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Life to the max: mentoring youth

Jon Cox unpacks the story behind Christian youth adventure ministry Life to the Max ...

Jon Cox unpacks the story behind Christian youth adventure ministry Life to the Max

A few years ago I was privileged to spend a summer as an activity instructor and cabin leader at Birch Bay Ranch, a Christian adventure centre in Alberta Canada.

With daily activities ranging from canoeing to rock-climbing, horse-riding and archery, this was always going to be an exciting summer … and every evening there was a camp fire, with a speaker who would speak about the Christian faith in a relevant and fun way for kids of that age.

Of the many memorable moments at Birch Bay, I learned one particularly valuable lesson from a lad I’ll call ‘Simon’, who had been placed there for several weeks by Canadian Social Services.

Simon was in my cabin for three weeks, which was not easy for either of us. He didn’t want to be there and he was not going to hide that from anyone. He consistently failed to show up for activities, remained silent and sullen through camp fire each evening and would not participate at all in cabin discussions.

When I tried to talk to him he looked at the ground and told me he was only there because no one else wanted him around – they certainly did not want him at home.

I tried everything to encourage him and cheer him up, but all to no avail. Simon did not want to know. He did not want to be there. In fact, he said, he didn’t really want to be anywhere.

Then, about halfway through his third week, and with only about three days to go before he was sent on to a new foster family, Simon suddenly seemed to come alive. He appeared to be released from all the heaviness that had weighed him down and he developed a voracious appetite for life, fun and for making the most of the day.

Where he had not been showing up for activities, we were amazed that he was first to arrive. At the camp fire, he volunteered to take part in every skit or game, and sang as loud as anyone during the songs.

It was in our cabin discussion that evening that I realised this lad had really made a massive leap forward in his own self-confidence and appetite for life. He had also grasped a profound insight which I realised I could learn from too:

With two days to go, I felt it was important to talk about going home. What had we learned? What would be different as a result of our shared week together?

When I asked how the kids felt about ‘going back to the real world’ after such a fun week together, none of us could believe it when Simon spoke up immediately.

‘I don’t see it like that,’ he said. Every eye turned towards a boy who had been pretty well silent for 18 days.

‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘You guys are all heading home the day after tomorrow.’

‘I know’, he continued, ‘but to me the real world is what we have shared here this week. We are now all just going back to the mess that man is making of the world we live in!’

It was humbling to see this change in Simon, sparked by his time at Birch Bay Ranch – and it was reassuring to know that BBR would be there for him each year for subsequent summers as he was growing up.

Excerpt from Life to the Max, by Jon Cox.

Ever since that summer at BBR, Jon & Tessa Cox have been responding to a call to encourage young people here in the UK to ‘embrace the adventure of faith’.

Along the way they have seen many examples of God’s faithfulness, guidance and provision which are captured in Jon’s recent book. Life to the Max.

This growing ministry, AdventurePlus, now works with 6,000 youth each year across the UK.

They have just been offered a property in Oxfordshire on which to develop their first purpose-built AdventureBase. They also offer a Christian Adventure Instructor Training Gap Year …

Find out more at AdventurePlus or by emailing

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