What is Spring Fling?
by Erick Hansen
Spring Break. By virtue of its name alone, this is a time intended for recuperation, a respite from the daily grind of school. I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, why each year Paul Brophy and I struggle to successfully recruit our peers to serve as leaders on the Spring Fling, AACS’ yearly four-day spring break excursion to Rockbridge Young Life camp. I don’t begrudge my colleagues one bit; let’s face it: by the time spring break finally arrives, it’s not just the kids who need space from their teachers. Most of our colleagues are smart enough to actually rest during their vacation. How can I argue with choosing a warm beach or the comforts of home over a cabin filled with a dozen energized adolescents? Each year, we return to school with that ‘now I really need a vacation’ feeling. Honestly, why would anyone want to do this?
It’s not the teachers who attend the trip who impress me, though. After all, we’re supposed to like kids. The true heroes of Spring Fling are the 60+ parents, graduates, and adults who volunteer to use their vacation days – not to come down and watch the kids have fun, but to work all day long to ensure they do have fun. For those adults not serving as cabin leaders, many spend over 12 hours each day in the kitchen, while others spend their afternoons on a tiny ledge in a tree helping kids navigate the ropes course, or fastening their harnesses in preparation for the 1000 – foot zip line descent into the lake. And this is vacation? This is what they ask to be part of year after year? Again, why would anyone want to do this?
To me, the answer is simple: every year, these four days remind us of everything we love about working with kids, everything we love about AACS. In these four days, we have the privilege of watching kids be themselves in a way that happens in few other places. They are free to be together, free to laugh without restraint, and free from the tyranny of schedules, bells, and cells. We watch kids have fun. We watch them sing. We watch them actually have fun singing. Every year we see kids start to understand that both fun and singing are expressions of worship to a creative God who offers us abundant life without end. In the days following the trip, Paul Brophy asked two 7th graders – one boy, one girl – about their favorite parts about the trip. Both, independent of the other, answered simply, “the zip line and the worship.” Isn’t it great that these students paired these two activities together?
The vision for this trip was born 20 years ago in a conversation between Paul and a school parent after a soccer game at McDonald’s. Paul, fearful that some of our kids were missing out on the relational thrust of the Gospel message, was inspired to give AACS kids a taste of the Young Life experience that had so shaped his own life. This parent challenged him to make his vision a reality. That next spring, Paul took 40 students to Lake Champion Young Life camp in New York. Seventeen Spring Flings later, there is much about the trip that has changed. Those 40 kids have multiplied many times over; one year we took 230 kids and last year 192. In all, over 2,700 AACS students have been able to enjoy the Spring Fling experience.
Despite the many changes over the past 14 years, the mission of the trip has not changed. The goal of the trip is to invite kids to interact with the gospel in a comfortable, fun atmosphere: to portray the Good News as a relationship rather than a religion. Following the Young Life ministry model, which specializes in meeting kids “where they are” with the message of Christ, we seek to tailor everything we do over these four days to facilitate kids’ encounters with Jesus. Part of achieving this mission is the use of Young Life staff on the trip – one staff person serves as the speaker, while two others plan the program, the various games/skits/activities intended to help foster a spirit of fun and unity among the kids. From the first minute kids arrive at camp, they are thrown into activities intended to help them interact with kids from different grades and groups. This is true of the cabins as well; they are organized so that each cabin will have representatives from the different grade levels in order to help kids build new relationships.
With this goal of relationship-building in mind, each day at camp is carefully planned. Yet within this structure, kids are given large chunks of free time where they have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company while participating in one of many activities: zip line, ropes course, climbing wall, foosball, basketball, soccer, skateboarding, etc. Often I think kids have some of their best times when they doing the least – simply hanging around in the snack shop relishing the lost art of conversation. The days and activities are designed to maximize relationships and minimize isolation. Can you imagine – a day full of activities that don’t require a laptop, cell phone, and cyberspace?
Each day begins and ends what we call “Club” – a 75-minute gathering that includes a skit, singing, and a message. I think it’s fair to say that Club is the focal point of the whole Spring Fling experience. Not only is it the one place where all 200 kids are doing the same thing, at the same time, but it’s during these morning and evening sessions when kids are given the opportunity to enter into a powerful, unique worship experience. Year after year, we’re told by kids that one of the reasons they love this trip is because it’s the one time of the year they feel free to worship without restraints. A former student, Eddie Spuler, who helped lead worship a few years, says that kids are free to “express themselves to God in the way they want without feeling out of place.” Mark Davis, another student who attended Spring Fling multiple times, added, “My favorite part [of the trip] is having a place to worship without feeling like I am being different.” Personally, I don’t know if there’s anything I experience all year that’s more thrilling than having the privilege of looking out at kids singing their hearts out to God, eyes closed and hands raised in worship. Perhaps the beauty of Club is best captured by another student, Martin Akram: “The club time allows for all to simply worship carelessly of their surroundings and peer pressure – it is definitely the one time of the year where you don’t have to compete or prove yourself – you can just be you.”
At the close of each day, kids are given opportunity to respond to what they’ve heard that day. Each night closes with “Cabin Time,” an opportunity for each cabin leader to debrief that day’s talks with his/her kids. These times are critical to the success of the week; we want to lead kids to daily apply what they’re seeing and hearing to their own lives. This application process culminates on the last night of camp with a Young Life tradition known as “20 minutes.” Immediately following the speaker’s message about the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, he asks that kids leave the club room without a word, spread out silently across camp, and take the next twenty minutes to personally reflect on their own journey with Christ. I can’t effectively describe the scene of walking out the club room and hearing only crickets, yet looking up to see kids scattered all over camp, filling the silence with beautiful offerings of prayer to God. Each year, many kids will name this one twenty minute block of time as a highlight of their week. Another former student, Matt Soldano relates, “The twenty minutes of silence helps me sit and think about what direction my life is going. . . That silence is something I don’t get very often. I think that’s why I kept coming back to Spring Fling.”
God has continually proven Himself faithful on this trip, using it powerfully in kids’ lives. Each year we end our final Club with a “Say So” – a brief time when students who’ve made a commitment or recommitment to Christ stand up and share their joy with their peers. Some years we are blessed to watch more than 20-25 students stand up boldly for their God. In addition, God has faithfully provided for all our needs and details. Following the stillborn death of their son, Paul and Sharon Brophy set up a memorial fund in his name – the Matthew Brophy Scholarship Fund – for the sole purpose of helping ensure that all kids could have a chance to benefit from this trip, regardless of their financial situation. To date, God has used tragedy to help over 300 students hear the love of Christ for their lives.
Why would anyone want to do this? After 17 years of the trip myself, I can’t help but ask, “Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a part of an experience like this? Personally, I love the trip because it allows me to feel fully alive – playing, laughing, singing, and connecting. Lane Cheek, a long-time camper and then cabin leader, echoes this sentiment: “It’s a time to remember why we are really here and what is most important – to live a life that honors and glorifies the Lord.” God delights in giving His children full, complete life, and our goal on the trip is to give kids a bit more of a taste of this life than they’ve experienced before. AACS grad Caleb Agnew expressed this well, “To spend one’s time worshiping until unable to speak, playing sports and games in an atmosphere of friendly competition, and simply taking in the majesty of God’s creation, seems to me a brief glimpse of heaven.” Jeffrey Furniss, an AACS parent, had this to say after experiencing the trip for the first time: “Spring Fling was even better than we have heard because you can’t really understand the impact unless you are there.” While this is true, I hope I gave you a brief glimpse of why we believe in this trip so wholeheartedly. We’d love to have you experience it with us. Why wouldn’t you?
If you would like to be part of this trip some time, or are interested in donating to the Matthew Brophy Scholarship Fund, please contact Paul Brophy at firstname.lastname@example.org.