Tree of Life Offers New Start to Troubled Teens
by Bob Ellis — 17/09/2007
Some, like the Apostle Paul, got their calling to Christian service in a spectacular way. Jim Yahne, who heads up Tree of Life Christian Wilderness Expeditions (TLC), got his while chopping wood.
TLC is a nondenominational Christian outdoor wilderness program offering counseling, health education and life skills in a positive and challenging guided wilderness environment for youth between the ages of 13 and 18 who are referred by Oregon church leaders, juvenile agencies, school officials and parents. TLC, based in Creswell, just south of Eugene.
After graduating from college with a master's degree in health education, Yahne decided to supplement his income by cutting and selling firewood while seeking a teaching position.
As he was cutting and loading firewood and praying for God's guidance, Yahne said, "I believe the Lord impressed me with the vision that my firewood cutting days were over and instead of delivering dead wood, I would deliver the eternal fuel of the Tree of Life to young people who are struggling with various personal conflicts, including substance abuse, in a setting that would combine my love for the outdoors and my education in a place where they could obtain life changing benefits."
TLC's wilderness adventures, which may be as long as 21 days, are held in Oregon state parks and wilderness areas, including those in Yamhill County, along the McKenzie River, and in Silver Falls State Park near Silverton. Activities include hiking, backpacking, canoeing, mountain climbing, fishing, wilderness camping skills and equestrian and mule packing expeditions. The size of the group is kept to no more than eight youth, all of the same gender. There are also three adults on each expedition, each of whom must have completed 100 hours of wilderness medical training.
Participants do their own cooking, carry their own 40- to 50-pound packs, and set up and take down their own campsites. A typical day, which generally includes a hike of between 7 and 10 miles, begins with personal devotions and the opportunity for the campers to set their own daily goal. In the evening, time is provided for self-assessment and for putting into writing the steps they must take to reconnect with their own family and community.
"We liken each day's hike to the Israelite's leaving Egypt and heading to the promise land," said Yahne. "Just as each day's hike has a destination and a plan for getting there, we ask the youth to determine their life's goal and develop a plan for reaching it."
Yahne recalled how one boy inquired with a great deal of anxiety in his voice, "You are not going to make us pray, are you?" But instead of "preaching" religion to the kids, Yahne and his counselors attempt to show Christ through their love and by modeling their actions after Him.
Marjie Mallard, who owns Millard Family Mushroom company in Waldport and who lends her expertise as a naturalist to the group, calls TLC "a safe, non judgmental way of reminding participants that what they are doing isn't working and providing them with ideas of ways that will."
Before the expedition and for six months after, Yahne meets with family, teachers and church leaders to conduct an assessment of the child's problems and to determine how best to get him reconnected to his family, school and community. "Our goal is to be restorative and keep families together," said Yahne, adding that one parent confided to him that her son, who was defiant to the point of being placed in a youth shelter, got a new beginning in the TLC program.
On the TLC brochure, Yahne had the letter "W" in the word Wilderness and "E" in the word Expedition printed in a contrasting bright green color to emphasizing his belief that it takes "WE" – family members, church leaders, educators and responsible adults, all working together, to make a positive difference in a youngster's life.
TLC is non profit and each participant pays a fee, the amount of which is determined by the size of the group. Yahne said TLC is a small organization with limited resources, and his prayer is that church leaders and members of the community will recognize the potential his organization has to provide a positive and challenging life changing experience to all age groups and will provide scholarships for youth who need financial assistance.