Students from Village Adventist Elementary School recently went for a week of nature-based learning in the Florida keys. The trip included snorkeling, an airboat tour, beach clean-up, a nature hike, and mission work. Their outreach included signing people up for bible studies, inviting them to church health events, and a project to paint part of a church. Furthermore, they witnessed unintentionally to those around them just by being loving and lovable Christians.
According to Stacy Gusky, who helped with logistics and was also the camp chef, a couple showed up as tent neighbors in Florida at the same time the school campsite was getting set up. The staff were intentional about daily building a connection with their new neighbors. On a Thursday, the couple expressed that they were impressed with the youth. It was dark and the kids could be running around everywhere; but instead they were sitting and singing with their youth pastor, Junior Vertus from Village SDA Church, and having a great time doing so.
The couple purposely visited the school campsite every day and mentioned the tasty-smelling food. The dialogues grew longer and the good impressions grew deeper. They were amazed and encouraged to hear kids singing hymns and scripture songs.
Stacy explained that they were practicing for a church service. The couple carried on with their accolades, noting how the kids were highly-behaved, cheerful workers, pleasant, and even a joy to be around. The couple was impressed enough to share with Stacy that they had already visited both the Village school and Village SDA Church websites.
On Friday, the group went on an adapted snorkeling tour, the only tour that didn’t get cancelled that day because of sea conditions. Furthermore, their alternative tour was given by a new staff, hired only days before, that happened to be an expert in the natural elements of the area.
By design, the Florida trip included students, parents, school staff, and church leadership. Most of the students had a parent join them on the trip. The Village school was represented by the principal Mark Bugbee, science and nature specialist Katie Roddy, and 7th grade teacher Alyssa Busch. Staff from Village Church included Pastor Dennis Page, student missionary Yoshi Thiele, and youth pastor Junior Vertus.
Junior said his favorite part of the trip was the Sabbath service because the program was led by the youth, and in the afternoon everyone went and told strangers about the love of Christ.
Another highlight of the trip was “TAG” time, otherwise known as: Time Alone With God. Students took a journal made by Katie Roddy and spent 30-45 minutes in nature, communing with their maker through Bible study and prayer. Each day had a theme such as: the storms of life, how Jesus can save, how we are the light of the world, and how nature is created to give and not just receive. The themes fit with the daily events scheduled for students.
The outdoor trip was designed to give students more than just textbook knowledge. One way to make things more practical and hands on was the integration of daily chores. However, chores were not done by students alone. They were completed in mixed groups with staff and parents to build community. One student said he had never connected with a pastor in such a manner, and the students even enjoyed some of their chores.
This was the third such church-sponsored trip to Florida. The idea was spearheaded by Pr. Ron Kelly, Senior Pastor at Village SDA Church, and a visioning committee composed of the school board and church leadership. Their purpose was to reintroduce an outdoor learning emphasis to the Village school. Another similar adaptation of the committee was redirecting the 8th grade class trip from short trips centered on simple amusements to longer trips with meaningful outdoor experiences. Their goal with the overnight trips was to make them life changing experiences that would not be easily forgotten. Fortunately, the students are not the only ones that will fondly remember the trips. There is a couple that will likely remember the happy singing children.
Author: Robert Rice
This story has previously been featured online by the Lake Union Herald.
Photo by: Stacy Gusky