La Vida in China Continues

La Vida has continued their partnership this year with The Hutong and Concordia International School of Shanghai by offering the second La Vida trip as part of Concordia’s educational travel component. This year the trip was led by Joel Cox ’16 who has served the La Vida Center in various capacities. He has led our summer Adirondack Expeditions, facilitated at the Challenge Course, taught Discovery, and given rock climbing lessons in our rock gym. We were very excited when he accepted the offer to lead this trip in China! He led alongside Simon and Jun who are trip guides with The Hutong.

Joel sent us a few quick thoughts as he wrapped up the trip. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m back in Beijing after a week in the woods. There’s a ton to cover with the trip, but I’ll keep it to a few specific ideas. 

The haphazardness of China: The first morning here I explored the city with Jun and Simon. Almost everything I saw was so different than anything I’ve seen in Europe or the US. I would try to point it all out to Jun and Simon but they were used to it and didn’t seem that phased. I saw a guy with a spear and a cow bell walking down the road. The driving here makes Massachusetts look like a peaceful suburb. People pass you with just inches to spare. We rented bikes and cruised around, dodging huge buses, people, motobikes, rickshaw contraptions, and policemen. It felt like Frogger in real life. People in the park were playing a Chinese stringed instrument. One young girl wore a shirt that said, “Beneath this mustache lies a handsome man”. I loved just watching that somehow everything in the city works despite the seeming chaos. So cool!

This trip was challenging in that with typical La Vida trips, I’m able to have a good amount of control over the trip itinerary and the lessons as well. But this time, since I didn’t know the area, I had to defer to Simon and Jun’s judgment as to how best handle the actual trip logistics. I ended up settling in to a role of trying to have one-on-one interactions with all the students and also teach the La Vida curriculum lessons and devos as best I could. That was an awesome challenge and humbled me as well. I was pretty dependent on Simon and Jun’s knowledge and would have struggled without their guidance on the trail. There are no real trail maps of the mountains we were in, so I had to trust the other guides. With that being said, I loved being able to lead devo times with the students, especially with the beautiful backdrop of the Chinese mountains. The students were pretty responsive even though they came from a wide-range of religious backgrounds.

This trip really reinforced the idea that third culture kids are incredibly adaptable. All of these students were some type of TCK, and they seemed incredibly relaxed about anything that happened during the trip. Some wild donkeys visited while the kids were doing their solos, and they just would pet the donkeys and then move on. I never had to wake them up, they would just get up with the sun, start cooking breakfast and pack up camp without being told. They could push themselves on the hike, and I never heard any of them complain. Watching them, I was able to think more about being a missionary kid and how that has deeply shaped how I operate. I often want to ignore it and act as if I’m like any other American, but I think interacting with these students helped me accept more of how international experience is part of my identity.”

Joel is now off to Nepal to take part in a 40-day wilderness leader training. He will return to the North Shore after that, and we hope to see his continued involvement in the La Vida programs.


La Vida ADK Staff Give Back to the DEC

Story by: Amber Hausman
Photos by: Sara Golden

La Vida has developed a longstanding relationship with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over the years. We are big users of the Adirondack State Park, so when the opportunity arises, we like to give back by partnering with the DEC to preserve the wilderness. In June, our summer staff visited Catamount Mountain in Black Brook, NY and helped to build a bridge in an area that needed trail maintenance.

The work crew started about half a mile from the trailhead where the work truck was and then carried multiple boards and logs from the truck to the bridge area, another half mile. They also had to move a few small boulders to help support the bridge.

This group worked hard and had a lot of fun in the process!

We are blessed to have a strong relationship with the Rangers. Shortly after this service project, we had the Rangers over to the the base camp for our annual Ranger Breakfast. This was a great opportunity for our Sherpas to interact with the Rangers in a smaller setting and ask questions about their role in the park. La Vida hopes to continue this friendship for years to come!

Spring Break Adventure in Ecuador

By: Kristin Mello ’18

I have had many adventures at Gordon, but my biggest one was a mission trip to Ecuador this spring break with the Wood Fellows, chapel staff, and Abby Stroven, Director of Adventure Pursuits and Rock Gym at La Vida. While in Ecuador, we had the privilege of visiting El Refugio Hacienda, La Vida’s South American counterpart. This retreat center is on a beautiful mountain property more than 9,000’ above sea level, and it is where Abby Stroven spent seven years of her life prior to working for La Vida.

I have really enjoyed my time learning about various programs within La Vida, but as someone who wants to use the concepts of outdoor education internationally, I also need to see what other places and countries do. For this reason, the three days visiting El Refugio was like a dream come true. From hearing Abby’s stories to actually seeing the space they have, observing the way things are organized and facilitated, and working on the property, it was a great conclusion to the week in Ecuador.

While at El Refugio, the team helped out in a few ways: preparing the trails for an upcoming tough mudder (and they got sufficiently muddy), moving hundreds of roof tiles for storage, and working on the living quarters. The first day arriving at El Refugio, the team was led in a few name games and was brought to the Fenix, Ecuador’s Giant Swing. The next morning, most of the team woke up bright and early for a sunrise hike of the property line. At more than 10,000’ elevation, this was the most beautiful hike I have ever done. There is a reason that Abby says it is one of her favorite places in the world. As the sun came up, the mountain range was illuminated and clouds hovered below us. The beauty of God’s world was breathtaking, as nature and civilization joined together in an awesome landscape.

Later that day, we had the opportunity to take some solo time and reflect on the past week in Ecuador. Abby and I walked a little ways into the property, almost bushwhacking at times on a path that was long past use, to the retreat center’s very own tree house, complete with cargo net, individual look-out pods, and bridge. It was in a very peaceful spot surrounded by nothing but green and the smell of eucalyptus, and I had to return for some more time there the next morning with one of the Wood Fellows. The day concluded with dinner at a fire pit and a time of sharing encouragement and gratitude with one another.

One of my personal highlights at El Refugio was the opportunity I had to observe the facilitation of three low elements for a church group during our last full day there. Abraham Vargas, El Refugio’s adventure designer, showed me around and entertained my questions. The group’s day was structured similarly to a day of Adventure Pursuits at La Vida. My Spanish is not perfect by any means, but I was able to follow along and learn a little about the facilitative style at El Refugio. First up was Nitro, or El Rio. It is run very similarly to its counterpart here in the States, and the group had fun with it. After this element, Abraham and I hopped onto the ATV and rode a little ways to another element called the Wall or la Pared. The facilitator began with a verse in Romans, discussing how the body of Christ ought to support one another. Then, he explained the rules and the group began. The element is very similar to La Vida’s, with a few differences that I really like and might even incorporate into my own facilitation next time I do the Wall with a group. The group did well, with a young man starting off as a vocal leader but with the roles changing throughout. Once everyone had successfully conquered the Wall, a debrief was conducted in which each person was asked to contribute to questions about what this element was, what was needed to complete it, and how those principles apply to the body of Christ. Abraham and I then took off to catch the end of the last element, the Whale Watch. After the group left the element, Abraham and I tried out the Whale Watch ourselves, talked about differences between El Refugio and La Vida, and headed back to rejoin my team. I was thankful for the time Abraham took to show me around El Refugio, answering my questions and asking questions of his own.

A final debrief concluded our time at El Refugio and in Ecuador. It was awesome to see the growth of the team throughout the week and the special place that Ecuador now has in everyone’s heart. In addition, it was a huge blessing to see the ministry of El Refugio in action. It is a place and staff that really know how to welcome people and love them well, providing a unique environment of rest and contemplation. Christ is evident in the ministry, and I pray that La Vida continues to show Christ through their programming. I am thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to Ecuador and for the people I met and the experiences I had there. I can now see why Abby Stroven spent seven years in Ecuador, and I hope to return there myself someday.

Kristen Mello has worked for Adventure Camp, Rock Gym, and Adventure Pursuits for the last two years.

New Trail Running Race in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Running has always been a huge hobby of Adirondack Director Nate Hausman, so whenever a staff member catches the running bug, especially as a result of time spent doing the La Vida run or traversing the many ADK trails, he gets super excited. Nathan Landis, long-time ADK staff member, has taken this to a whole new level though by proposing to start his own ultra trail race. Keep reading to hear more about Nathan’s dreams for this race in New Zealand. 

By: Nathan Landis

I’m just now getting back to running after injuring my IT band over the summer, so it has been a long few months. While injured, I was searching for ways to stay connected to running but not in a way that made me dwell on not being able to run. The idea of a trail race in Kaikoura had been on my mind last spring but the past few months it really started to gain some more traction.

Starting about six weeks ago, I mapped out a course aimed at taking in the very best sights and trails Kaikoura can offer. It’s ending up to be about 68km (42 miles). I’ve been meeting with local business owners and town officials for the past few weeks to hear their feedback on the event proposal, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone I’ve talked to has said that the race would be a fantastic idea and a great boost for the town.

I’m really hoping that the race can not only benefit the local community, but that it can also hopefully help runners and their families view life in a new way. Working for La Vida taught me the importance of doing things with purpose and that is definitely influencing how I’m approaching this opportunity. As I’ve been coming back from an injury myself, a word I’ve been thinking about lately is relentless–the idea of coming back to running stronger than I was before and not letting disappointments distract me from the goals I’ve set for myself. With that in mind, I’ve hit upon the tagline Live Relentlessly for the race. It not only describes the topography of the course (there are hardly more than two miles that ever stay the same!) but also a mindset I hope runners take away from their race experience.

The next step is to get official permits and consent from local government and environmental bodies to hold the race. Once those are in hand I’ll be starting to contact larger companies in search of event sponsorship. I’m also planning to start a Kickstarter campaign in a week or two where folks can donate to help cover website & promotional material costs. If all goes well, registration should open in April!

If anyone is interested in contacting me or hearing more they can do that at

Below is an aerial map of the course, two photos from the trail itself and a photo of me scouting the trail.




Nathan Landis ’15 devoted four summers serving on the ADK staff. He was a Sherpa and more recently the Property Maintenance Manager. He was also a LEAP intern in the La Vida Center his senior year at Gordon. He is now the Community Coordinator at Creation Care Study Program in New Zealand. 

La Vida Goes to China

By: Nate Hausman
Photos By: Amber and Nate Hausman

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, striving to “be here now” and focusing on choosing our challenges wisely are mantras that La Vida sherpas continually share while leading expeditions. For Amber and Nate Hausman, not only did they recently have the opportunity to live out some of these La Vida sayings, but they also got to share the La Vida trip experience in China with 17 international school students. The trip was a year in the making and consisted of countless email exchanges, numerous Skype conversations and a lot of trust that it would all come together in the end.


After gear and food pack out, this group is ready to head into the woods!


Heading to the first campsite!

To bring the trip to fruition, they partnered with Concordia International School of Shanghai, Journey Wilderness Adventures (JWA) and a Beijing-based company called The Hutong. The Hutong provides educational experiences for students that are a unique blend of cultural immersion and experiential outdoor education. They provided the logistical support needed for this trip by preparing a route, organizing transportation and guiding us through the wilderness.

The seven-day trip first became an idea in 2015 after Gordon’s Vice President of Student Life Jennifer Jukanovich made a connection with a staff member at Concordia who oversees all their off-campus experiences. What started as a question of whether or not La Vida could provide an international experience soon became a reality. Rich Obenschain and Nate then had the opportunity to meet with Chris Qualls of JWA who was visiting the Gordon area and heard about La Vida from a former student of his in China. One connection led to another and soon the nuts and bolts of the trip were coming together.

What a view at our cooking spot!

Chefs in the making. Lots of delicious meals were cooked on this trip!

Lots of lessons on the first day: LNT, tent set-up, cooking and cleaning, and the fun broadcasting after brushing teeth!

Many technical lessons on the first day: LNT, tent set-up, cooking and cleaning, and the fun broadcasting after brushing teeth!

It was quickly apparent to Nate and Amber that this experience would be a unique one as soon as they landed in China’s capital. Surrounded by a sea of individuals all speaking foreign languages and being shuffled through long lines at the customs checkpoint, Nate and Amber were thrilled to stretch their legs after 14 hours in a plane. The first few days of their trip were filled with not only tourist activity, but also with final trip preparations. A visit to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Hutong district in downtown Beijing were all highlights from those first few days. In addition to seeing some of the sites though, Nate and Amber all focused their attention on purchasing final food items and packing not only those items, but also food they needed to bring from the United States (who knew it was so tough to get M&Ms in China?)

A key component to La Vida is implementing Leaders of the Day (LOD's). All of the LOD's did such an amazing job at fulfilling this role.

A key component to La Vida is implementing Leaders of the Day (LOD’s). All of the LOD’s did such an amazing job at fulfilling this role.

The students had fun learning about LNT by acting out the seven principles for their peers. They are acting out "Be Considerate of Other Visitors".

The students had fun learning about LNT by acting out the seven principles for their peers. Here they are acting out “Be Considerate of Other Visitors”.

Our first full day of hiking involved A LOT of stairs.

The first full day of hiking involved A LOT of stairs.

Day one of the trip quickly arrived, and with that the leadership team headed to the airport to pick up the 17 students and two teachers from Concordia. Concordia has students from all over the world, so they have a strong focus on building community within the high school. Every year the students are a part of a different “TrIBES” (Transforming Individuals By Education and Service) group which is a weeklong educational travel experience. TrIBES seeks to develop communication, leadership skills, self-reliance and compassion. After a two-hour bus ride into the hills located outside of Beijing, gear, food and personal equipment was all distributed and the group of 23 headed to their first campsite. The group meandered their way through the wilderness and as often happens on La Vida trips, started to develop their own inside jokes, tight bonds over long days of hiking and friendships that would last for years after their experience in the woods.

This group was not afraid to lend a helping hand which was needed our third day of the trip. The group really pulled together and showed care and support.

This group was not afraid to lend a helping hand which was often needed throughout the trip. The group really pulled together and showed care and support to one another.

At this point in the trail, we had to hand our bags down one by one because it was pretty steep.

At this point in the trail, it was very steep so the group had to hand their bags down one by one and then climb down.

The views we encountered on the trail were quite magnificent.

The views encountered on the trail were quite magnificent.

The trip was a great experience overall for everyone involved. Nate and Amber left feeling positive that the spiritual curriculum they prepared reached the students well and opened the door for them to begin exploring their faith more. Topics of discussion were based on community development, cultivating your faith personally, learning to be present and not worrying about the future. During an end-of-trip debrief session, all six of the leaders commented on how much work went into the planning and preparation of this trip, but how incredibly evident that planning was in how well the trip was implemented. Many students commented on how they have become more aware of the role of technology in their lives and how they need to find balance with its use, but also came to realize that time with friends and family is something to be treasured, and not disrupted by the buzzing of cell phones.

The students made their group covenant under the stars and had great ideas on how to bring the community they've experienced on the trip back to their school.

The students made their group covenant under the stars and had great ideas on how to bring the community they experienced on the trip back to their school.

Students spent a morning and afternoon on a solo and reflected on their faith, friendships, and family.

Students spent a morning and afternoon on a solo and reflected on their faith, friendships, and family.

The last day of the trip we hiked along the river bed soaking up as much as we could before it was over.

The last day of the trip the group hiked along the river bed soaking up as much as they could before it was over.

Hiking and outdoor recreation is a new pasttime for China. There seems to be a lot of potential for climbing and bouldering.

Hiking and outdoor recreation is a relatively new leisure activity for China. There seems to be a lot of potential for climbing and bouldering.

Our time ended by sharing a meal at a guesthouse where they served us local Chinese cuisine. Yum!!!

The trip ended by sharing a meal at a guesthouse where they were served local Chinese cuisine. Yum!!!

Now that the trip has wrapped up and everyone is back home again, Nate and Amber have been able to share with numerous friends, family and co-workers about how God truly did provide for them during this entire experience. It is apparent that you don’t need to be located in the Adirondacks to experience the power of La Vida. The lessons you gain from spending time in the wilderness are universal and something that cross international borders. Although future plans for another trip to China are not confirmed yet, there is hope this was not the last international La Vida trip.

Nate and Amber are so grateful to have had the chance to serve Concordia students and to partner with their teachers and The Hutong in providing this unforgettable experience.

Nate and Amber are so grateful to have had the chance to serve Concordia students and to partner with their teachers and The Hutong in providing this unforgettable experience.


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.

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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