Creation, Community, and Facing Your Fears- What These Students Learned on Their La Vida Expedition

Written By: Jonathan Chandra, Carter Reynolds, Hannah Fleth, and Rosalind Keeley
Compiled By: Amber Hausman

This past May La Vida Expedition was the first of many life-changing trips that will happen this summer. I’m continually blown away at how God uses the wilderness to shape our faith and who we are. As the groups returned from their 12 and 13 day trips, it was evident that “Canoe 1” had formed a strong bond during their journey. I asked the group if they would share some thoughts that I could then share with incoming students to get them excited about their trips this summer. Please read on to see what they had to say.  We can’t wait to see you at the Base Camp this summer! ~Amber

Meet Canoe 1



“The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.”
-Psalm 19:1-2

One of the many lessons from La Vida that will stick with me for the rest of my life is that God is overwhelmingly present in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God;” the Psalmist says, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” On my expedition, this was true every day. God made Himself known through blue skies, through sunrises and sunsets, and even in soft grey clouds before light rain. Then again, God was manifest everywhere during La Vida. He was present in gently swaying trees, by flickering campfires, and over the waters.

This brings me to another lesson I’ve learned and will forever take to heart: God is overwhelmingly present in Christian community. By the grace of God, our patrol—a motley crew of individuals who hardly knew each other at the beginning of the trip—came together as a family by the time our journey had ended. With praise, prayer, and shared faith, we persevered through challenges in the unfamiliar wilderness and were bound tightly together in the process. God blessed me strikingly through my group, and I was able to enjoy the experience all the more because of it. God was there with us through it all, from when we rested under gentle trees, to when we shared our lives over flickering campfires, to when we laughed and labored in our canoes over lakes and rivers.

There is something about spending two weeks in the wilderness with a group of strangers, away from the obligations and distractions of normal life, that is deeply spiritual. As you embark on your La Vida trip, I pray (and know!) that God will be present with you in nature, and with the people you are surrounded by. You’re in for something special.   ~God Bless, Jonathan



La Vida taught me a lot, but the most important thing I came away with was verification in the unmatched beauty of Christian community. With an extremely diverse band of 12 randomly chosen Jesus followers, all in different places in their walks of faith, we brought the best out in each other through the peaks and inevitable occasional valleys you will face on a challenging outdoor excursion. One thing that La Vida emphasized which made a huge difference in establishing such genuine, family type bonds, was the concept of “Be Here Now,” leaving all of life’s technological distractions behind for the 13 day journey.

After La Vida, my view of community is rooted in one word: intentionality. Without the typical everyday 21st century distractions of life, an intentional community naturally brings out the best, and worst, in each other, allowing for incredible growth. When you put Christ at the center of that, it amplifies the results astronomically. Being able to say that I saw this happen, by God’s grace, and watched lives be forever impacted by this one trip, is a totally divine gift. I’m humbled, and very thankful for my experience leading a trip for La Vida, and pray that this ministry is continued to be used by God to change lives.  ~Carter ReynoldsIMG_3084

[Facing Your Fears]

Fear always seems to follow me. Every since I was a kid, fear and anxiety would hinder me from living with confidence. So, as I began my La Vida experience, I was not surprised to find fear not far behind. I woke up the first morning with a sore back and a stuffy nose. I immediately began to worry that my body would not be able to withstand the strenuous trip. I imagined myself being driven back to base camp halfway through the trip in humiliation and failure because I’d come down with a fever and couldn’t continue. These anxieties caused me, as they had always done, to pull inward until I could console myself by coming up with a solution on my own.

Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed this “luxury”. My Sherpas sat down with us that same morning and asked us to share how we were feeling, our hopes and fears for the trip. I voiced my fears, which freed them from continually swirling around in my mind, and turned my thoughts to what I wanted from this trip. I wanted to become more fearless. Coming out of finals week, I was tired of being overwhelmed by anxiety and had asked those from home covering my trip in prayer to pray I would become just that: fearless. Despite my faithlessness in giving way to fear the very first day, God remained faithful and answered my prayer. Not only did my cold and back pain go away in the first few days, but I learned how to start living free from fear.

In our physical activities and daily devotions, we discussed how to redefine success so that it’s not about succeeding as much as it is giving everything your best, even if you’re unsure you’ll succeed, and being proud that you tried. As I read more about this and put it into practice while rock climbing and portaging, I experienced a freedom that not only dispelled my spirit of fear but also made me excited to pursue more challenges. I left La Vida desiring to act on my dreams for deeper relationships. I was now unafraid of making mistakes and could reach out to my friends without second guessing my every move. I challenge those approaching a season of testing, whether that is La Vida or some other life experience, to be honest with someone when they ask you about your fears. Bring those fears honestly before God, and be open to lessons that come your way. I learned to embrace the freedom to fail and now I no longer see life as a test, but as a learning process. ~Hannah FlethBlog Template 3

[God of Wonders]

When we finally reached the end of our 12-day journey, we came back together at base camp along with the other canoeing and hiking patrols. One of the songs we sang during the celebration was called “God of Wonders”. I was really moved by this song and the lyrics because it is very valid; our God is indeed a “God of Wonders”.

The best things about the trip that I really enjoyed were the life stories. After we had listened to them, and asked the person funny and interesting questions, we all grew so much closer. I learned from this experience that only the God of Wonders could have brought our group together from across all parts of the world and placed us with the people that would help us grow spiritually and in a personal way. I saw growth in everyone throughout the trip and I saw how in just a short amount of time how the Holy Spirit was present every day we were on the water. Our group covenant (Ephesians 4:2-3) was definitely achieved and maintained during our 12 days as a community. Personally, I learned how to trust in God and find joy in the little things, but as a group, we learned a new kind of love, community, hope and how to challenge each other. Without our God of wonders we wouldn’t have been challenged by choice or placed in the group in which we were placed, and I am so thankful for every minute I got to share with and learn from my C1 family! ~ Rosalind KeeleyIMG_3116

Photos By: Carter Reynolds

La Vida Serves at the Open Door

Gordon College recently received 462 financial gifts from the Giving Tuesday campaign. As an incentive for giving, Gordon matched these gifts with 462 hours of service to the local community. Nate and Amber have been serving at the Open Door in Gloucester for the past few years so they were excited to get the rest of the La Vida office involved to contribute toward the service hours.


The Open Door offers a variety of services to the communities of Gloucester, Rockport, Ipswich, Manchester, and Essex. The Food Pantry is a mini grocery store that provides free, three-five day supplies of emergency groceries each week for qualified residents. They also serve community meals five times a week that are sponsored by church, civic, and school groups around Cape Ann. Additionally, they have the Second Glance Thrift Store which provides reduced-cost items. All proceeds from the thrift store sales support the Open Door’s hunger-relief programs.

Open Door 1

The La Vida crew worked together to prepare a delicious quiche (Rich’s favorite), sauteed spinach, garlic toast and chocolate cookies and ice cream. The industrial size kitchen was no stranger to those of us who have worked at the Base Camp. The Open Door serves anywhere from 20-60 people at the community meals and we served about 40 that evening.

Blog Template 3

If you are interested in volunteering for the Open Door, you can visit them online here.

From Gordon College to Ghana: Serving for the U.S. Peace Corps

By: Roland Griggs, Gordon ’15

This past October, I found myself stepping off a plane into a new world and a new stage of my life. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in biology at Gordon followed by a summer in the Adirondacks leading trips for La Vida when I arrived in Ghana to begin serving as an agriculture volunteer for the U.S. Peace Corps. For those unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a government organization that sends volunteers to live among people of developing countries all over the world. Its mission is to promote world peace and friendship by providing developing nations with men and women trained to meet the needs of people in host countries and to stimulate mutual understanding between Americans and host country nationals. I work primarily with farmers by demonstrating improved farming techniques and training farmers to use such techniques. My work in the Peace Corps has thus far given me the opportunity to apply lessons learned in La Vida to new contexts outside La Vida, and I recognized many similarities between Ghanaian culture and La Vida culture in the process.

Upon arriving in Ghana, I realized Ghanaians live at a cultural crossroads. In many ways, life for modern Ghanaians, especially those located in rural villages, remains similar to that of their ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago. People live in buildings made of mud, they farm small plots of land using the same farming techniques as their forefathers, animals roam freely throughout the village, and the local governing bodies still consist of tribal chiefs and elders. In other ways, however, life in Ghana has changed drastically. Many people own cellular phones, modern roads and vehicles make various kinds of goods more accessible to rural communities than ever before, and power lines now reach majority of the country.

Roland with the Ghanaian family he stayed with during training, the first two months in Ghana.

With the Ghanaian family I stayed with during training, the first two months in Ghana.

Despite these recent changes in the country, one feature of Ghanaian culture that remains ingrained in society and also reminds me of La Vida culture is that of time perception. At La Vida, we strive to reduce people’s anxiety and foster community by encouraging people to live in the present. But in Ghana, no one needs to be told, “Be here now.” People always live in the present. They spend much of their time talking with others as they do chores or lounge under shade trees, and they rarely look at a clock. Ghanaians’ lack of time management is actually a serious problem from a development worker’s perspective, because teachers and students don’t arrive at school on time (if at all), and it’s nearly impossible to schedule events that have fixed start times. Nevertheless, Ghanaians rarely worry about schedules and timeliness, and they build some of the most cohesive communities I have ever seen.

The simple lifestyles in Ghana also remind me of La Vida. For example, my village has no running water, so we have to fetch water regularly and carry it to our houses to cook, clean, and bathe. Most people don’t own a bed, so they sleep on mats on the floor. And although my town does have electricity, power outages occur regularly; consequently, flashlights are essential tools for evening activities. All these attributes of Ghanaian life resemble attributes of La Vida excursions, and I feel La Vida prepared me well for living in Ghana.


Fetching water from the local borehole and bringing it back to the house.

In addition to seeing similarities between La Vida culture and Ghanaian culture, I have found myself applying lessons learned while working for La Vida to my work here in Ghana. One of the most important group facilitation skills I learned during La Vida staff training was that of framing experiences. Prior to beginning an activity it is always important to explain the relevance of the activity and ensure participants understand the task ahead. This same approach is essential when facilitating training sessions or other activities here in Ghana.

Many of the people I work with have little to no education and do not speak English, and my local language skills require a lot of work before I can begin offering training sessions in the locally spoken Mampruli. Most of my formal communication with people is therefore done through a translator. When speaking through a translator, messages are easily skewed, so it’s essential to ensure trainees understand what they will be doing and why it is relevant before beginning an activity. When meetings and trainings are framed effectively, those attending the meetings and trainings understand the messages conveyed and retain information passed more effectively than they do when meetings and trainings are framed poorly.

My experience working with co-leaders on La Vida also prepared me for my work in Ghana. On La Vida, I learned the importance of communicating my thoughts and intentions with my co-leaders before making decisions or taking action. I now apply this lesson whenever I work with my counterparts in my village. My counterparts serve as translators and co-facilitators when meeting with or training Ghanaian farmers, and communicating my thoughts and intentions with my counterparts before making decisions and beginning training sessions is essential. Prior to conducting training sessions, I often meet with my counterparts to make sure they understand the messages I want to get across. If my counterparts understand the messages that the trainees need to hear, then we reduce the amount of information that is lost in translation during meetings and training sessions, and everyone (hopefully) goes home enlightened.

I loved working for La Vida during my summer breaks from college. La Vida gave me a chance to perform meaningful work, enjoy God’s creation, and experience wholesome community, and the atmosphere surrounding the program made me want to come back for more each year. Now that I have moved on to a new job, I see how lessons I learned on La Vida apply to my life outside La Vida, and I’m continuing what I started on a warm August morning when I last ran eight and a half miles back to Base Camp.

Roland worked as a Sherpa for our Adirondack Expeditions program in 2013 and 2015. We were so blessed to have him on our leadership team and are proud of his continued dedication to servant-leadership. If you are interested in working for La Vida, please visit us at

Reflections on My Time in the Adirondack Leadership Program

By Amelia Luke, 2015 ALP Participant

The Adirondack Leadership Program opened my eyes to many things. It opened my eyes to see God and his creation, myself, and the greatness in other people around me. In the months following my trip, I have viewed the world in a different light and I am a better person because of it. Throughout the course of my journey with La Vida, my relationship with God grew to new levels. Being in such a beautiful environment everyday gives you a chance to see God’s work and really appreciate it. More than once a day my breath was taken away and I was just so amazed at the masterpiece that was in front of me. It’s something that we take for granted everyday, but during those ten days, I didn’t take it for granted. Through the beauty that surrounded me, I grew closer to God. Although it has been months since I have seen the spectacular mountain views that allowed me to deepen my relationship with Christ, the mornings when I see a beautiful sunrise help me to remember to keep God close.


Top of Owls Head Mountain after the rock climb.

I also learned many things about myself. Most importantly, I learned I am more capable than I think I am. One of the most powerful memories I have of this is when my group climbed the rock face on Owls Head Mountain. I was doing a difficult climb and I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it up. Getting to the top was the best feeling in the world, I was so proud of myself and it set the tone for the rest of the trip for me. Every day was long and hard and there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to take another step but everyone in the group felt like that at some point. No one was getting left behind because we supported one another to keep pushing even when things got tough. At the end of the day, when my group was sitting around laughing and reflecting on the day, I knew that I couldn’t have done it without each one of them along side me.


Working together to prepare dinner.


Making Mexican food the first night of the trip.

I took away an abundance of memories and lessons from La Vida but what I took away most was what I call “marrow moments”. The moments in my life that I feel are the marrow or the center of what life is all about. Whether it was standing at the top of a mountain, sitting at a moonlit lake, talking around a crackling fire, laughing in the middle of the woods because the bear bag just won’t go up in the tree or singing along to a guitar with a group of other Christians, the marrow moments I took away are endless. La Vida itself is a program that teaches people what life should be like and how to live life to the fullest. It is an experience that I would do tomorrow in a heartbeat and one that I am forever grateful to have had in my life.


Last day of the trip before the ride home.


The Adirondack Leadership Program (ALP) is an exciting opportunity for 15- to 18-year-old high school students to develop their leadership potential through adventure. Apply today!

La Vida and Gordon Alumni Serve as New Caretakers at Barr Camp in Colorado

By Ashley Miller, Gordon ’13

You would be hard pressed to find a Sherpa who paddled the Raquette River and cannot remember meeting caretaker Gary Valentine. For many, Gary provided a much needed uplifting conversation as well as delicious popcorn – stumbling upon his cabin after what was sometimes a horrendous portage was arguably the best part of the Long Lake itinerary. Having experienced this joyful respite more than once as a Sherpa at La Vida, I was somewhat overwhelmed to be offered a caretaking position on Pike’s Peak in Colorado last spring.


Thankfully, I do not have to measure up to Gary Valentine’s caretaking abilities as the job at Barr Camp takes on many different forms, but the task of greeting hikers and hopefully making their adventure more enjoyable is definitely in the job description. Nearly 7 months ago, Nathan Josephs (also a former La Vida employee), my brother, and I began caretaking at Barr Camp which is located approximately 6.2 miles up the Barr Trail. Nestled in the Ponderosa Pines at 10,200 feet with a wood stove for heat, solar panels for electricity, and a mountain stream for all of our water needs – the three of us have settled in here to take care of the cabin and any hikers who pass through. We operate not only as a place of rest for day-hikers, but also as a back country bed and breakfast. Similar to some of the hut systems along the AT, we have a hostel style bunk house, a separate private cabin for rent, 3 lean-tos, and plenty of tent sites. Visitors planning to extend their hike up the 13 mile trail to the summit have the option of paying to stay with us for a night. During their stay we provide an all you can eat dinner and breakfast.

Sam Johnson, Gordon ’13, comes to visit Barr Camp.

The days at Barr Camp vary tremendously depending on the season and weather forecast. In the summers we spend most of our time answering questions about trail conditions and weather at the summit – as well as cooking for hundreds of people a week. Additionally we have the option of helping with Search and Rescue calls. Since the summer months bring a lot of tourists and novice hikers, we go out on a rescue nearly every week in the summer.  Autumn is dedicated to bigger projects and preparing for winter, gathering and chopping wood, completing cabin maintenance, painting, shoveling out the composting toilets and generally making sure we are ready for the colder temperatures. The winter and spring are much slower – we have fewer hikers so we have a lot more time to hike and explore the mountain, read books, and rest up for another crazy summer.

Nathan doing laundry with the Amish washing machine.

Nathan doing laundry with the Amish washing machine.

Colorado has received more snow than the North Shore so far!

While leading trips in the Adirondacks I never would have imagined that one day I would be living in a cabin much like Gary Valentine’s taking care of hikers passing through Colorado. My time at La Vida however, definitely laid a solid foundation for this experience in numerous ways. Many of the skills we learned at La Vida are relevant as many of the hikers that come to Pike’s Peak are brand new to hiking. Pike’s Peak is incredibly accessible and because the trail is not technical, people of all experience levels walk through our doors. We talk to our guests extensively about leave no trace principles, how to filter water (and the importance of doing so properly), occasionally fix a camp-stove that is not working, and of course take our Sherpa Stew skills to a new level every day making dinner and breakfast. The Wilderness First Responder training we received at La Vida has also been incredibly helpful as we often go out to find lost hikers and complete a primary assessment before the SAR team arrives.

One of the many beautiful views from Pike's Peak.

One of the many beautiful views from Pike’s Peak.

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of our job, but also the most rewarding, is continually practicing “be here now” with each guest that comes through the door. From 7am until about 9pm our doors are open for anyone who may be wandering the mountain and part of our job is to ensure that each hiker feels welcomed and informed about the hike and current conditions. I am certainly thankful for the practice I received at La Vida in being present, and am continuing to learn what a hard and life-giving work it is to be present on a daily basis, moment by moment.

I am so grateful to have this unique opportunity to live and work in such a beautiful place – and grateful for the ways that my time at La Vida prepared the way for me to get here. If any of you La Vida alums are ever in the Pike’s Peak area, you are more than welcome to hike up and practice being present with us, too! We’d love to have you.

Lessons Learned from a Weekend in New Hampshire

By: Chris Perednia, First-Year Student at Gordon College

Being human means always encountering something new and unforeseen, and that is certainly not a bad thing. Whether it be untapped knowledge, undiscovered places, or unique perspectives, there is always something new for us to stumble across. For me, it was the opportunity to get away from the dorm, and experience the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend. I was skeptical at first, as I was unsure whether I wanted to sacrifice a weekend of fun, relaxation, and homework for what would seem like a waste of my time. What I ended up gaining from this weekend, was a refreshing outlook upon my faith, and a reminder that I still have much to learn, discover, and grow from.

Being away from technology feels like being separated from the world itself, but in reality, it is the opposite. Instead of looking down at our phones or laptops, we open our eyes to the wonderful and amazing world God has given us. It’s easy to get wrapped up in trivial matters involving social media, but we are really missing out when we limit ourselves to what technology is able to capture.

This weekend I had a nice “workout” and relaxing hike, while experiencing some breathtaking views. It really just makes you appreciate how amazing God is, and how beautiful his creation is, and makes you want to see more of what he has created. I was able to see the land below from the top of Mt. Major, some beautiful lakes, the picturesque backdrop of the mountains, as well as a few beautiful miles of woods near the cabin we stayed in.

IMG_0506I attempted to use the time I was given as an individual away from the group to truly enjoy God’s gift to us in nature, as well as reflect upon my relationship with God and my faith as a whole. Upon embarking upon the beginning of my two hour walk as an individual, I encountered a dog, whom ran up to me with more enthusiasm and energy than I can say I had myself.


The dog began following me, as well as exploring the near-by landmarks which included an artificial dam, a shed, some stumps, bushes, rocks, and some construction equipment. I noticed how the dog was exploring these objects just as any dog would, but tried comparing this to how a human would treat these landmarks. This dog is very open, and curious, and is eager to discover what the inherent purpose of each thing he discovers is. What is just a stick to me, is a means of exercise and excitement for the dog. I believe that if we each approach life as this dog did, there is no way we could ever lack appreciation for God’s creation, nor should we, as it is ultimately deserving of the attention the dog has given it. This made me realize that maybe I was not as appreciative of God’s creation as I should be, and that if I was to approach nature with as much openness and curiosity as that of this dog, there would be no way I could ever be indifferent to it, and I would truly appreciate it as it should be appreciated.

IMG_0449Another thought that occurred to me while I was standing on top of Mt. Major, was I had never seen this exact view before, and I would probably not see it again. God provides us the ability to see such sights, and sometimes, we do not even take advantage of this fact. I believe as I was looking out upon the mountains of New Hampshire, that I could parallel this to a metaphor for life, as well. Despite the heights we’ve climbed so far, there’s always so much more waiting for us, if all we are willing to do is open our eyes and see it. We may have climbed the mountain, but God has so much more planned for us, and it’s beautiful to see. While we may not yet be able to touch or experience what has been laid out in front of us, all it takes is a little bit of trust, faith, and effort, and soon, we will be able to experience what we previously only looked upon from afar, and its all apart of God’s plan.

More photos from the trip by Torri Plank and Kaelie Mercado









Highland Express Trip to Mt. Major

The weekend of November 7th was a busy weekend for Gordon College! Three sports teams participated in Commonwealth Coast Conference Championship games, but it was also an exciting weekend for fall hikers on campus. This year, La Vida is partnering with Gordon’s Highland Express to take students on weekend excursions and while some students cheered on our sports teams, others decided to head north into New Hampshire’s lakes region and summit Mount Major.

Mt. Major Trail sign

With some unseasonably warm weather and partly cloudy skies it was the perfect Saturday for a hike. The group of 21 students led by La Vida staff Matt Galliano-Williams and Joel Cox, split into two groups and took opposite trails to the summit. With such a large group we split in half in order to minimize our impact on the trail and surrounding ecosystem in accordance to Leave No Trace policy.matt and joel



Weekend trips like this are a great way to give students opportunities to explore New England. “Since moving here, I didn’t know where there were nice hiking places,” said Gordon student Liann Van Volkinburg. “This opportunity helped me not only get out of my apartment and take a break from homework, but explore the places around me…It showed how great God can be.” Another student, Carissa Fraser agreed. “I enjoyed the hike a lot! I had a lot of fun and think everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot.”

group arms up


Our fall season has come to a close, but be on the lookout for snowshoeing and rock gym events this coming winter!

Photo Credit: Liann Van Volkinburg and Maddie St. Julien