May 21, 2007

Boy Like Me, Man Like You

They entered the jungle as boys. . .

. . .and they emerged as men

The First Annual Men's Campout, May 18-20, 2007

You was a boy like I was once,
But was you a boy like me?
I grew up around Indiana, You grew up around Galilee
And if I ever really do grow up,
Lord I want to grow to be just like You

It was Grant's brainchild. He wanted to have a weekend just for the boys. He wanted to take them camping: No tents, or lawnchairs. No radios or coolers full of soda. No this would be a weekend of roughing it. He wanted to test the boys, challenge them, stretch them. He wanted to make them think. He wanted to provide them with survival skills--not just physical, but spiritual survial skills. He wanted them to learn to protect and to provide. He wanted to teach them what it means to be a man.

Our society doesn't provide much helpful information on how to be a man. Pop culture is full of a lot of overgrown boys swaggering about the movie screens, video games, and music videos, swelled up with macho posturing--boys using violence to get their way, using women to get their kicks, using excuses to avoid responsibility. Grant felt that our boys wouldn't learn how to become men unless someone took the time to teach them, and I found had to agree with him. So I, along with our friend Dr. Ken Pierson, director of the SDA Dental Clinic signed on.

It was quickly decided that the boys eligible for the weekend would be seventh graders. Seventh grade--a vital time. Hormones are really kicking into gear, the world is beginning to tilt--to go a little crazy. It's around the age of a 7th grader that young Jewish boys become men. Throughout world cultures and religions, through the ages--that crucial age--around 12 or 13 was often when boys went through their initiaon into manhood. Furthermore, we just happened to have a tight group of five boys in the seventh grade at Saipan SDA School. Most of them had known each other since Kindergarten, and they were the energetic, charismatic center of their class. If these boys stepped up and took responsiblity as men, they could exert a powerful influence on their class.

Of course the boys were super-excited when they were invited on the campout. I'm not sure they knew quite what they were getting themselves into, but the prospect of a camping trip with Mr. Graves had to be an adventure!





"Harry" of REAL Christian Theater fame.

And the guides to manhood. . .

"G-Rant" Graves

Dr. Ken Pierson

. . .and me!

On Friday afternoon, we piled our gear--the most basic equipment--bedroll, a bowl and spoon, a change of clothes or two, extra socks, water--into the back of Grant and Ken's pickup trucks and drove out to the remote wilds of San Juan Beach. The place had been the crucible for Grant and me, and now the very same rough beaches and untamed jungles where we'd once gotten lost would be the place where the boys would find themselves.

We arrived at San Juan Beach about two hours before dark and immediately began setting up camp.

"Harry" and "T" strike a tough guy pose on arrival at San Juan Beach, the starting point for our weekend of adventures.

Our shelter, a tarp lashed to a rock wall to create a rough lean-to. That first night, I was the only one to sleep under it. Everyone else opted to sleep out under the stars. I ended up under the great wide open as well, when one of the moorings came loose in the night and tarp blew back leaving me exposed to the starlight of a perfectly clear night.

Supper's on. Ken kicks back by the fire while the water boils for chili mac and cheese. The food for the weekend, in keeping with the spirit of the weekend was simple, hearty, and filling. Chili mac with bread. Oatmeal. Peanut butter and jam sandwhiches. Apples and oranges. Granola bars. Beef jerky. Potaotes wrapped in foil, roasted in the coals. The food was my area of responsibility and I did my best to keep it somewhat Spartan but still tasty. The sun, wind, and salt air did plenty to build up our appetites and even the oatmeal tasted pretty good(at least with plenty of brown sugar, raisens, and a little milk).

After putting up our lean-to shelter in case of rain, digging a latrine, gathering firewood and wolfing down our supper, it was time for the first lesson in "What it Means to Be A Man." Grant had come up with a classic, old-school template for manhood--"To Provide and Protect." Each of his worships tapped into these core principles. The first night, the emphasis was on learning to provide for yourself. "Before a man can provide for others, he must first learn to provide for himself," Grant exhorted the boys.

On Friday night, Grant imparts some lessons in manhood while the boys listen intently.

After a short worship talk in which Grant recounted some of the adventures of the mythic Greek hero, Ajax, he had the boys do an activity to illustrate the importance of learning to provide for themselves before they could provide for others. They had to build a fire and the only rules were they couldn't use a lighter or matches. The boys quickly realized they could just take some of the coals from the fire we'd started to begin their own blaze, but pride kicked in and they spent about an hour trying to do it by rubbing two sticks together, before relenting and taking the coals--which was the point of the exercise. Grant explained that the original fire represented their ability to provide for themselves. If they had "fire" of their own, it would be easy for them to provide for others. But if their hearts were cold and dark, how could they provide light and warmth for others?

The boys labor to start their own fire.

The boys pose around the fire they started with borrowed coals.

When the worship and activity was over, we all spread out our bed rolls and hit the sack early. We had a long day ahead of us! I was fully prepared to endure to a night on the rocky ground, but lucky for me, Ken happened to have an extra sleeping pad, which he lent to me. I slept fairly well as a result, only waking up twice during the night.

Sunrise at San Juan Beach. This photo was taken between five and six A.M. from the vanatage point of my bed on the ground.

Did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold,
Stories like that make a man walk straight
The next morning, Sabbath, May 19, we were up with sun. It was a quiet morning with plenty of time for solitary reflection, exploring the coves and tide pools, and relaxing in camp. After breakfast, Grant presented the boys with a gift--each them received their very own Bible--a modern translation called "The Everyday Bible" that would make an everyday Bible reading habit easy to start. We sent the boys off to read their new Bibles for a bit, then discussed what we'd read before moving on to the next lesson in manhood: Providing for others. After another Ajax story, Grant tasked the boys with identifying something that needed doing in and around the camp and doing it. Some of the boys cleaned up the breakfast area. Others picked up trash around the beach or straightened the camp.

Our next activity was listed simply as "training" on the schedule. We would prepare the boys for their "testing trial" that afternoon. They would have to make their way through the very same thick, disorienting tangantangan forest that had been the undoing of Grant and me back in November, find the remote "Barbara Beach" which Grant and I discovered on our second trek in the "Return to the Jungle." And they would do it while lugging all of their personal supplies as wells as the supplies of the group. Grant, Ken, and I would hang back, carrying just our own packs, letting them make the journey "alone"--looking for the old trail markers to find their way to Barbara Beach.
To prepare them for this task, we had them hike to the top of a nearby ridge. It would be up to them to find their way to the top, but we'd be there to offer encouragement and advice.

The boys on the way to the top of the ridge ("T" is the figure in red further ahead. Ken, Grant, and I are hanging back a bit, letting them "do it themselves").

The journey to the top was successful. The boys worked together well, kept an eye out for each other and in short order, we were at the top of the ridge overlooking San Juan Beach & the rest of eastern Saipan beyond.

A picture taken at the top of the ridge. If you look carefully you can just make out the brown rectangle of our lean-to against the cliff face near the open stretch of sand.

However, it was the top of the ridge that the first crisis struck. "Ko" was stung by one of the many paper wasps that haunt these jungles. Instantly, the wind was sucked out of their sails. Every one was pumped up and gung-ho when the going was easy and the activity was fun. But now that "Ko" had a smarting chin, suddenly all this becoming a man buisness wasn't looking so appealing. "Ko" knew just the trick to soothe the pain--a quick trip to the store for a cold soda. Unfortunately for him, there were no stores anywhere near us. The team descended the ridge subdued. This time there was little cooperation. It was every man--or every boy, rather-for himself. "T", a little heavier on his feet than the others, was quickly left behind by his team-mates. On several occasions the team momentarily lost their way, as the trail markings they'd left on the exuberant ascent were insufficient. Still, the we made it back to the beach without too much delay.
We held a stern debriefing on what had gone right--and wrong--during the training. "The true test of man," we told them, "is what he does when it's not easy or fun anymore." The boys would have a chance to redeem themselves that afternoon, but for the time being, we gave them some time to relax and recover with a refreshing swim in the shallows of San Juan Beach.

"Harry" clowning around at San Juan Beach
After an hour or so of swimming and relaxing, we had lunch and then the next chapter in Grant's guide of what it means to be a man. The theme this time was "protecting". . .the orignal masculine virtue! Grant talked to the boys about the importance of protecting oneself and we did an activity which the boys throughly enjoyed, where one boy stood on a rock with a wooden staff and knocked away coconut seedlings tossed at him.
When that activity was done, we packed up the camp, moved to the truck any items that we wouldn't be taking overland with us, prepared for the central activity of the weekend--the boys' testing trial.

"Harry" takes some time to "power up" in the Word while we wait for the rest of the team to finish preparations for the journey into the jungle. (Grant rests in the background).

The heat of the day: Doesn't it look sweltering in these pictures? It was! By the time we were ready to move to Barbara Beach, we were more than ready to get off San Juan Beach which was burning hot and into the relative cool of the jungle. These photos were taken in the early afternoon as we were waiting to begin our jungle trek.

Finally all was ready, and the boys headed into the jungle, with us, their mentors, trailing behind. This was their moment, their time to step up, and see if they had what it takes. It was anything but easy. We all figured the real challenge would be lugging the five gallon container of water (which you can make out in the picture above) overland. But by the time we had everyone refill their personal water containers the jug was less than half full (Which presented it's own set of problems once we reached Barbara Beach. We found ourselves perilously close to running out of water, and we had to ration ourselves for the last part of the weekend. I hated it! It wasn't that I was so thirsty, but just knowing that I couldn't drink as much as I wanted made me feel psychologically parched. But I endured without complaint, of course. What kind of man would I be if I didn't?) But it turned out the real challenge for the boys was their own personal baggage. Many of them had overpacked--"Ko" for example was hauling a huge duffle bag. I never could figure out what exactly he had in their--but it was large and heavy! Even those that hadn't overpacked, had chosen to leave behind easy-to-carry bags like their backpacks and instead lug handleless duffles, unweildy bed rolls, and even an old sweatshirt filled with supplies so that it looked like a corpse sawn in two! As we began to make our way through the woods, I really wondered if they could make it, and I had to fight the temptation to reach over and lend them a hand.

The boys on the overland trek. Check out "Ko's" duffle that "K" is shouldering. They quickly came up with a sytem where they would scout ahead for the next trail marking, then come back and haul the gear to that marker, then leave the bags and search for the next marker. Smart men!

The young men rose to the occasion. They worked hard, without complaint. They kept a positive attitude, and stayed focused on the task. One of the highlights of the trip for me was listening to them talking amongst themselves, hatching a plan, making decisions, checking one one another to make sure everyone was doing okay. No man was left behind this time. Every time I'd hear "Okay, I'll go down here and then you pass the bag to me" or "Harry, you doing okay? You want me to carry that for awhile?" my heart, would just about burst with pride.

The final approach to Barbara Beach involved a treacherous slope down to the beach. It had been challenging for Grant and I when we did it with no extra baggage. These young men would have to do it with all their gear. Amazingly, they were able to do it, working together (and at one point even rolling the bags down a particularly steep slope). Here "M" (foreground) and "T" and "Harry" work the bags down the hill.

The slope the boys had to navigate to get to Barbara Beach.

It took close to two hours but the men made it! Now it was on to the second testing trial. The young men would have to set up camp without any help from us. They would need to erect shelter, find firewood and start a fire, dig a latrine, and prepare their suppers.
After a little bit of rest and snack of jerky and granola bars, the team began to work. But they were tired and the work of setting up camp was hardly exciting. The young men faltered a little bit. There was a lot of sitting around, half-efforts to finish a task, and far too much "getting ready to get ready." And when Grant announced that he and Ken had put together rappelling course on one of the nearby cliffs, work was forgotten as most of the team raced after for a new--and scary--adventure. All, that is, except for "Harry." While the others played, he quietly went about the business of setting up the shelter on his own. In that moment, when I'm sure he would have loved to have been off having fun with the other guys, "Harry" truly showed himself to be man. Even more so than I did because I was indulging in a lot of sulking and petulancy over the irresponsibiliy of the rest of the group. But not "Harry." He did his work cheerfully and without complaint. The job needed to be done and there was no need for him to be a martyr about it. I was impressed, and I confessed I learned a little bit about what it means to be man from "Harry" that afternoon.
That night, when the rains swept in, and we all huddled under the shelter "Harry" made, I turned to him and said, "Thanks for providing for us, Harry." "No problem," he replied easily and humbly. . .a true man.

Harry works on our shelter at Barbara Beach.

Harry digs a whole in the loose sand to anchor stakes for the shelter.
The rest of the team soon rejoined Harry and me, and together we gathered the wood, got a fire going and prepared supper.
After supper and nightfall, it was time for our next worship on "What it Means to Be a Man." Each of the mentors had the opportunity to share what they believed it meant to be a man. You can read what I said over on Grant's blog.
We were supposed to play hide and seek in the dark after that, but I think the young men were feeling a bit nervous about running about in the dark of Barbara Beach, and us old men were frankly pooped. So we lay out under the stars talking, and when the rains came scooted under Harry's shelter where we all eventually fell asleep.

Sunday morning, May 20, 2007. Ken prepares for the day. Below, Grant sleeps in a bit. Grant decided to stay out in the open all night long, pulling the extra tarp over him when the rains swept through.

Saturday night was one of fitful sleep for me. There was the rain though the shelter kept us basically dry. There were the ants that crawled into bed with us. There was the tide which rose to mere feet from our campsite during the night. I could hear the water lapping, seemingly just on the other side of the tarp during the night. I woke a lot and often had trouble going back to sleep, and finally woke up for good around 5:00 A.M. as the day began to dawn.

Our shelter for Saturday night.
Everyone rose early Sunday morning. We had a breakfast of bagels, applesauce, and peanut butter. (There would be no oatmeal as we didn't have enough water left to make it).
Grant had one final worship with our young charges, encouraging them to make it a goal in life to protect others.

"T" takes some timefor private reflection Sunday morning. For a sense of how close the tide got to our camp overnight, you can see the edge of Grant's tarp at the bottom of this photo.
The young men came into their own now. Without being told, they dismantled the camp and packed everything up to go. They saw what needed to be done and did it (and I think, they were also ready to go home!) They worked together seamlessly to haul all the gear up the steep slope and back through the jungle. I was moved when "M" came over to me as we were preparing to trek back, and offered, no insisted on taking one of the bags I was carrying. The hike back was much shorter. Within 30 to 40 minutes we emerged from the jungle back at San Juan Beach. The weekend was over.
We piled our gear into the trucks and drove back to civilization, capping our return to the modern world with a second breakfast at McDonalds.

Grant congratulates our young men on a job well done.
Now when I see these young men at school, I see a glint in their eyes, a new confidence in their step, an added maturity in their bearing. Oh, they can still be crazy seventh graders, of course. Why just yesterday I had to take away a metal stick that they were chasing each other with. But they're growing up. After all, becoming a man isn't something that happens of it's own accord. It is a choice one makes, and it's a choice that "T", "K", "M", "Ko" and "Harry" made this past weekend and one they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I'm very proud of them. And I'm challenged to keep growing into more of a man myself, each day.
And I really may just grow up and be like You someday

--Song Lyrics from "Boy Like Me/Man Like You" by Rich Mullins.

Get Grant's perspective (and some gorgeous photos) on the weekend over at Grant's Blog. Just click on the link at the bottom of this page!


Anonymous said...

You covered it well. Dad and I read it during our free art period. You done good. Great job.

Mom said...

great read, Sean. I almost felt I was looking at a reality show, Survivor or something close. Vince volunteered that he had read it (before I had) so you know that it struck a chord with him.

I love what you and Grant are doing for the young people there. Invaluable. Absolutely invaluable. Keep up the good work.