Picture this. You're out in the middle of nowhere. It's pouring down rain, and you're running through knee-deep mud. You and your classmates are tackling physically and mentally challenging obstacles. It looks, feels, and sounds a lot like a Marine Corps boot camp. The experience seems extreme and is something not commonly seen in a college curriculum, but that is the point.
Once a year, our Highlands College students participate in Expedition, a 10-mile obstacle course that tests students' physical endurance and mental toughness. The weekend kicked off Thursday night, where students pitched their tents on a piece of property that would serve as the base camp for the next 24 hours. With no cell phone service and deep woods to disconnect them from the busyness of life, students began to prepare for what lay ahead. That night the camp was filled with excitement, nerves, the sound of a crackling bonfire, and s' mores… lots of s' mores. Worship under the stars and an encouraging word from Pastor Matt Minor set the tone for what was to lie ahead. The Highlands College staff didn't sugarcoat the reality of what was coming the next day. Actually, it was quite the opposite. They revealed to students that the Expedition race would be one of the most challenging days of their lives. Students knew that they would hit their breaking point at some point throughout the race, but that is the exact reason why Expedition exists.
Friday morning came earlier than most students hoped. Before the sun was even up, students began a day they would never forget. Each of the 15 total obstacles made up the Expedition course and each one presented a unique challenge to each team. Some of the obstacles included climbing over a 15-foot wall, pushing massive tractor tires through the mud, crawling under barbed wire, and even scripture memory. Teams were pushed to the limit for 7-9 hours in extreme weather conditions. The weather forecast earlier that week had almost convinced staff to cancel the race. The rain consistently fell throughout the race, making the mud slippery and thick. Most students felt like they couldn't finish and wanted to give up, but teams rallied around each other and finished strong, leaving no student behind.
"The bond with my teammates is something I'll never forget. During Expedition, you experience mental and physical walls, but it's motivating to know that you're overcoming it all as a team. You push through because you've got people on either side of you encouraging you to finish, which is so much more powerful than accomplishing something alone." Hamid Al-Dlaigan, Tribe leader of the winning team.
So why require students of a ministry school to overcome such challenging physical and mental barriers? It all comes back to one of Highlands College's four pillars: character formation. Expedition is more than a race. While our students may not face a literal 15-foot wall while in ministry, they will face emotional barriers and obstacles in life. The endurance learned in Expedition will help students persevere after they graduate Highlands College and enter into full-time ministry. Expedition creates moments for students to overcome difficult situations. Students faced two options: they could quit or they could persevere. This is a decision they will also encounter for the rest of their lives, and the Highlands College staff knows it's their job to instill in them the will to never give up. It was a day full of high and raw emotions, yet in the middle of the mess, there was so much encouragement and joy. One of our fourth-semester students, Emily Krohn, had the privilege of leading a team this year. We asked her what the most significant takeaway she had from Expedition was, and she said, "Probably that when you get to the point of feeling like you're done, you've still got more. More for yourself and more for others." Expedition is the epitome of the HC family, and watching our students encourage one another and finish strong is what our college is all about.
While some students thrived during Expedition and some students felt uncomfortable, it was a weekend of growth for the entire student body. If you are interested in learning more about the ways that we push our students physically, academically, and spiritually, visit our website highlandscollege.com.