On two occasions, the risen Christ had significant but very different encounters with people as they travelled on specific roads.

When Paul walked toward Damascus to oppress and imprison Christians there, he was blinded by a bright light, knocked to the ground, and overwhelmed by a booming voice from heaven that identified itself as, “Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” (See Acts 9 and 22 for the whole story.) Today, when someone has a sudden and radical life-altering encounter with Jesus, it’s often referred to as their “Damascus Road” moment. This summer, thousands of adolescents will have this type of experience during outreach camps at Young Life properties.

On another occasion, two of Jesus’ disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing everything that had happened in the previous few days, most notably the crucifixion. Suddenly, they were joined by an unknown third person (Jesus Himself, though they didn’t recognize Him) who asked what they were talking about. They gave a summary of the events, including this admission: “We had hoped [Jesus] was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (Read the story in Luke 24:1-34). The stranger called out their shortsighted disbelief, and “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” What an incredible seven-mile long Bible study that must have been! And yet the two travelers still didn’t get it. It wasn’t until they invited Jesus to stay with them for a meal that they finally recognized who He really was. I imagine after Jesus disappeared from their midst, these travelers’ lives were never the same. They likely continued to follow their traveling companion, Jesus, for the rest of their lives.

The difference in these two road encounters is much like the camping ministry we do with adolescents. At our outreach camps, we introduce them to Jesus Christ in a Damascus manner. Under bright lights, in a context of bold proclamation, crowds of kids have a radical change of heart.

Our adventure camps in Young Life are more like an Emmaus experience. Things aren’t flashy or fancy. Usually there are no sound systems or stages, big events or bold surprises. Things are smaller, simpler, quieter and more drawn out. Whether at base camp or on the trail, discipleship experiences offer a slow walk outside, a chance to ponder Scripture, eat a meal in a small group, and allow God to make our “hearts burn within us,” just as He did with His two disciples near Emmaus thousands of years ago.

Both types of experiences are needed. Bold proclamation and steady growth are equally valuable parts of our journey with Jesus.

My wife and I have had the privilege of serving in Young Life for over 25 years; the first 10 were working directly with kids, first as volunteer leaders and then as area directors. There was a heavy focus on introducing adolescents to Jesus, but we were always sad if a teenager walked away from their initial commitment to Jesus. For the past 18 years we have fully given ourselves to the second part of Young Life’s mission statement — “helping them grow in their faith” — through running discipleship adventure camps in Santa Cruz, California  and Baja Mexico. These discipleship experiences, like all of our Young Life adventure camps, have a profoundly lasting impact on teenagers as they fully embrace following Jesus for life. In that sense, they are surprisingly like that simple walk to Emmaus.

We invite you to start thinking now about how you walk with your high school or college friends at an adventure camp next summer. As you head home from outreach camp, and while the excitement of kids standing at Say So is fresh in your mind, please consider what the next best camping opportunity is to help build the new faith of your friends. Young Life adventure camps exist to equip teenagers with the tools they need to live life with Jesus beyond the “camp high.” Whether it’s through daily adventures, pioneer living, sea kayaking, backpacking, or learning to serve others in Mexico, these discipleship camps provide experiences designed to help kids encounter Jesus through being in an intimate community and learning to spend time with Him.

What road are your teenage friends on? Are you ready to take the long slow walk to Emmaus to help their “hearts burn within them” as they learn to follow Jesus for life?

Click HERE to view the YouVersion Young Life Reading Plans to go deeper with your students!

Writer: James Thomsen