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Miraculous Spring Break Trip

If you talked with me just a couple weeks before this year's spring break trip with Carnegie Mellon University, you would have heard hesitancy, little enthusiasm, and even doubt that the trip would run. There were perfectly logical reasons for this: I was tired and pouring energy into people that needed me, and I dreaded the potentially miserable weather of North Carolina in March. Not to mention that we only had two students signed up, and needed at least four.

BUT... from this side of the trip I am excited, awed, energized and amazed. So what happened? Frankly, I saw God's fingerprints all over the place! Here's a brief summary of some of the miraculous aspects of the trip.
1. Student recruitment.
We needed at least four students to run the trip. At the cut-off (two weeks prior), we only had two and my co-leader Dave (campus staff at CMU) had recruited in every way he knew how. BUT...through encouragement from our supervisors, we decided to extend the deadline another week. On the last day, Dave called me and said that we had enough students! These were not the students Dave expected, but we trusted that they were the ones supposed to be there.
Yixin was invited by his lab partner who knew Dave.

2. My attitude. Honestly, I wasn't excited UNTIL... God gave me a dream! Yes, God can work in any way he chooses. Six days prior to the trip I dreamt that I was excited about the trip and could envision all these great things happening. I woke up and realized the truth of this dream. It would be fun. God would be working. So all the rest of that week I prepared with enthusiasm and eager anticipation for the trip! I wanted to lead this group!

Our first day on the trail.
3. An unexpected kink. So in one week we finished preparations, and headed out early Saturday morning for Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. However, as we drove that day, a lingering stomach and intestinal bug (symptoms like Giardia) that I had fought since Tuesday flared up. We arrived at the trail head in the early evening, but by that time I was in so much pain that I knew I would be of little use to the group and certainly couldn't hike into the wilderness in that state. I managed to give basic camp instructions to the group before heading back into town to the ER. After some IV fluids, tests and medication, I went back to camp and slept. If I wasn't well, the trip could not continue as planned because I was the only wilderness trained staff present. (No pressure!) BUT...when I woke up in the morning, I felt almost completely fine! I can't explain why (medication wouldn't have worked that quickly), but we continued with the trip as planned and I continued to experience good health. Praise God!

I could enjoy the amazing food on the trip, like this pizza!

4. SUN! If you've ever been to the mountain of NC in March, you know that the weather is a complete wildcard, usually including a healthy amount of cold rain, snow, clouds and wind. Ughhh...*shiver*. BUT... we had the best weather I've had on just about all the trips I've ever led! Perfect temperature (sweated when you hiked, but perfectly comfortable when you stopped) and sun 5 of the 6 days. In the evening it was refreshingly cool, but not cold. Challenging weather + beginner backpackers = not fun. But God allowed us to experience the potential kindness of NC mountains.

An absolutely gorgeous day to be on Pilot Mountain

5. Group life. The group consisted of four participants and three leaders - Dave, Mitch and I. It just so happened that all the participants were men, so needless to say, the trip was characterized by much playfulness, laughter and good-spirited joshing. At first I observed a hesitancy to get to know each other on a deeper level, but during a group conversation halfway through the trip, we acknowledged the value of allowing people to know us, and began to make a conscious effort to begin truly learning about the people in our group. I saw the interactions in the group change significantly from that point on, and observed a deeper and genuine camaraderie .

A break to play and explore at a beautiful little creek.

6. Trip theme.
Dave & Mitch selected readings and facilitated conversations based around God's character and our identity. The progression was as follows: Day 1 - God's hugeness, awesomeness, power, holiness, etc. Day 2 - God's creativity, playfulness and extravagant love. Day 3 - Our sinfulness and hopelessness (without God). Day 4 - God solves the problem by giving us Christ's righteousness; our identity as sons and daughter of God; God rejoicing over us. It was simple, yet profound, creating a very real picture of the distinction between God and us, yet it demonstrated the incredible, extravagant measures God went to call us his own. I was particularly excited about this because not all the students were Christians, and this was one of the clearest presentations of the hope of the Gospel I've heard in a long time.

Instructors - Dave, Emily and Mitch

So God took a trip that nearly got canceled multiple times, and turned it into something wonderful! I am humbled because I know I should be expecting to see God do great things, and I am so forgetful. Yet I cannot help but to be amazed and excited to have been apart of these events!

Thanks for reading and sharing them with me! I hope that this sparks you to look around you and see God at work in your life.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hawaii - That Sunny Place? The True Story of Wilderness Encounter

Yes, I did recently return from three weeks in Hawaii:

Yes, it was wonderful. (A great group of students!)

Yes, I saw incredibly scenery. (Breathtaking at times.)

Yes, it was warmer than single-digit and negative temperatures. (Sometimes we wore shorts!)

But wait! I didn't spend my days on sunny beaches.
(Sorry to disappoint you).

Keep scrolling down for images and stories that reveal the truth about life in
Hawaii and what students learned.

Since most people think Hawaii only has beaches and sun, I'll address that aspect now. First, January is Hawaii's rainy season. Most days it rained at some point. We also weathered a huge storm, during which we spent two straight days under this small pavilion. Mud got everywhere. I think it could be added as the eleventh plague.
Kauai also has lots of forests and a huge canyon. We hiked through lots of thick foliage and vicious, prickly ferns that tore our skin and socks.
We tried to have some fun on the days we hiked drenched from the rain.

However, despite the frequent environmental challenges, we did have fun (most of the time) and more importantly, students learned and were changed! Here are snippets of what students learned and how they are continuing to wrestle with challenges back on campus:

Laura (picture above at center) - I had an awesome time on the Wilderness Encounter trip. I learned new things about camping, cooking, backpacking, and about myself. I found that I enjoyed the simplicity of life in the wilderness and how freeing it was. This is something that I have tried to incorporate into my life on campus by having quiet time and by turning off my computer and TV more often. I am trying to focus on relationships more and on myself less. These are things from the Wilderness Encounter that really impacted who I am, so I'm trying to live these lessons out on campus. I can't wait for my next backpacking trip!"

Chris - "During Wilderness Encounter I learned how much I enjoy being around people. After reading Practicing the Presence of People I've realized how important being around people is to my life. I've been trying to be intentional with spending more time with people than I used to, whether it's finding people to eat with or doing my homework in the student union center."

Steve, Dando, Chris and Ashley

Steve - "Living intentionally with a group of people whom I grew to know on a genuine level was a fantastic experience. Personally, the challenge comese when I'm back at school and I try to be intentional on the same level with the vast amount of people I encounter in one day. I want to know so much about them, but it's so easy to get wrapped up in my responsibilities and myself at school that often times I forget to take an interest in others' lives."

Ashley - "Hawaii helped me develop the relationship between myself and God through the solo camping experiences. Normally I am a person who would rather spend a day with people than alone...God showed me how beloved I am to Him in ways I had never experienced before. So now back at home I have a new trust and faith that He loves me and my prayers are being answered."

And finally...here's a quick look at one of my favorite places on the island - the Na Pali Coast!

To see more photos from the trip, click the link at the right.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more updates throughout the rest of the spring.