For the fourth year in a row, we recently had the opportunity to partner with the Department of Campus Ministries at Carson Newman University to sponsor a weekend hiking trip and “camp-in” for middle school students in Jefferson County. The event was part of Carson Newman’s S.P.O.T.S. (Special Projects Other Than Summer) program. Students learned the basics of backpacking and camping, such as how to set-up a tent, how to pack a backpack, and how to build a fire. The students “camped-in” at Carson Newman’s Butler-Blanc gymnasium, and participated in 2 day trips in the Smokies.  

After setting up “camp” on Friday night, we had dinner and participated in several fun games where the students and leaders (4 from Carson Newman and 1 YOKE staff member) spent time getting to know each other. We ended the night with free time in the gym playing basketball, soccer, and card games. Prior to calling it a night, we challenged the YOKE kids to see themselves the way that God sees them, and to develop a deeper relationship with God.

Saturday morning, we set out for our first hike to Abrams Falls, located in the Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 5-mile hike proved challenging for the group, but everyone really enjoyed seeing the falls and the beautiful scenery along the trail. The group stopped at the waterfall for lunch and a short devotional about God’s creation and how they were God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10). Once back in the van, most of the students enjoyed a nap on the way back to campus. For dinner Saturday night, the students had the opportunity to cook hotdogs over a fire and enjoy s’mores. We ended the night with a little free time, and most went to bed very tired.

Sunday morning, we hit the road bright and early again, this time heading to Max Patch, near the Tennessee/North Carolina border in the Pisgah National Forest. While at Max Patch the students experienced stunning 360 degree views of Tennessee and North Carolina. However, even more than the sights, the students enjoyed an impromptu snowball fight. After the intense battle, one of the Carson Newman students shared how God had brought her out of a background of unbelief, anger at her father, and isolation from friends, to a life of joy, enthusiasm, and love. After a quick stop at Cracker Barrel, we all headed back to campus.

I’m always amazed at how quickly God can work through those willing to invest in middle school students. After only a brief weekend, friendships were formed and students exchanged info with the college leaders in hopes of keeping in touch. YOKE would like to thank Chad Morris, Associate Director of Campus Ministries, for organizing this trip, and Tanner Shively, Dami Oluwalana, Adrianna Gray, and Lauren Jenkins for their leadership, service, time, energy, and love toward our middle school kids.