“I felt so at peace.” We commonly hear this phrase each night as we debrief the day with students. At the JPII Outdoor Lab, our mission is to lead youth to Christ through the creation and the sacraments. Students are not allowed to have phones, laptops, or any other form of technology. Many students are apprehensive at first. As students leave camp, they often don’t want to turn their phones back on.
There is growing recognition, in both the secular and religious sectors, that time spent outdoors is critical to a child’s growth and development. Nature deficit disorder is a hot topic. Time spent indoors and in front of devices dulls our senses and can create tension and anxiety. We were created to live fully and to be fully alive. Time outside allows us—adults and children alike—to be pushed a little past our comfort zone. We explore in the physical world—climb mountains, scramble up rocks—and spiritually—by not staying complacent but asking hard questions. Time spent outdoors teaches us to think critically, and ultimately to be more human.
There is an increasing body of research showing that bridging nature deficit can improve physical mental, and we have seen how it improves spiritual health. At camp, students are outside most of the day. They breathe the crisp mountain air, feel the sunshine on their faces, get dirt underneath their fingernails, examine the micro elements in the grass and rivers—and the macro elements like the massive mountains and powerful storms surrounding them. Being immersed in this beauty awakens our souls to the truth that a powerful God does exist and is forever calling us into a deeper relationship with himself.
Whether it’s a three-day long outdoor lab program or a week at summer camp, students are refreshed by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, and their hearts are increasingly opened by the sheer fact that they are outside and free from distractions. They explore their faith and themselves while simultaneously exploring the outdoors. Many of our students try their first s’more at JPII Outdoor Lab. Some have never been on a hike. Others try rock climbing or paddle boarding for the first time. Even more, some have never gazed up at the stars in sheer wonder. It is this wonder and amazement that inspires us to act. This exploration, amazement, and wonder are why we go to camp.