Last Saturday, I was with our stake at Camp Jeremiah Johnson delivering Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills to 26 Scouters. Being Earth Day, I felt pretty self-satisfied that had spent most of the day working the nature trail at this camp in Hobble Creek Canyon.
It is natural for me to find God in nature; He did not disappoint. There was a morning frost followed by a sunny spring day. The plants looked nearly paradisiacal with new greenery and buds opening. In the early morning there was a hawk and two ducks flying. I saw a robin lite near our camp kitchen and the campers saw a bear later in the day.
In previous weeks I had been to camp trying to get the trail just right so they could self lead, but God certainly filled in the blanks so that is was more than I had expected. I wanted the training patrols to be able to have a good experience in nature, but on their own without my direct guidance. At first that might seem strange, but I was trying to model something the LDS Young Men general presidency has asked of us as leaders, namely “let them lead.”
The trail was a good one for that and for coming to know nature, at least when it comes to trees and shrubs at this camp. But the purposes of the experience, like other things we do in Scouting, was to get greater meaning other things too. Because of that, I wanted one more thing of them. “If you walked this trail with your Scouts, how would you use it to ‘connect them with heaven,'” I asked.
My hopes were high as each patrol left my care to view the displays I had laid out for them. Forty-five minutes later they returned with deeper insights about God’s gifts to us and to his other creatures. They learned about pioneer uses of some plants, how others make good animal habitat and ways that native Americans make remedies from some. However, I think the quiet thoughtful reflection they experienced in nature was its own revelation of God’s handiwork.
It did my heart good to remember Earth Day this way, but returning home, I read these validating comments from the Young Men general presidency and board, published in the Church News, which made the experience all the better:
In mentoring …we invite you to help youth prayerfully plan activities with the purpose in mind of connecting them with heaven, which in turn opens the door for our youth to have experiences that inspire them to study, ponder and then pray with faith, seeking answers to the questions of their souls.
“…if a troop of Boy Scouts is working on the Orienteering merit badge, can we in the process of teaching how to read a compass also include a discussion on how to recognize and follow impressions from the Holy Ghost and how to trust and follow modern-day liahonas like scriptures, prophets or patriarchal blessings?
This kind of inspired planning and implementation will not only help them advance in Scouting but, more important, will also help connect them with heaven. We can follow the example of the prophet Lehi, who, while traveling in the wilderness, used the metaphors of a river and valley to invite Laman and Lemuel to be “continually running into the fountain of all righteousness” and to be “firm and steadfast” (1 Nephi 2:9, 10).
As we camp in, rappel from, or climb mountains, we can teach the power and purpose of the “mountain of the Lord’s house,” or the holy temple. As we teach and practice principles of life-saving, we can make application to spiritual life-saving through quality home teaching, preparing to worthily serve a full-time mission, and like the 2,000 stripling warriors, search out, rescue and bind the spiritual wounds of less-active or struggling members of our Aaronic Priesthood quorums.
Scouting, with its myriad outdoor activities, opens the door to “so many other possibilities that you can consider.” I saw this in the adult patrols, as they experienced nature along the trail I had laid out. It was gratifying to hear their responses when I asked them how they would use an experience like this to bring their Scouts closer to heaven. Their feedback was varied, but thoughtful, which points to something the article, mentioned above, states:
As we teach in the Savior’s way in our Sunday meetings, we can model edifying teaching that invites the young men to learn by acting on principles. We can then follow up each week on experiences they had while acting on the invitations. We can model by precept and example how to teach by the Spirit and give the young men the opportunity to master those teaching principles.
As young men understand and teach the principles of the gospel by learning, acting and sharing, they allow the Holy Ghost to take the gospel from their heads into their hearts. Imagine the power that will come to our youth as they leave their Mutual nights, youth activities and Sunday meetings pondering principles of the gospel and then kneeling and praying in faith, which connects them in a private, personal way to a loving Heavenly Father who wants to bring each of them back into His presence. We promise that as you prayerfully ponder how to connect our youth with heaven, the Holy Ghost will inspire you with what to do and how to do it.
The question then is, how will your next activity lead your Scouts to heaven? and how will you use it to “let them lead?”
Author: Darryl Alder | Strategic Initiatives Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA. He has laid out nature trails at many council camps since 1976.