Why do we use a program that places such a major emphasis on camping? This is something I have wondered for a long time. I have found several reasons the multitude of camping trips are beneficial to Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scout program relies on the patrol method. Boys are meant to be the leaders. They each have a position, and together, as a quorum, they plan the program. They should be the ones who decide on the activities and plan out what they will need. Weekday activities offer them some opportunities to practice this leadership experience, but there is nothing like a campout to really give the boys an opportunity to test their skills. In planning and executing campouts they will learn a lot about being prepared, using resources, meal planning, budgeting, cooking and how to get along with each other. These skills all directly translate to the mission field, where young men have to know how to take care of themselves, budget and get along with a companion and other roommates.
Recently I was listening to the audio version of Other Side of Heaven, the memoirs by John Groberg of his mission in Tonga (which the movie was based on). The first half of his mission was spent on a relatively primitive island. At one point there was a storm that knocked down most of the fruit trees and destroyed the crops. Remaining food was rationed out for five weeks, as another boat was expected before then. However, the boat didn't come for more than two months. As supplies got shorter and shorter, Elder Groberg found himself mostly sitting doing nothing to conserve energy. He would read scriptures or just think as he was sitting there day after day. He describes it as one of the most spiritual experiences he has been through and a wonderful chance to grow closer to God:
"It is possible, that in our busy, work-a-day world, one of the great blessings the Lord gives us is to put us in a situation where we must be quiet, without a lot of outside disturbance and pressures. Maybe then, we will study, ponder, and think of Him, His ways, His purposes.
"I reflected on the scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants: 'Be still and known that I am God.' I had always thought of that scripture as a statement to watch for his salvation after we had done all we could. Now I looked upon it more as a commandment, or better, an invitation and explanation of truth: 'Be still. Sit quietly. Get rid of outside pressures. Go to the temple, for example. Don't worry about this world, and know that I am God.' Or, 'Be still, so that you can know that I am God, and so you can learn of me and my ways.'
"If we aren't willing to be still, it's harder to know that he is God. If the purpose of life is to know and love God, than maybe one of Satan's best weapons to keep us from that knowledge is to keep us so busy, even doing good things, and so occupied with commitments and pressures, that we don't allow ourselves to be still so we can know that God is God."
Over the last few years, our lives have become increasingly dependant on technology. Most of us are rarely far from a phone (many of which allow sending and receiving text messages and checking e-mail or the internet), computer or television. In fact, addiction to this technology is becoming very common. Our drive to be constantly connected even results in poor judgement and dangerous behavior, such as people texting in cars, on bicycles or as they walk down busy city streets. Some scientists are saying this is causing a constant distraction in our minds, almost like a steady background noise that prevents us from spending time in real meditation. This interference may also make it difficult to really listen to the Spirit or find opportunities for deep reflection, to be still and know God. These scientists "argue that heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and that getting out into nature can help."
It may be more crucial than ever for us to take opportunities to get away from technology for periods of time, to get out in nature and commune with God. Teenagers find it even more difficult to separate themselves from technology. Frequent campouts provide them the opportunity to not only get away, but to use that time productively to grow spiritually, physically and in maturity.
In Trails to Testimony, Bradley D. Harris explains how to help the boys really take advantage of this opportunity for spiritual growth by using Scout activities as a "laboratory" for the boys to practice the things they learn on Sunday:
"We often go canoeing on Utah Lake. One evening, in the summer time, we were out on the lake. It was very windy. The waves were very big, kind of scary on a canoe. We had several people out there. Some were better than others in canoeing, and we had to help those that were being blown to the north part of the lake. We were concerned. We finally got some of the stronger strokers to help them back in, and we were getting within the safety provided by the rock jetty, and we knew that we were going to do a reflection, because we had taught the young men this before. The wind in my face and the front of my canoe, I was trying to make headway back to the shore. I looked at the tree, a tree where I wanted to go, it was my destination, and I realized that if I concentrated on the tree, that I would get there quicker and get there better. Also I noticed that if I concentrated on my strokes, every stroke, the way I had been taught in the canoeing merit badge, to get the maximum power from each stroke, that I would make headway. If I did less than powerful strokes, it was almost as if I was standing still in the water.
"So we all made it safely on the shore, with our life jackets still dripping wet, and here's the rules of a reflection: It's got to be done immediately after an event, and you set the rules. No cut-downs; no put-downs. There's no right or wrong answers. Ask open-ended questions. You make sure the young men understand this, because if not, there will be boys who will poke fun or make fun of others suggestions. You want everybody to be involved and to feel equally involved in the communication.
"So I began this reflection by asking some open-ended questions. 'What did we learn from this event? How did some of you feel when this happened?' And so on. Then I said, 'Let's see if we can draw some spiritual metaphors into this event.' Then I told them my observation of the tree. Many times when you conduct a reflection, you're not sure where this is headed. I wasn't sure where this was going to go, but that's fine. I said, 'What might the tree represent in this experience we had, from a Spiritual perspective?' One of the youth said, 'Well, that could be the priesthood or Jesus Christ.' I said, 'That's sounds great.' I said, 'What about the wind and the waves in our face,the constant problems that we had to face to get here?' And he said, 'That could be the temptations of Satan.' I said, 'What about the canoeing and concentrating on strong strokes each time?' and again, I didn't know where this was headed. One of the young men said, 'Well that could be daily scripture study and prayer.'
"The bottom line is, these young men left this event saying to themselves, 'That was fun. That was hard. Oh, and by the way, I need to remember to read my scriptures, say my prayers, focus on Christ and avoid temptation.'"
At a Little Philmont Training Course in Orem, Utah, David C. Pack told participants, "We are on a journey in our callings to work with youth, to know how to change boys forever. I love 50 milers and what it does for a boy. Before the hike, as a quorum, they think they are so tough. Everything is perfect. Then on Monday, a few hours into the hike, they wonder who talked them into it. That night, they are so tired; they just climb into their sleeping bags and go to sleep. Tuesday morning comes and as they contemplate death, they wonder if they will ever see their mothers again. Tuesday night at the campfire program, you will never see a more teachable group of boys, never better. Someone needs to be there to teach them. Sunday lessons will never be the same. Each boy has accomplished the hardest thing in his life up to that point, which makes him able to do more. Outdoors is a wonderful place to test a boy. Help each boy with a significant away-from-home experience, so, when he gets on his mission, he will remember that he didn't give up on the 50-miler, so he won't give up then."