We’re planning a big camping excursion for teenage lads this summer. We’re looking at about 40 lads plus youth leaders so it’s going to be quite a blast, and yes, also very tiring I’m sure.
Simplicity dictates it would be easiest to base ourselves in some sort of bunkhouse. It would also be safer but being a young naive male I’m not so swayed by issues of safety (parents: don’t worry- fortunately for your little cherubs someone else is covering ‘elf and safety!). Anyway, mustn’t waffle.
I set about searching the web for some decent places and scored the largest ones on their size, cost, distance and surrounding features. As Wales is a rich source of bunkhouses, hostels and epic and wild landscapes I found it holds a good concentration of great options.
Of course, this meant I NEEDED to take time off work to go on a two day road trip to check out these potential sites in their beautiful mountainous countryside (oh the things we do for the kingdom). So with a shortlist of suitable sites and an efficient itinerary (leaving slack for a spot of explorin’) Etienne and I set off for a couple of days recently with a car, lots of food and sleeping bags.
After leaving late on Tuesday night, on Wednesday morning at 3am I pulled into a layby on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and we moved all the kit in the boot to the front and got some shut-eye, sleeping in the boot. After a little porridge for breakfast the route that day took us on a loop through the Brecon Beacons, stopping at three bunkhouses. It was pretty foggy and we managed one hill trek. It’s quite surrealy peaceful when you can eventually neither hear nor see the sounds and sights of civilisation. Just rocks, wind and wild horses for the two of us.
After another meal cooked in the boot (and we ate well, thanks to Lucy) we travelled up to Aberystwyth as the fog cleared through the mountain passes and cut a course for the beach. We were just in time for a beautifully simple sunset, the kind that makes you talk quietly and just listen to the soft pounding of the surf, smiling slightly.
Setting out on a night time tour of the docks, town and castle ruins left Etienne bubbling about the most beautiful seaside town he’d ever seen. Of course, he’s never been to Cornwall.
After going on a wild satnav chase in the dark (in which we seemed to be following a fire engine for 15 miles) we aimed for a cliff side car park where we cooked and ate supper and settled down again to the sound of the waves.
After supper we must have sat in the car in silence for about half an hour, just listening to the waves. Prayers naturally followed.
Thursday morning we set off for Snowdonia, and oh boy- my Swiss friend was loving it! The first Snowdonia stop was right in a proper Welsh village which even though it’s small still touches both sides of the grand mountains in which it’s wedged.
Now here’s where the story gets really interesting.
I’d asked God for a sign of where we should be taking these lads to have a rumble in the mountains and explore the kingdom together. For one, it would be cool. It would also make the decision much easier if God made it for us (and any problems with the location wouldn’t be my fault, to be honest!), but most importantly I wanted to know that God is leading this whole thing and that He is blessing it. I’m not as keen on “good ideas” as God’s ideas because His ideas are fruitful and they last. We want God to open doors for us.
The fourth location we checked out was a hostel wedged in some impressive wooded mountains. A steep narrow road lead up to an old schoolhouse, a quaint and happy place. A chap answered the door and introduced himself warmly as Kevin, apologising for how cold it was. Short and slightly stooping he was dressed in jimjams, slippers, coat and woolly hat and had a fine ginger beard. The hostel had a very inviting feel to it- a place of warm and quirky character that would suit most groups- the sort of place you can imagine filled with laughter, good food and fireside stories. After showing us around and talking for so long he burnt his porridge Kevin took us out the back garden and the slopes beyond to show us the BBQ, fire pit and the forestry work he’d started.
“So what group are you from then?” He asked. “We’re a Jesus Fellowship youth group” I replied. He started to tell a story “I was walking home from work one day when I lived in Birmingham, about twenty years ago,” he continued “and I got stopped by this group of Christians. They started talking to me about Jesus and I told them I didn’t have time, needed to get home. Anyway they invited me to go back with them to this festival they were having. Have you heard of the Jesus Army?”!
Kevin then proceeded to tell me all about this wonderful church called the Jesus Army, which is the public name for my church, the Jesus Fellowship! I waited to find out what he had to say…
After joining the guys who had been waiting for him in their minibus for five hours they left for one of our marquee festivals in Northamptonshire. Kevin told us what a deep impression the stay had on him. He told of how he was deeply moved by how people from all walks of life lived together in community, shared their stuff, and how an airline pilot working for British Airways gave his time, energy and nonjudgmental friendship to a homeless guy they’d invited to stay with them.
“If any church is living the way all christians should, it’s the Jesus Army” he effused. Of course we’d never make such a claim so it was extraordinary to hear this from a random dude we’d met hundreds of miles away from home in a tiny village in Wales.
It was quite extraordinary to tell him we’re from the Jesus Army, pleased to meet you! He told me to say “hi” to everyone in the Jesus Army, so there you go!
There’s much more I have to say but I’ve written more than enough for one post.
Thinking about it now we met a mad man on a mountain who told us who we were. Sounds poetic, sounds prophetic. Sounds mad.