AIL 2023: Unleashing leadership potential on a high school canoe trip

Embarking on Adventures in Leadership is not just about paddling through serene waters and exploring the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe Area—it is an adventure that shapes teenagers into servant leaders.

Eleven students from all over the Northwest Conference learned to navigate through big waves and rough portages. They discovered the essence of servant leadership, teamwork, communication and resilience. The journey is not only about conquering nature’s forces—it’s also about conquering their inner fears and doubts.


One student put it this way, “It was overall an amazing experience! It truly pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me to lean on Jesus when the portages got rough. [It] also taught me patience, love and control.”

Experiential learning is the framework of AIL, and it’s a powerful tool for developing leadership skills. Students develop problem-solving skills by facing real-life challenges, making real-time decisions and learning to think strategically.

Through AIL, students gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to grow and improve as leaders. They understand that each team member brings unique strengths and perspectives, and the leader must leverage these strengths effectively. The lessons learned during AIL stay with students long after the adventure ends, shaping their approach to leadership in all aspects of their lives.

In the words of one of the participants, “It definitely was not what I was expecting, but [it] built my character and helped me get a better perspective.”

AIL is designed to build Christ-based confidence and resilience and allow students to lead in an emotionally encouraging but physically challenging environment.

One participant said, “It was one of the most intense, enjoyable experiences of my life so far.”

Besides learning crucial wilderness skills, participants also spent time in creative learning sessions, putting servant leadership into action, and in worship and reflection. Students are encouraged on their journey of faith, self-discovery and leadership development. Through facing challenges, working as a team and honing their communication and decision-making skills, they gain invaluable experiences that will shape their future as leaders, whether at their home church, at school or in the community.

The AIL team was made up of Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud), Shawn Brown (Oxboro Free Church), Dave Cairns (Covenant Pines Ministries), and Ginny Olson (Northwest Conference), along with two trained guides from Adventurous Christians—Trisha and Gus—who are AIL alumni. The Adventurous Christians base team: Matt, Lina and Dana (also an AIL alumni), played critical roles in the success of Adventures in Leadership.

Information for AIL 2024 will be available in January.