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UrbanTrekers: Blue Ridge Trek

The Carolina Mountains.

The kickoff of summertime.

11 adults volunteering their time and talents.

8 teenagers from 5 different countries.

0 phones among those teenagers.

God is generous, and through His generosity, joy in his Creation comes in many forms. One of those forms is waking up to 17-year-old refugees standing at a campsite griddle, excited to make you eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Another form is using Google Translate to hear how a rising high school senior with limited English is becoming acquainted with the Holy Spirit. Still another is singing along to “Baby” by Justin Bieber in a 15-passenger van full of students, some of whom didn’t yet live in America when the Biebs first came on the scene.

Below is a compilation of just a few memories from our recent UrbanTrekkers trip to North Carolina. Excursions together are what tighten a community’s bonds. It is why every kid loves church camp; why professional teams have conferences or retreats; why families go on vacation together. Below are snippets from our UPN Family’s latest excursion. A lot more happened than what is contained in the paragraphs that follow, but I hope this provides a window into the kinds of moments and conversations that UrbanTrekkers curates.

“The first day of our Trekkers Trip to NC, we got up early and drove from Tennessee to the Pisgah National Forest. We had a quick picnic lunch, loaded up our backpacks, and took off on the trail to our campsites. The hike up was longer and tougher than we expected, but the StreetLeaders looked like pros! We reached the top of the bald, found our campsites, and got to work setting up tents while enjoying an incredible view from the top. It was so fun to see the difference in the StreetLeaders’ confidence as they set up camp, compared to last summer when none of them had ever pitched a tent before. Their energy was contagious. We played games and just enjoyed sitting and talking and laughing together. We toughed it out through a surprisingly cold and windy night and then spent time worshiping together after breakfast. We packed up and hiked back down for the next leg of our adventure. The StreetLeaders were so encouraging to each other and, despite being new to backpacking, they welcomed the challenge joyfully and energetically!” (KrisAnn, StreetLeader mentor)

“I joined the group a couple of days later at Lake Powhatan. They’d spent the first day of the trip backpacking a mountain and setting up camp on its peak. When I met up with the group, the adults were raving about how well the StreetLeaders had done. The StreetLeaders were raving about how cold they’d been on top of the mountain. It was each group’s way of sharing how proud they were. While they told me stories of the physical feats they’d accomplished just a day before, I entered the scene on a rest day at the lake. Our group set up our spot on the beach–with Eno hammocks and beach towels galore, we settled in for good conversation and easy reading time under the Carolina sun. The StreetLeaders got to enjoy some moments of childhood innocence on the beach–splashing each other in the water and making sandcastles on the shore. They napped and played and laughed, the things teenagers’ souls need after two years of a worldwide pandemic, virtual high school, and juggling academics alongside multiple jobs.

After our lake day, we headed to set up camp at our next site in the woods. The StreetLeaders are becoming pros at pitching their tents! They whipped up their nightly shelter with ease and then were ready to help with prepping dinner. Trekkers Pizzas are a crowd-pleaser to make on the campfire. One of our oldest StreetLeaders, Innocent, is always a big help when dinner time rolls around. While growing up in a refugee camp in Rwanda, Innocent’s job for his family was to tend the cooking fire. On Trekkers trips, he’s able to put his skills back into use, and it’s sweet to see how willing he is to stay by the fire all evening. Time around the fire that night looked like times around fires often do–warm conversation, inside jokes, sleepy eyes.

The next day was our scenic drive day. We split the teenagers into various adults’ vehicles and got to have some more small-group time together. My now-fiance-then-boyfriend (and StreetLeader mentor) Garret was behind the wheel of one vehicle, and we had fun breaking out The Book of Questions with our teenage passengers. While on our car ride, StreetLeader Htoo dreamed of returning to Thailand with her mom. It is a long hoped-for graduation gift of Htoo’s. As Htoo embarks on her senior year this fall, we’re excited to cheer her on to her graduation finish line and her return to her birth country. This year, Htoo is a senior at John Overton High School alongside fellow StreetLeaders Eh Dah, Anna, and Eddy. Throughout our Carolina trip, Eddy brought a lot of love and laughter as he discovered binoculars for the first time.

As we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we enjoyed a short, unplanned hike. The area we ventured into looked straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, with dancing grasses and curly-q trees." (Mary, StreetLeader Director)

Our camping spot for the next two nights was at the base of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. It was a group campsite, and hands down one of the best we have camped at. There was plenty of open field space for a multitude of tents, a covered area with picnic tables where we set up our kitchen, a large fire pit area that we sat around to worship, roast smores, stargaze, and tell stories, trees surrounding the site that were perfect for a few hammocks, a volley ball net, and best of all a beautiful mountain stream within earshot - complete with an abundance of wildflowers along the banks and large boulders to sit on for our devo time together.

"When we woke up on Tuesday morning, it was time for the main event of the trip: white water rafting on the French Broad River! The StreetLeaders were excited and nervous (especially Esther, who doesn’t know how to swim–we reassured her many times that the life jacket was trustworthy). Our team got to practice the principles of unity - our theme for the trip: love, trust, vulnerability, and togetherness. We worked together to steer the rafts around rocks and pull each other back into our boats.

It was definitely a practice in vulnerability for me to have August, a 15-year-old girl whom I am technically the boss of, pull me by my life jacket back onto a rubber raft as I flailed and flopped around…very humbling. When our white water adventure was done, we’d undoubtedly grown in our unity as a group.

Big shoutout to our Trekkers Lead, Kailee, for all of her hard work planning, for the Sheahens for following the Lord’s calling in establishing UPN, for all the adults in the ways they volunteered their time and resources, and for the teenagers for their willingness to enter discomfort and deepen friendships with each other and with Jesus. Our Blue Ridge Parkway trek kicked off Summer 2022 with a big adventure and deep community, and I’m so grateful to have this trip as another square on the beautiful tapestry that is UrbanPromise Nashville.” (Mary, StreetLeader Director)

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