Not many colleges offer classes with a view of a cabin and snow covered mountains. Nor do they offer a library in the valley of the Rocky Mountains. But there is one exception: At Eastern, that class is Youth Ministry in the Wilderness.
The two-week class travels to Colorado each year after the spring semester and is run by Darrell Pearson. Pearson worked as a youth worker for close to 20 years in the Colorado area before coming to Eastern.
“When I first came to Eastern, the program was in the Appalachian Mountains. I don’t know that terrain. I know the west, coming from Colorado, so I decided to take the class out there. You don’t take anyone in the wilderness when you don’t know where you’re going,” Pearson said.
“One of the things Darrell shared with us about youth ministry in the wilderness was the necessity to know exactly where you will be taking your group, to have gone there before and to know what to expect. Darrell certainly knows his stuff when it comes to leading this trip,” senior Kenny Coombs said.
Each year, up to 12 students and a TA travel with Pearson by van to the west, where a variety of activities awaits them. The class portion of the trip consists of three days of classes in a cabin. In class, students discuss ideas about youth ministry, as well as ecological issues and approaches to how one should treat the environment. After this, the class participates in the more exciting aspects of the trip.
“Writing papers is not the point of this class,” Pearson said.
Backpacking through the mountains becomes a major portion of the trip, as four days are spent in the wilderness. A day of rock climbing and rafting also takes place. Students rave about this part of the trip.
“[This class] takes learning out of the classroom and into a real setting. I mean, what better way to learn about outdoor leadership then by actually camping, hiking, rock climbing and white water rafting?” senior Jess Campbell said.
“We gear our activities to what people’s ability levels are. There are always different levels of what we can accomplish in a class,” Pearson said.
The trip is an exposure course, and although it may seem like a camping trip, there are much deeper ideas that it is meant to give students. According to Pearson, he wants the trip not just to be a fun time, but also a time when students can develop their own philosophies about being outdoors with teenagers. This provides for a good time, as well as obstacles for the students.
“It’s challenging, yet inherently relaxing because of the nature of the class, and no previous experience is necessary,” Coombs said. “Darrell has it planned so that the group works through the trip together, building each other up to the point where everyone can be comfortable doing this stuff as a team.”
“It’s a basic course that exposes how you do outdoor stuff with youth ministry. We try to combine a good outdoor experience and also time for learning techniques for doing ministry in the wilderness,” Pearson said.
Pearson stated that the course stresses the importance of safety when doing ministry and offers many insightful ideas when entering the wilderness. Another important focus is how to minister to teenagers who cannot live without their iPods and cell phones. The class is designed to teach students that there are deeper and more important things in life.
“My years in college wouldn’t have been the same had I not gone on this trip,” Coombs said.
“Another neat thing about the trip is the food. We have really good food. I enjoy cooking well in the outdoors,” a jocular Pearson said.
There are no prerequisites and students need not be a Youth Ministry major in order to participate in this course. Students interested in the trip should contact Pearson through email or in his office.
“If you can’t think of a good reason not to go, there probably isn’t one,” Coombs said.