Nature refreshes student spirituality

It could be said that many students come to UVM in search of some wicked ski slopes, but Lifelines, a Christian ministry on campus, gives students a new way to look at those classic Vermont mountains.

“Students are at odds with so many things during this phase of their lives,” three-year Lifelines facilitator Jon Ayers said. “Lifelines is a rope for students to grab onto, a resource to help them navigate these waters.”

Lifelines uses the outdoor experience to help students build character, find leadership and develop relationships, according to the Lifelines website.

A subset of Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian ministry for college students, Lifelines helps facilitate conversation about Christian spirituality, their website stated.

The group isn’t exclusively Christian — 80 percent of  students who participate in the trips don’t come from churchgoing backgrounds, Ayers said.

To these students, Lifelines’ outdoor experiences are a way to relate activity-oriented challenges to the challenges they face back on campus, another Lifelines facilitator Heather Litchfield said.

“We want students to learn about themselves,” she said. “We want them to relate the things we talk about in our programs back to their lives, so each trip we talk about a different virtue …  hope, courage, trust, teamwork, communication.”

Ayers said that his goal is to pose questions for the students, but that the students often lead the conversations. 

“You can allow yourself to be totally vulnerable,” sophomore and Lifelines participant Julia Vanderwoude said.

Lifelines promotes healthy relationships between students by introducing the notion of safety.

“Safety in the sense that students should feel comfortable taking risks, expressing how they feel and knowing that their ideas will be met with love and full acceptance,” Litchfield said.

Issue of growth and self-understanding are important to Lifelines facilitators as well.

“The vision of Lifelines is to raise up spiritual leaders who will meet the pressing needs of the world and offer true hope,” Litchfield said.

 This spring, Lifelines will take its second-annual trip to Guatemala, where students will provide care for orphans living in the local communities.

“You realize how much you have and how much you can give,” Vanderwoude, who participated in the Guatemala trip last year, said.

Ayers said that the reason he is excited to be at UVM is that it is a community where students really do care.

“They are compassionate,” he said.