The trip had been in the planning for over a year; it was the Senior Rite of Passage. We left Camden early in the morning for the seven hour drive to the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The five guys had just finished their final exams that week and would be graduating from the UrbanPromise Academy one week from today. Braheem, Kyrus, Mark, Mike and Terron have been part of the UrbanTrekkers program since they were freshman. During their high school years we have traveled to some incredible places…but this trip was going to be something very special, perhaps the last time we would all travel together.
My friend Dr. Bob Harris was joining us. Bob knew the guys well and had been a big part of planning for the trip. The Adirondacks region is known for its natural lakes and spectacular mountain scenery. Our itinerary would begin with the hike into Marcy Dam to set up a base camp the night before the twelve mile round trip to the summit of New York’s highest peak, Mount Marcy. The climb up Marcy was grueling; it was hot and we were in the height of black fly season. Since the black flies were feasting on any exposed skin we put on head nets for partial relief. Arriving at the summit gave us all a sense of accomplishment. From our panoramic 360 degree view we scanned the vastness of mountains and lakes below. Standing there I was filled with excitement for what we had just done and there was a sense of mystery for what would unfold.
In preparing for the Rite of Passage and the Solo our conversations were reaching deep within each of the guys. They all grew up in Camden without fathers or even grandfathers in their lives and we wanted to talk about becoming men, husbands and fathers. We wanted to contrast our culture to our Christian faith and to define how that might look for each of them. They had to write a mission statement, something personal for themselves and also write a letter. The letter would be written by their future fifty year old self and give advice to guide them on their life’s journey.
erness camp sites on its many small islands and shore line. The islands are beautiful, rocky outcrops rising quickly from the waterline with pines, cedars, birches and maples. On the water you’ll spot fish jumping while Loons and Mergansers pedal about.
Quickly the sky blackened, the wind intensified, the thunder was Earth shaking and the rain became sheets of water washing over us. I moved quickly to secure loose items into my tent when suddenly “Crack” and “Crack” two forty foot pines came crashing down between tents and tarp. The lake took on an eerie presence as the whitecaps disappeared and a giant swell of water seemed to be moving up and down in the lake bed. Oh Baby! I thought this is more storm then I had hoped for. How would my guys be holding up, would they be safe? Would they be frightened? It was getting late and I knew we had to get out on the water. The worst of the storm moved through quickly. The rains continued but without the wind the lake no longer looked angry as before. Bob and I got on our raingear and gathered a supply of essentials for first aid and tent repair. The top of one of the fallen pines had landed in our boat and needed to be moved aside before we could go out. I felt like we were running out of time as we motored across the lake.
Braheem was first; we could see his tent from the shore and it appeared to be intact. I called up to him asking if he was OK. A voice came back from inside the tent all was well, he had weathered the storm. But he said he had heard Mike on the other island blowing his whistle. We were off to check on Mike. Mike heard the motor approach his island and was running frantically along the shore line. We could see from the boat that his tent had partially collapsed. Again, making sure he was physically ok we assessed his situation as one that required duct tape and small branches to shore up the snapped tent pole. We asked Mike to come close to the shore so we could toss him the tape and proceed to check on the other guys. As we pulled away from the rocky coast we heard Mike say, “That’s it - you are leaving me here with duct tape”?
We soon approached the islands with Mark and Kyrus. Mark was in great condition, his island and camp site were well protected from the brunt of the storm. Kyrus had not fared so well. He, like Mike came frantically running towards the shore telling us as his tent had collapsed with the poles snapping in multiple pieces. He was inside the tent when the wind exploded his poles and blew Kyrus and the tent a few feet from where it had been set. Kyrus crawled out and rescued himself and his gear seeking refuge in the outhouse. We made sure he was physically fine and assured him we would be back but had to go and check on Terron who had also been blowing his whistle.
Terron heard us coming as we approached the shore line. The wind blew the rain fly off the tent allowing rain to enter and soak the floor. He too was ready to end his island adventure. “Mr. C I was scared, I’ve been singing camp songs waiting for you guys to come”. Terron is one resilient guy who knows how to survive. Staying on the island wasn’t his first choice but we helped Terron relocate the tent and secure the rain fly. We found his driest clothes and told him to snug up in the sleeping bag and we’d see him in the morning. As we left to get back on the boat Terron told us not to worry about him, he said he would be fine; he had been taking care of himself for a long time.
Peace, there is joy in the journey!
Pedal for Promise covered by NBC 10 long time morning anchorman Terry Ruggles. Terry sends off the 139 riders in support of the UrbanPromise - UrbanTrekkers on their 50 mile trek!
As the kids returned from their spring break trips, the stories began. Kids were smiling, and joking, reliving, in detail, each moment of their travels outside of Camden. The other kids were intently listening and laughing at their friend’s exploits. Stories that will be told for years and years, bringing a thirst for exploration to everyone that hears.
I’m amazed at the impact and vision it gives a kid, as they experience a world outside of Camden. There eyes are open to a new way of life. Similar, I guess, to the way my eyes were open when I first came to Camden. I had never experienced such amazing children, living in such a harsh environment. Parks covered with broken beer bottles and drug needles. Streets where sewage leaks out of the gutter after a heavy rain. Houses where roaches infest the walls and some children sleep without beds. The reality of living in poverty can be overwhelming. It is hard to see as a kid loses hope of a brighter future.
That’s why I’m always struck with emotion as I hear kids tell of the tails that happened on their Spring Break Trip. Because even though I know their environment is the same, I know their world has changed.
Thank you to everyone that sponsored our trips, I can’t think of a better investment than the dreams of children.
Co-Director of Children’s Ministry
After 7 years in Urban Ministry, I have seen some amazing success stories but also my share of heartache. I have seen too many kid’s lives gone before it feels like they had a chance to get started. Sometimes what feels the worst is the number of kids you know you could help, if only you had more time and resources? The need for kids to be invested in is so great, especially in Camden where 50% of the population is under 21 years old. The question is, how do we get more people involved?
That question was answered in a dramatic fashion as a few ladies in Haddonfield had watched the 20/20 show and decided they wanted to do something. These enthusiastic ladies decided they were going to call themselves Suburban Promise and connect people and resources to our ministry and it turns out they really meant it.
In the past year, we have had numerous volunteers connected to Suburban Promise come in to help out with everything from the Extreme Homemaker show to tutoring programs for the kids. They have provided hundreds of Christmas presents for kids, hundreds of candy bags for the Harvest Carnival, and food for Thanksgiving Dinners that fed around 3,000 people. They also helped us fundraise for several of our children’s trips as well as having Urban Promise interns over to their houses for a nice meal.
They have done all these things and have never seen the smiles on the kids faces or heard mothers say bless you (in what feels like a thousand times) as you drop off gifts to their houses. They will probably never hear as the kids regularly talk about the fond and vivid memories they have of the trips they’ve been on with UrbanPromise. For these ladies, it has never been about what they see, or experience, it’s been about what the children see and experience. They are promise builders. For the lives they impacted and the encouragement they have been, I am deeply thankful.
UrbanPromise Children’s Ministry