Daniel Walley (in the red jacket)

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of serving with the BENCHMARK team on my first adventure ministry event, a father-son weekend. A friend of mine introduced me to James on a Tuesday and by Friday I was packed and leaving town. The drive up to rural Kentucky was beautiful and gave James and I another opportunity to talk and get to know each other. We stopped at a small Amish store for fresh baked bread and live chickens. Shortly upon arrival to camp, it started to rain. It then continued to rain and didn’t let up for most of the weekend, which was not what we had planned.

As the fathers and sons arrived, we encouraged them to set up tents, get dressed for a chilly, wet weekend, and prepare for the first activity–fire! The fathers taught their sons how to look for the right type of wood to build a large sustainable fire that would be conducive to cooking meals, and the sons enjoyed the trip through the woods with their fathers by their side. The fire slowly came together and was lit to provide warmth and a central focal point for the events to come.

The father-son duos turned their attention toward cleaning and cooking their own chicken over the fire. Although the boys were a wide variety of ages, the enthusiasm was equal across the board during this unique task. Once prepared, the challenge was then to build a device to hold the chicken over the fire with nothing but what they could find in the woods and the knife they had brought. This proved to be a difficult task for many and a way to show creativity for others, but most importantly…facilitated conversation.

The entire purpose of the weekend was to provide the opportunity for fathers to connect with their sons…over something as simple as a long, slow meal. Most of the time we rush through meals, nothing more than a necessity that is often met three times a day. We dismiss that these events are opportunities for more than just satisfying basic needs. They provide space for meaningful connection.

As a staffer on my first event, my biggest question to James was, “What do I do?” James’ response was simple and full of responsibility, “Be present for them.” Our job that weekend was to be available to talk to men and boys as needed about whatever they wanted to talk about and provide an ear that listens, free of pretense. It was a privilege to listen as these men talked with their sons, sometimes about things that had not been discussed before. For some of these fathers, this was the first time they had intentionally taken time with their sons away from the rest of their families. It was encouraging to see these men take responsibility for their little men in new ways.

While I can’t speak for the men whom we served that weekend, I can say that simply observing these family relationships encouraged me. It’s easy to celebrate the catch of a boy’s first fish or hitting a target with his first BB gun. It’s far more difficult to intentionally sit down with a young man to give him direction and encouragement. It can be intimidating and too easily pushed aside. After witnessing the reward on the faces of both the sons and their fathers, it became even clearer to me that it is one of the most rewarding gifts we could ever be given.

Daniel Walley
Goodlettsville, TN