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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Disaster or Adventure?

Camping is something my heart had never embraced fully. My parents had never tried it, and the opportunity to become a member of the Boy Scouts was missed. As such, sleeping in a tent was totally unknown until well into adult life. Although a friend of mine tried to introduce me to the Great Outdoors, it was I who cut the holiday short from a week to just two nights. And that was in 1983.
The very same friend also introduced me to hosteling two years later in 1985. In this, I took a totally different perspective, and I became an avid fan of Youth Hostels, of the Youth Hostels Association, later to become Backpackers Hostels where instead of mixing with children (as was the original intention to introduce city kids to the delights of the countryside with minimum costs) - I mixed with people closer to my age, even an occasional senior citizen, who all had one thing in common: Independent Travel. From that first visit to a YHA hostel at Totland Bay, Isle of Wight, in Spring of that year, hosteling exploded to the furthest corners of the globe, including Israel, Singapore, Australia and the United States. Two outstanding hostels stands out in my memory: The first was New Swedish Hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was here that the main dormitory was mixed gender - courting couples, single males and females squeezed into this 15th Century Crusader-built room with a domed ceiling. And rather than the owners turning people away, they allowed couples to bed down on the wide window ledge while males and females slept alongside each other as normal and as without embarrassment as it got - very much unlike the strict gender segregation of YHA hostels in Britain.

Jews celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, Jerusalem, taken 2000 with their permission.

 The other outstanding hostel was the  HI-AYAH San Diego Downtown which in 1995, occupied a single floor of a YMCA building on Broadway, before moving to its present Market Street site by 1997, when I paid a second visit. During the first visit in 1995, there was no curfew, compulsory in most other YHA hostels, which allowed me to go to the member's kitchen at two in the morning to warm a cup of milk when I was unable to sleep. My dorm had only two beds, the other occupied by an Australian backpacker and a builder by trade who did some bricklaying elsewhere in the USA before stopping at San Diego for a few days before flying home to Sydney from Los Angeles. It was the meeting and sharing a room with this fellow which set the inspiration to visit Australia myself in 1997, on a special deal Round the World air ticket, stopping at Singapore and California as well. The thing I most loved about hosteling was the camaraderie felt among members - fellow backpackers in the kitchen, where a conversation struck up as we cooked our meals at adjoining stoves.

San Diego Harbour, California, taken 1997.
I can ramble on and on about this! World travel is indeed inspiring, and the Middle East in particular, when I first set foot in Israel in 1976, as I stood inside the Dome of the Rock on the Al-Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount, I saw the Bible really came alive, with the reality of the Scriptures hitting home.
So sleeping in a tent in those days had no appeal, especially after giving it a try in 1983. Yet when I first met Alex, my future wife in 1998, I discovered the exact opposite when it came to travel. She was repulsed at the idea of sharing a hostel dorm with other females, but she had camped before,  with her church, and she loved it, although she had always dreamt of roasting meat over a campfire. After we married, we started to go camping together, mainly to fulfil her desire and making our marriage relationship stronger. She gave me encouragement and - to a certain extent, I enjoyed the experience too. Yet I recall only a few years ago, on a remote area of Durdle Door Campsite, where I lay shivering in apprehension as the wind outside shaking the tent, yet my wife felt at ease and comfortable.
We camped a couple of times since then, until last week, when I booked a place at a campsite at Swanage in Dorset, nearly a mile from the beach. The tent was getting old, having bought it second-hand from the son of one of my clients, and approaching, if not already, thirty years since brand new. As we set it up, the outer door frame ripped from its supporting rod and it was scarcely holding up. There was also a hole in its outer roof, which was temporally fixed by a strip of tough plastic tape used for insulating wires. The first night was awful, with loud snoring drifting from a neighbouring tent, the noise keeping us both awake. Furthermore, moisture had collected on the inside of the outer roof, and although the inner lining kept us dry, there was this constant Plat! Pat! Pat! Plat! - as the sound of constant dripping of water onto plastic sheeting within the outer door but outside the inner lining where we lay. The following night the same set of circumstances were repeated. Plat! Plat! Pat! Plat! - with loud, snoring from next door. I exclaimed to my wife,
This is an absolute disaster! In the morning we are packing up and going home!

And this would have been after just two nights out of the four nights booked, and already paid for. Fortunately, I did manage to grab some sleep, and when I awoke at daybreak, I was determined to see the holiday through and not cut it short at all. After all, I always felt that hard-earned cash thrown away was not an option! When the two neighbouring campers, one on each side of us, collapsed their tents on the morning of the third day, I felt a rush of relief. Perhaps without the sound of snoring, we may get some sleep at last, which for the third and fourth nights, turned out to be true.

Just after erecting of our tent, Swanage Campsite, taken 2013.

Then there was the weather - ah yes, the typical British August - rain. I have found it amazing how such a holiday resort reflects the mood of the weather. On a day when the sun was out, the beach was packed with sunbathers and the sea was dotted with swimmers. Cafes with outdoor seating lining the nearby quayside were busy trading, and if was difficult to find an unoccupied seat. There was a party atmosphere of universal cheer among the bustling crowd - and that despite a chilly north-westerly wind which kept the temperature in check. But on the next day a wet afternoon cleared the quayside of all the crowds, the staff at all the outdoor cafes were standing about idly, just chatting among themselves, the beach was deserted and only determined shoppers, with their young children screaming out of boredom, paced through the streets rapidly to complete their chores.

Then the day arrived when we had to decamp, in preparation for the journey home. Of all four mornings, it happened to rain hard as we attempted to dismantle the tent. Cold and wet, our judgement was impaired and we managed to tear the remainder of the outer door frame to the extent that the life of the tent was over, while at the same time the flattened structure collected pools of rainwater. Afterwards, while waiting at the bus stop heavy laden with baggage, an elderly lady said that it hadn't rained like this in the area for many weeks, and this downpour was out of the usual.

So how were we to analyse the holiday? A disaster or an adventure? I recall clearly of both of us bowing in prayer as we dedicated the break just before leaving home, asking God to be with us all the way. So was he with us? Or was he left standing on the platform as the train pulled out of our home station? I believe that God was with us all the way. To me, I saw this holiday as a mirror of our Christian lives.

I was told many years ago that the Cross of Christ was not easy. Salvation has never guaranteed an easy ride. With our sinful nature still within us, walking by faith is a constant battle, as Paul calls it, flesh versus Spirit, as narrated in Galatians 5:16-24. So in what way did I believe the holiday reflected the Christian life?

When we face temptation, this could be pictured as both the rain and the two uneasy nights in the tent. For example, that afternoon when it started to rain, where did the crowds go? Many either went home or back to their hotels. Others most likely to the pubs to drown out their sorrows or ease boredom, or to the Fun World amusement arcade, where coin gaming machines with money dangling precariously over the edge, tempting many to insert more coins, in the hope of that final push will send the whole pile of coins, even a £5 note, crashing down into the hands of the gambler. Those machines can be very addictive, and before becoming a Christian in 1973, I stood as if chained to those machines, hoping for a quick fortune. Then in the pubs, or bars, one can drink himself silly. Yet I know of many young Brits who fly to Mediterranean islands such as Ibiza for the very purpose of alcohol consumption, even drugs, for the sake of sea, sun, sand, and sex, by means of a getaway from the British wet Summer.

Jurassic Coastline at Swanage area, taken 2013.

Yet living by the Holy Spirit to me is far more rewarding and satisfying. The way of holiness leaves no morning hangover, neither vomiting, admission to a hospital or even ending up in a prison cell after a street brawl. Rather, walking in the Spirit is like hiking to a specific location and taking in views which leaves me gasping in wonder and whipping out the camera. Swanage is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast, with geological features which are unique in the world, making the area a World Heritage Site. Although we have rain, and plenty of it, there are times when the sun shines, and there were golden moments in our holiday when our personal enjoyment reached its peak. Such is like walking in the Spirit. Due to our own imperfections, holiness is not always an easy ride, but it also has heights which no pleasure of sin can match. As an old 1970s song goes:
I beg your pardon, but I've never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine, there's gotta be a little rain sometime.

A good description of holiness. As with our camping holiday in Swanage - an adventure, not a disaster.



  1. Great post Frank! It would have been better for you if you had been a Scout like myself, as I have and still do go camping when I get the chance.

  2. Hi Frank,
    yes it is true, sometimes what looks like a disaster is merely a trial to strengthen us in our perseverance. Just as you would have lost your money if you had given up because of your dislike of the situation, we too can lose out by not persevering in our trials, because we dislike the situation we have been placed in, and trusting in the Lord to bring us through.
    I like the way you did something that your wife wanted to do too, even though it wasn't one hundred percent to your taste. My husband and myself are two complete opposites and yet there is great pleasure in doing something that someone else gets happiness from, sometimes more than the pleasure we get from doing our 'own thing'. God bless you.

  3. An adventure indeed, Frank! I'm with you on the camping thing, though -- tried once in California, and the forest ranger awakened us in the middle of the night to warn us of a forest fire nearby, so we had to evacuate. The second time, in the Northeast U.S., a brisk wind rattled our tent so badly and continuously that we were afraid we'd be airborne! So the rest of the night was spent in the car.
    Your experience is a great analogy to the Christian life -- we must have faith that God has a purpose in allowing all our trials.
    Great post! God bless,

  4. One writer recommends Camping as one of the best activities for strengthening a family because they learn to work together and to depend on each other to do their part. Having done a lot of camping over the years, I can say it can definitely be a time of learning to get along. We can choose to enjoy it, even when things don't go as expected, or we can spend our time complaining. Camping frequently just points out our attitude.

  5. Interesting story Frank. Roger