Swiss adventure

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Troy Dontigney
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Protocol
Two young men are baptized in a fountain of near-freezing cold water, old friends wave goodbye and new friends trade hugs and contact information. The group of approximately 50 then prays together before climbing into buses, vans, trains and rental cars to begin the long journey back home.

This is the scene every Labor Day at the Kandersteg International Scout Camp as the annual Swiss Adventure Spiritual Retreat comes to a close.

Every year the Navigators, an international and interdenominational Christian missionary organization, lead a four-day retreat in the Swiss Alps. Sponsored by multiple chapels throughout Europe and supported by a small team of volunteers, the retreat offers young adults in various European military communities an opportunity to spend the holiday weekend away from their everyday lives, challenge themselves both physically and spiritually, lean on one another and refresh their faith.

At first glance, you might be enticed by the opportunity of unguided hikes in the Alps, paragliding, ropes course challenges or group hike up the 4,000-foot mountain, but this retreat has so much more to offer than just that. Home-cooked breakfasts and dinners create a sense of family that many of us have never known. Awe inspiring views from the Alpine snow caps reminded me just how small I am, and what a huge and beautiful world we live in. Early morning Bible studies, evening worship and heart-piercing messages challenged me to live a life of worth. Friends both new and old shared their joys, their struggles and their prayers without shame or judgment. Late nights around campfires with S'mores, guitars, songs and stories allowed hikers to enjoy some of the simple things in life.

This tradition has continued for more than 20 years now and is planned for many years to come. Each year brings a new group of campers as people come and go due to permanent change of stations, yet the tradition continues undaunted; memories are made and lives are changed.

The hike up the mountain was long and exhausting. I'm in pretty decent shape and it took me three hours or more before I found myself at the goal - the snow line of the Swiss Alps. I was tired, out of breath and hungry 8,640 feet above sea level. I've been on this hike three times, and it doesn't ever get old. The air was thin and chilly, the sun was bright and the view was incredible. Standing on an outcropping of rock looking down on the thousands of feet I just climbed was exhilarating, to say the least, but it was also humbling.

I looked back at the point from which I began on the shore of Oeschinensee Lake and couldn't even make out the people. Boats looked like small specks, and even the lodges on the lake looked like distant doll houses. We're often told before setting out that the mountain will teach you something important about yourself, and year after year the mountain comes through.

The best part is it's never taught me the same lesson twice.