Jessica Grant joined Pioneer Camp Alberta’s 8-month Leadership, Evangelism and Discipleship program (LEAD) in September 2019. Jess is from Orange, Australia and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had to return home earlier than planned in March. Jess was asked to share some reflections on her time in Canada, at Pioneer Alberta and being a part of the LEAD program.
By Jessica Grant
I first heard about Pioneer Camp when I (literally) bumped into a girl at my church in Australia. I turned around to apologize, and we started chatting. She told me she’d been working at an Albertan Christian camp. With horses. And kids. I was shocked. I’d been looking online for the exact thing she was describing. God opened a door and seemed to be practically shoving me through it.
When I arrived in Alberta, I thought I knew what I’d gotten myself into. Kids’ ministry, biblical training, the opportunity to expand my outdoor skills and knowledge, and a place to make new friendships, right? Yes. But God had led me into something that is so much more than that.
The teachings that Ruth, the Executive Director, and Alanna, Program Director, gave to me and the other LEAD participants were awesome. They encouraged us to take our faith into our own hands and question what we thought we knew: who is God to us? What has He spoken, personally, into our lives? What is He saying in our world today? What does this mean?
I found that most of my hard-core growing happened in that secret place – when it was just me and God. I learnt a lot about myself in LEAD. I learnt how exhausting it is to hide yourself from others, and how rewarding it is to do the opposite—to share each other’s messy parts as well as our happy ones. I learnt a lot about hospitality and serving with gratitude, how to handle money when there wasn’t too much of it, and, of course, how to shovel snow again and again. And again. (Like, why does Canada think it’s fun to put snow where people need to walk??)
LEAD also made me realize that the goodness in life comes from more than experiences; it comes from who you do those experiences with. I do have to say, living in close community has definitely ruined my standard for relationships. I know how rare it is to have friendships as strong as the ones I came out of LEAD with. I already deeply miss the laughter, goofiness, chats, tears, painful honesty, spontaneous adventures and chaotic movie nights. And those relationships wouldn’t have been nearly as valuable and strong if I’d chosen to stay inside my comfort zone.
Another big part of LEAD for me was, of course, the international experience. When I first arrived (I kid you not) I felt like I was living in a movie. Everyone had American accents! I now know that if you tell a Canadian they sound like an American you might get deported. I’ll also never forget the first (and only) time I saw moose. There were three males, out in the snow. They were magnificent. Arguably the best day of my life. I still cannot understand every Canadian’s obsession with poutine and trucks, although the hockey thing I do get, after going to see a game live. I’m definitely going to miss the beautiful fluffy snow (and—controversial opinion here–the cold) but I won’t miss becoming more pasty white than I thought possible.
I could keep going on and on about the amazing experiences of LEAD, but it would be better if you tried it out for yourself. Don’t get me wrong–this was probably the most challenging year of my life. It was like climbing a mountain. But while climbing a mountain is tough (as I got to experience for the first time this year), the view just gets better and better. The air, fresher. You can’t help but be proud of how far you’ve come. LEAD is truly a mountaintop experience.
To find out more about the LEAD program, please click here.