May 31, 2012

Unichallenge 2012

We do this thing here at Campamento del Caribe called the Unichallenge. It's a crazy, awesome, dangerous, energetic, and relevant thing. We put months of work into it and it wears us all out but we love it and I wouldn't change it. It's something we do really well, and I wish I could take credit for it but it started a long time before I ever got here.

Essentially, it's a full day of competition among groups of teens, college, and even older people who come from churches, schools, or social groups. On the surface, it's a competition, but I've begun to look at it more as a ministry, as a sort of lab, or scenario, or outlet, in which Christians are supposed to compete - and act, and live - as Christians are supposed to. We set it up, we plan it, we invite them. We kick it off with a loud, chaotic opening ceremony where each team gets to present itself. After that, we're all deaf, and we spend most of the day competing in the hot sun (or last year, pouring rain). At the end, we worship together. We don't really preach much. There's a little bit of explanation of what this whole thing is about and a few key points, but this definitely doesn't feel like church. In the end, it's the competitors that minister to each other. We're just... providing the environment, I guess.

I, uh... well... ya got me.
This year that environment included a 20 minute run, over balance beams, through tires, into the ocean.

And jousting in the bog.

And extreme gold rush. (In which two teams face off, having to cross enemy territory, retrieve their "gold" and bring it safely back to their side. Typically we play this with little blocks of wood. This year, we used coffee cans full of cement.)

And a Quest For Fire - a scavenger hunt to build a torch.

And an obstacle course.

And some extreme Steal the Bacon.

And some good old-fashioned AWANA games. (Just as I remember them - the bean bag toss, some relays, and Tug of War.)

It sounds cliche and corny, but it's not about winning the events. Sure, we give them a few extra points, and at the end of the day we crown someone the champion and give 'em a trophy. But the points come more from sportsmanship, unity, attitude, and spirit, than from winning each event. Actually, if you're out there to win at all costs, you will lose out in the other categories. You could win every event and lose the Unichallenge. You could lose every event but do it with a good attitude, good sportsmanship, and a spirit of support and positivity, and win the whole thing. Typically, the overall champion has a pretty good mix of friendly competition and athleticism. Sportsmanship is king.

In that environment, you always get a few people who miss the point. But you also see people who do it, and do it really really well. We always see teams stopping and elevating the needs of others above themselves. I saw one team in The Run carrying members of the opposing team to the end.

It strikes me that this is not only the sort of thing that rewards character, but also comes pretty close to the heart of college ministry. The competitors come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them are college age. People genuinely want to come and be a part of this. We had interest from 17 teams, but ultimately drew the line at 14. That's more than 150 people coming out voluntarily to participate, to endure a day full of crazy stuff to enjoy community, to have fun, to spend good time in fellowship.

College and 20-something ministry is elusive for lots of churches, I know. It seems like college ministry is either a priority and the majority of the church - which can alienate other demographics - or it's completely missing. It's all or nothing, it seems. I've walked into a number of churches where there's a gaping hole between the youth group and the young married folks with toddlers. I think some people think when kids go to college, they disappear from the church, or from the faith altogether. Some of them do. But not all of us disappear. We go to places where we feel included, where we have a chance to expand our social circles, where we get fed (literally and figuratively) and where we're engaged or challenged.

They/we want to see faith on display. A competition, like Unichallenge, appears to be a great way to do that.

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