Announcing Mobile Rock Climbing Programs!

She peered beyond the trembling instep of her rubber-clad foot to the ground 7 metres below. Her perspective high above her friends made them look like small, compressed garden gnomes topped with colourful round helmets. Her fingers ached as they  smeared against the stone but she could hear the shouts of encouragement from peers below, and she could see her belayer had a firm grip of the rope, ready to catch a fall... she didn't feel exactly brave or safe, yet she knew that somehow she was secure despite the the stressful pit of anxiety in her gut. She made the decision to press on upward, feeling bound yet feeling strangely unbound and free...


As outdoor professionals who seek to bring the gospel as we facilitate experiences like this one... we know that there are few better experiences that allow inroads for gospel truths like rock climbing experiences. Skilled facilitators can use themes like trust, hope, fear and family both in the moment, and later, during activity debriefing. Hour for hour, there is no other activity experience I know of that allows this level of depth

There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes effort putting the pieces together for our new experiential rock climbing programs, and today we are able to make it official.  Spring/Summer 2015 will see Zao leading experiential outdoor rock climbing programs for youth and adults! 

We will be able to facilitate rock climbing programs for youth groups, staff team building, small groups, etc. Our max group size will be 8 - 10 participants, and we will be fully mobile with our new 15-passenger van.

Special thanks to the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada Opportunity Grant that we applied for and received last year-- this wouldn't have been possible without their investment in our ministry. Our basecamp improvements, our van, and now equipment for this program are huge blessings to us, and ultimately to those who we will serve.

Call Mattias if you're interested in booking a group with us, or if you are interested in finding out more information. Pricing to follow on our program page.

Family Camps: Giving You Time to Spend With Your Kids

There is something special about parents and kids sharing a multi-day adventure. When we ran a Mothers and Sons alpine camp last year, we received an abundance of gratitude from the parents because we provided the gift of time. They travelled together, climbed a mountain together, ate and laughed together, and even had "duo time" in a pristine subalpine meadow, away from usual distractions. 

“I always felt like there wasn’t enough time for the things that really counted.”
— Suzanne Crocker

For nine months, filmmaker Suzanne Crocker, her husband Gerard Parsons, and their three children, made themselves at home in the isolated wilderness of Yukon. They arrived there in August of 2010, and settled in for the long winter together... along with their two cats, and their dog Max. --Source: CBC's The Current

This award-winning documentary is playing the festival circuit, and will be released to the public soon. 

Most of us don't have the opportunity to disappear into the wild with our family for a year, but we can give you the gift of time over the course of a few days. Consider getting in touch with us about a family trip; if we have a few interested parent/child parties we can put together a trip for you. Ages 10 and up for multi-day trips, and we're hoping to add family rock climbing day-programs on the Island this summer. 1-250-204-7373

Participating in your family camp was a great opportunity for me and my son to enjoy some quality one-on-one time together, while embarking on a new and exciting experience. It was the perfect balance of enjoying nature without having to worry about all the fine details and be able to focus on building new memories.
— Kristi, parent on our 2015 Family Camp

Fall Alpine Adventure Discipleship Trip Report (with photos)

When you unplug from all things electronic and go out into God’s creation, you become more aware of the beauty around us and that God is good. Thank you for the opportunity.
— Alexander, camper on Alpine Adventure Discipleship
following a compass bearing to "mystery lake"

following a compass bearing to "mystery lake"

We were back with the new Adventure Discipleship Program, this time in the beautiful Vancouver Island alpine! At the end of the summer we made some improvements to our basecamp and had a volunteer work crew helping serve our field team. This was such a blessing!  These volunteers helped welcome campers and their parents, they cooked for us, and even ran some last minute errands. I worked with teacher James and two apprentice guides on this trip.

What a wonderful group of young men! These grade 10-12 students were beyond excited to get into the hills. After the usual bonding time and equipment preparation at base camp, we drove up into the mountains and punched into the fog.  This reduced visibility stayed with us for four full days, and it provided fantastic conditions to build compass/map navigation skills. We moved our camp a couple times, and were able to spend a lot of time working on leadership and hard skill development including backcountry cooking and camp craft. Our daily meetings were an amazing venue for exploring our identity in Christ, and how this changes everything! We worked through passages in James and John, and found ourselves tuned into the shorter days and longer nights.  One camper noted how absolutely quiet and still it is away from the noise of regular life. He stated, "it's easy to breathe out here". 

Isn't it? This sense of being alive-- fully alive . . . it's what we are all about. Providing space for our campers to know and get a sense of this experience is exactly why we exist.  ζάω "Zao" is the Greek word for this exact thing-- not dead and lifeless, but having joy in real life.

We had a nasty cold virus strike down a couple of our young men, and it was astounding to witness what happened with the group.  Typically this kind of situation, where the group's objectives (mountain peak) need to be re-evaluated and plans need to be adjusted, results in hurt feelings, conflict, and general discord.  But these campers adjusted their preferences and expectations in order to serve each member of the group.  We facilitated a beautiful conversation around risk management and internal group dynamics that can lead to increased actual risk, and these guys were genuine about actually loving their neighbour.  One of the ambitious-yet-flexible campers stated, "hey, the mountain will be there next year. I'll come back!" 

We know that when rigid plans get buffeted by the wind, they'll only get bent out of shape. What a wonderful opportunity for these campers to exercise solid decision-making skills that apply directly in all areas of their life, not just in the wilderness. These young men thoughtfully considered how we extend grace and serve others, all in light of how our Lord extended grace and served us. 

Our last two days were majestic; the sky opened, forming brilliant blue pockets among breeze-blown, shifting clouds. We ate lunch high on the ridge and soaked it in, knowing we would be walking back to regular life, not unchanged from our mountain experiences.

Moms and Sons Alpine Camp

Keely with her son atop a summit!

Keely with her son atop a summit!

The time my son and I spent on the Zao family trip was nothing short of incredible. Zao provided a unique experience we would never have accomplished on our own. With their professional guiding and gear, we felt secure in tackling a wilderness adventure that moved us not only into a closer experience with the natural world, but also deepened our awe of The Creator of it all. Our trip brimmed with fun exercise, great food, and the laughter of friendship. It was a journey neither of us will ever forget.
— Keely

What an honour to have our Zao guides serve moms and sons on a unique retreat! Trevor, one of our guides, Alexis, our intern, and I were able to lead this multi-day alpine camp, giving these great families the gift of adventure.  And the gift of time.

I love watching people step away from their comfort boundary, crossing over into the unexpected blessings of a wilderness adventure.  Alexis planned and cooked the full-service catering experience, and Trevor led us to the top of a peak on a hot, bluebird day. Highlights from this camp included "duo time" (moms and sons out for an hour together, reading the word and sharing the shade of subalpine tree boughs and a soft carpet of heather), writing our own mountain psalms, watching from a mountain ridge as the sun broke the eastern horizon, and eating wild blueberries. God is good!

Participating in the Zao Mother / Son hiking trip was a great opportunity for me and my son to enjoy some quality one on one time together, while embarking on a new and exciting experience. It was the perfect balance of enjoying nature without having to worry about all the fine details and be able to focus on building new memories. The Zoa team comes with a wealth of knowledge and did an excellent job of organizing the meals and itinerary that made the experience both challenging and relaxing, with many laughs along the way. My son said it was the perfect opportunity to have mom all to himself for a great adventure.
— Kristy
Kristy with her son in the subalpine meadows

Kristy with her son in the subalpine meadows

Nootka Island Trip Report (with photos)

My hat is off to you, Mattias Morrison and Alexis - the amazing guides of Zao Outdoor Ministries. Your level of professionalism and care for our group of HCOS Adventure Discipleship students on the Nootka Trail was fantastic. It was a huge honour to hike with you, and have you guide and encourage us on trail, and in our journey of Faith. Thank you for an epic week!
— James Nelson, high school teacher

After a lot of prayer, planning, and wonderful work by many people, our inaugural wilderness trip got off the ground!  We welcomed students from Heritage Christian Online School to our basecamp in Campbell River. The school values experiential education and opportunities for worship in creation, and they have brought us on board with their newly formed Adventure Discipleship Program for grades 10-12, which is a blend of applied skills, bible, leadership, and P.E. We spent the first afternoon getting to know one another and we went over equipment, and had a chance to check in with campers about their goals and expectations for our Nootka Island adventure.  Notably, a student was hoping for "rain" and "wildlife sightings". He was not disappointed! 

Our first morning saw us have some quick breakfast and drive to Tahsis, where we met our wonderful water taxi operator, Scott, from Tahtsa Dive Adventures.  They used their new landing craft, Shorebird, to land us rainjacket-clad hikers at Tongue Point, near the northern tip of Nootka Island.  No surprise, it was pretty rainy, yet we spotted dozens of sea otters floating amongst kelp beds.  From this point forward, we were on the trail!

I really didn’t want to go on this trip, in fact I was so stressed about it that I was sick the morning before. But I can’t believe how much fun I had, and I am a total city girl! None of the people who know me believe that I did a 6.5 day hike! It was a really great experience
— camper on Nootka Trail trip

Over the next couple days we encountered some typical wet-coast rain and wind, and our group was challenged by these conditions, the new experiences, and VERY rough trial obstacles.  I couldn't have been any prouder, watching students resolve to help one another, literally carrying each others' burdens on their backs.  We had to dig deep and ask the important question: who or what am I depending on?

In the evenings Alexis, our guide intern, and I would supervise gourmet hot meals prepared by students in our "kitchen" right on the beach.  Camp life on a backpacking trip is a welcome reward after slushing through mud and pea-gravel. Our group enjoyed hot drinks and driftwood fires in the evening when James, Alexis and I facilitated fireside discussion and opened the Word.  Shoreline air, a stunning sunset over the vast pacific, glowing embers of the warm fire and laughter among friends . . . all after a day of simple wilderness travel, distracted only by some tiptoeing Sandpipers . . . these moments are when we are able to feel God's presence and delight in what he has made. Finding our place with him, resting in his abundant, pursuing love and rejoicing in hope. Hearts are primed to hear and experience the Gospel.

Reflecting on some of the conversations and moments we had during these times together reminds me why wilderness ministry is important. For instance, reading the account of Jesus calming the storm in the midst of a, well, storm, highlights the incredible power of Jesus. "Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?" 

Midway through this hike the weather improved and we began to see the campers become more confident. More oriented to their new environment and the natural rhythms of this incredible coast.  We saw even more wildlife, our days on the trail became shorter, and we had more time for exploring some cultural history and archeological sites.  Before long, we had covered over 35Km and ended up in Friendly Cove where we met some village locals and the light station staff.  Eventually we were picked up and returned to the developed environment, doritos and all.

I couldn't be more proud of our campers, Alexis and James.  Our whole group was blessed throughout this trip and we are so very thankful. What a way to launch out into this exciting area of camp ministry. We encourage you to stick around for the ride! 

and away we go . . .

It's been an honour and a joy to be developing Zao over the past 8 months.  It's been a joy mainly because I now get to hear from many people who also see the vital importance and value of an outdoor ministry to young people.  Who knew there were so many of us?  I'm beginning to see some real benefit in connecting these folks with one another so that we can develop some real momentum as Zao grows.

The website went live today, and though it's not completely polished, the most important details are posted and formatted.  So far my work with Zao has been completely diverse and dynamic-- from social media and web development to intern recruitment to budget planning to insurance applications to policy writing and then back to partnering with other local ministries . . . it may be a welcome change when Spring hits and we get to plan gospel program and trip logistics!

For now, feel free to chime in on the comments about anything related to our progress. We value your feedback.

Next post will hopefully contain an exciting announcement about a contract and partnership with a group of BC high school students. Stay tuned.