A Guest Post By Jessica Folsom (pictured above in red jacket)
On a scale of 1-10, I’d like to pride myself on being an eight when it comes to being fiercely independent. If I can figure out a way of accomplishing a task without asking anyone for help, I’ll do it. However, the older I’ve become, experience has taught me how foolish and damaging fierce independence can be. There’s an old African Proverb which says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think the proverb rings true. With my iPhone and Google at my fingertips, secular society beckons me to stay distracted with the clamoring of social media and false connectedness. Why would I need to sequester myself outdoors with a group of strangers and no Wi-Fi signal? Simple: To strengthen my relationship with others while muting the noise of life, so I may hear from God. My experience with Benchmark Adventure Ministries as both participant and staff has changed my life exponentially.
I was first introduced to Benchmark in 2004 as part of cross cultural training for a mission trip. Once I arrived on campus and glanced at the schedule, I overheard my teammates talking about “team building exercises” with this crazy guy named James Evans. I’d heard he was ruthless, the type of guy who seemed incredibly intimidating, waiting to pounce on any sign of weakness. In referencing the schedule, I loathed the time our team would have to work with him. During our training time with James, I remember being called out for not adhering to the rules of a scenario. As a high school student, I was terrified of my error being proclaimed. However, my team received a crash course on navigating through conflict. This later proved to be a huge asset. During an intensely short layover on our way to Japan, a team member lost his ticket in the Tokyo airport. In a short span of time, our crew recuperated with team leaders getting him another ticket, while the rest of us ran through security catching the tram to get all members to our gate in the nick of time. The tragedy of that misfortune could’ve potentially derailed our team dynamic. But, thanks to James and the investment of his Benchmark staff, we were able to appreciate our individual strengths and compensate for our weaknesses in a more unified way.
Fast forward to 2014. Personally and professionally, I was having a tough year. I struggled with self-doubt. I was drowning in a sea of discouragement and overwhelming burn-out from trying to be all things to all people. A decade had passed since I’d interacted with Benchmark. I received a call about James needing staff for a retreat. With an intrigue about working for Benchmark, I agreed. The weekend was a blur with leading an all-girl group of sixth graders and their mentors through team building initiatives. As I observed my group of girls work through the challenges I’d placed before them, I noticed their kindness in helping one of their own. Our initiative involved each team member successfully jumping through a moving jump rope once and completing the task with zero members stopping. After three attempts of nearly completing the task, the same girl kept holding up the group. Instead of jeering at her failure, the remaining girls huddled to prepare a cheer. Upon the next attempt, the girls cheered, “BE SURE OF YOURSELF! BE SURE OF YOURSELF!” As we all high fived at conquering a challenge, that cheer stirred my heart. Had I not been working with sixth graders out in the Tennessee hills, I might have missed God speaking to me. I’m thankful God creatively chose a group of adolescent girls to speak Truth into my life. My time with Benchmark has caused me to reflect on my motives. Do I wish to change the world solo, yet burn-out from the weight of doing life alone? Or is it more beneficial for me to learn to rely on community, having more stamina to leave a legacy? I’d prefer the latter. This is why I need Benchmark more than Benchmark needs me.