If I had to choose one word to sum up Upward Challenge Alaska 2017, it would be “growth” – growth in the campers as well as the leaders.

Let’s start with this year’s student leaders.

The boys’ student leader became a Christian just three summers ago at the 2014 Upward Challenge, missed a year because of a scheduling conflict, returned last year, and stepped into leadership this year.

Perhaps he captured his journey best when, after being asked if he was willing to be on a prayer  ministry team for Empowerment Night, he responded, “Yeah, I want to do it.  How else am I going to learn?”

The two girls’ student leaders started their Upward Challenge journey at twelve and thirteen, respectively, and then stepped into leadership at the ripe age of 15 and 16.

That’s learning and applying the leadership training that UC provides!

Campers praying for each other in small groups

Growing in Peace and Assurance

Continuing with other campers, one of our third year campers has had an interesting and emotional faith journey, as she has been exposed to  spiritual truths not taught in her church denomination.

I believe she has truly wrestled with her questions, and perhaps with Jesus Himself!  Her perseverance (and that of her “second” family) has paid off.

Jesus has continued to meet her where she is and speak to her in ways that are meaningful to her.  This year, He assured her that He is with her and He knows the future He has planned for her as she enters life after high school.

She has grown significantly in her relationship with Christ, and carries His peace and assurance with her.

Putting Learning into Practice

One of our youngest campers returned this year and, although she had some struggles due to her maturity level, I saw her put into practice something she had been taught last year.

She has a strong gift of mercy, and is easily caught up in others’ pain.  Last year, on Empowerment Night, she was deeply affected by another camper’s pain.

One of the leaders took the time to affirm her gift and teach her how to use it more effectively in praying for the other person. This year, she demonstrated what she had learned.

Instead of getting caught up in another camper’s emotional state, she turned to prayer, putting it in God’s capable hands.

Putting into practice what you have learned is an excellent sign of growth!

Overcoming Challenges

Another camper, who struggles with physical challenges, opted not to do the hike last year.

This year, with a new hike location, she completed half of the hike!  She overcame her fears and some very strong nervous tummy issues!

Overcoming Challenges is another sign of growth.

UCAK 2017 Campers and leaders on the hike

Growing in Discernment and Love

Many of the adult leaders also experienced growth, as they took on new roles this year.

Our YAMS (young adult mentors) both moved into new roles, and were challenged by specific components of each of those roles.

One discovered that, although she can do it, kitchen duty is not for her!

Another was challenged to respond in Jesus’ love when a particular camper demonstrated similar behavior to a previous difficult relationship the adult had experienced.

Learning what you’re not called to and exercising Jesus’ love in a trying relationship are both signs of growth.

Campers and leaders pray as a group
Campers and leaders pray as a group

Growing in Faith and Trust

Other adult leaders experienced growth as they stepped out of their comfort zones and into leading the evening prayer times.

Two of the leaders led harp and bowl prayer for the first time.

Two others facilitated an exercise in prayer that they had never led before.

All four leaders learned to allow God to lead the dance and trust Him to do the work.

Growing in faith and trust is some of the best growth!

Planting Seeds and Bearing Fruit

Do you remember those nature programs that use time-lapse photography to show a seed being planted, then germinating and growing into a beautiful plant and bearing fruit?

That is what Upward Challenge is like.

It is a time-lapse picture of God’s work in the lives of the campers and adults who take part in UC.

Upward Challenge provides a welcoming yet challenging, fun yet serious, spiritually practical (as in practicing what you learn) environment for all ages to grow in their relationship with Christ.

The Heart of God for Growth

Ephesians 3:14-21 expresses the heart of God, envisioned and facilitated by Upward Challenge.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask of think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.”

Ephesians 3: 14-21

Your Next Step

If you’re feeling inspired by these testimonies of growth and empowerment, please consider praying about whether you might be called to attend an Upward Challenge event near you or to encourage the teenagers (13-18 years old) in your life to consider attending.

To learn more about Upward Challenge or to find an event near you, please follow the link below.

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