By Jack Smith
Wes Templeton knew about Highlands College and its mission to send leaders into the harvest field. He wanted to help, but he didn’t know how.
Templeton had heard about Expedition—the grueling test of endurance Highlands College students must complete—but he never thought he might host the event.
That’s when a sermon by Pastor Chris Hodges changed everything.
“We were at church, and Pastor Chris was talking about how we can all serve. His message was basically, ‘do what you can and serve where you are.’ The Holy spirit just hit me and said, you know, we got this land. Maybe it would work out here.”
Templeton reached out to Hayes Kearbey at Highlands College and told him he wanted to make his family’s land available for the next Expedition. Kearbey and Highlands President Mark Pettus visited the land—1,600 acres of beautiful countryside near Springville, Ala.
Five years later, the farm is still the home of Expedition. Templeton and his wife’s family feel blessed to host the event.
“This land is blessed. These students and a lot of other people pray over this land every year.”
More than 300 Highlands College students recently camped out on a chilly night as they prepared for the toughest test they would take all semester.
When the students were huddled near a campfire for worship the night before the event, Kearbey asked for a show of hands from those who had never camped out. A majority raised their hands.
“I bet 80 percent of them have never camped out before,” Templeton said. “So just being in the outdoors alone is a great experience for them.”
While camping out was new for many, the real test started early the next morning. Students hydrated and painted their faces as speakers pumped out music near the obstacle course. This year’s configuration required each team to traverse nearly 10 miles of muddy countryside to hit every obstacle station.
Clutching a steaming cup of coffee, Templeton talked about what Expedition has meant for more than 1,000 students who have endured it the past five years.
“It’s a life changer,” he said. “It’s intense. Most kids in this generation don’t go outdoors anymore. For some of these kids, Expedition will be the hardest thing they’ve ever done.”
Templeton believes Expedition enables Highlands College students to face adversity that will come in their lives whether they go into full-time ministry, missions or any other arena.
“My grandmother used to say, get up and do something hard every day. These kids can go into any interview or situation and remember that it’s not as hard as doing this. They will probably run 10 miles today going back and forth to the different obstacles. It’s not easy.”
At the start of the race, bright-eyed teams of students fanned out to 15 obstacles, aided only by each other and a paper map.
This year’s challenges included a 12-foot A-frame wall each participant had to scale with the help of their teammates. Another required team members to carry buckets of water uphill until they filled a 55-gallon drum. They slid down the hill on a 100-foot slip-n- slide to finish the obstacle.
Others were mental tests, including a stop where teams memorized 10-12 scriptures. Another required patience and balance, as contestants advanced across a series of 2”x6” boards turned on their side.
The students started the day full of energy and vigor. A few were weeping by day’s end. All were exhausted.
“Growth does not come unless you get uncomfortable,” Kearbey said. “Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, growth is not going to happen unless you get into an environment you are not used to, and you’re uncomfortable.”
Like the college’s half marathon, Expedition is designed to push students to their limits. It teaches them things they can’t learn in a classroom.
“It’s about grit, and it’s about character,” Kearbey said.
The experience also teaches them they can’t do life or ministry alone.
“When they’re out here, they have to lean on God and each other,” Kearbey said. “Where it pays off is 10 or 15 years down the road when they may be having trouble with a spouse or a boss or a kid. Whether it’s Expedition or the half marathon, we want them to reflect back on this experience when they thought they couldn’t make it. With God and other people, you can do it.”
As Expedition wound down and weary students came back to home base, Templeton thought back to his grandmother’s wisdom.
They all did something hard. And they finished.