I recently took part in a Wild at Heart Boot Camp at the Eldora Training School. This event had taken several months of planning and meetings to bring to fruition. This event came about through somewhat of a journey for me personally which was the catalyst that prompted the exploration and then to the event June 15th-17th.
If you have ever read John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart the Boot Camp is based on the book’s teachings but with the event leaders telling much of their personal stories and showing some movie clips to illustrate the critical themes of the event which is as the book says, “discovering the secret of a man’s soul”. Discovering your soul or rediscovering is a difficult thing to do in this world. The Bible is very explicit about how Godly men should conduct themselves and about what God’s design is for His creation. The world has distorted this image that we bear and the Wild at Heart book does much to point us back to the true nature of how God created man in His image and what that should mean to us as we walk through this life.
I started doing Bible studies several months after my wife and I moved to Eldora in 2015 and as I became more comfortable in the Training School setting I was prompted by the Holy Spirit that at some point I was going to introduce the Wild at Heart book to one of the students. I don’t remember exactly when the thought came to me but I am pretty sure it was sometime in 2016. It was many months later that I actually decided, or more accurately was moved to bring the book to the Bible study I was leading. As it turned out, the night I brought the book only one student showed up for Bible study, his name is Zach. I handed him the book and told him to just read the first couple of pages and to tell me what he thought…. I watched him as his eyes lit up. I was actually kind of surprised. Zach just looked up at me and said, I love this, at which point I asked him if he would like to go through the book with me and without hesitation he said yes! I had no preconceived plan or idea how I was going to introduce the book, but I am fully convinced that God had orchestrated the whole introduction.
This was a huge step of faith for me to begin this walk into the book with a young man, much less someone who had been at odds with the law and who knows what else Zach had been dealing with. God kept reassuring me that he was going to be with me/us every step of the way.
I went through the book with Zach, it took 12 weeks, and then went thru the book with two other boys after that. At the same time all of that was taking place I was telling Chaplin Chad Fincham about what I was doing. During one of those discussions with Chad I mentioned that I would love to be able to have a boot camp at the training school. I told Chad that there was a Wild at Heart chapter here in Iowa, but that I didn’t know anyone associated with it and had no contact with anyone in it. Somehow Chad managed to contact the leaders of the group and had initiated the idea of having an event at the Training School. He said they were open to the idea. We had a couple of pre-engagement meetings to talk about whether it was even a good idea to try something like a boot camp at the school, but everyone including myself felt that God was telling us we needed to do this.
Several months went by with Chad and Chris working out the times and scheduling along with discussions about the appropriateness of some of the material. But it was decided that the boot camp was going to be pretty much as they had done in the past even though most of the boot camps are normally attended by men who are older than the boys at the training school. The themes of the book and therefore the boot camp themes are universal to men no matter the age just as the Bible itself is.
I personally had reservations about whether the Boot Camp was going to be successful but, God reminded me time and time again that it is not and was not up to me to ensure success. Whenever I started having doubts or fears I would immediately give them over to God. There were many people, prayer warriors who were praying daily prior to the event.
When the event was finally announced there were over 50 boys who signed up to attend, this was a big surprise to all of us, we never expected to have that kind of response. Chad and Chris needed to pare the group down to 25 students so they had Ron Gruber interview all 53 boys and then had to prayerfully choose the 25 boys who were going to attend.
The Boot Camp started on Friday evening, as the boys filed into the Chapel they were handed their training materials with a handshake and personally thanked for choosing to attend. After introductions and an overview we dove right in to sessions one and two which were about heart and “The Larger Story”. The Event that night ended the evening with steak and baked potatoes for dinner. I think most of the boys were thrilled as they rarely if ever get to have meals like this.
All of our meals were prepared by volunteers, all of them cooked on site and served by volunteers. We could never thank them enough for spending an entire weekend with all the preparations. Thanks to all of the men and women who really gave so much of their time and the love they showed to these boys.
Saturday, day two started with an amazing breakfast. We dove into sessions three and four which were about “The Poser” and “The Wound”. I know that this message hit home to a lot of the boys. As we were breaking for our “Time with God”, I saw one of the boys was just sitting in his chair… he looked kind of dazed and was just quietly saying. “I need prayer, I just need prayer”. I walked over, just to be sure I heard what he was saying I asked him, do you need someone to pray with you? And he just looked up and nodded yes. I was pretty much in tears at that point because I was moved by his cry for prayer, the moment the Holy Spirit had presented to me and the amazing way that God can move even the hardest of hearts.
That was my high point honestly, not that the rest of the Camp was anything but amazing. To see boys respond, and to ask for prayer and to hear the questions they ask. All I can say is… God showed up.
After it was over, I asked Dave the leader to please come back. I am so grateful for men who give of their time, their financial resources, their energy and all the prayer and caring that they so lovingly pour out to young men who have probably never heard any message like the way Jesus was presented and to have people surround them with Christ-like love and attention.
I hope to do this again someday… soon!! I love to watch Jesus do what He loves to do!!
But right now it’s time for follow-up. Now that these boys have been introduced to Jesus in a new way there needs to be mentoring and discipleship. There are just not enough men who are willing to help at this point. I can do what I can and I will be obedient to God’s calling but, as the saying goes.. The harvest is great but the workers are few. Lots of seeds were planted that weekend.