In any educational institution, different roles exist for different functions. Faculty teach and research, staff administrate, and students learn. They interact on a daily basis, but only to a certain extent. Boundaries, drawn by their inherent and practical purposes, divide them.
However, throughout the course of a semester, the boundaries between faculty, staff and students are not permanent. Sometimes, they dissolve.
From November 11-13, that is exactly what happened, as around 65 men from The Master’s University carpooled up to Malibu Creek State Park for a weekend that Dave Hulet, Dean of Men, described, at least on one level, as an escape.
“We’re indoors all the time, in our schedules, in our routines,” said Hulet. “I think it's fun, for guys especially, to get out and do something different. You stop thinking about everything you gotta do.”
From late Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, male students, staff and faculty from TMU broke from their regular routines. Rock-climbing, hiking and relaxing left no room for homework. With the realities of coursework off their minds, students felt unrestricted.
“I think there’s a real value to decompressing in the middle of the semester,” said senior Canon Baldridge. “Physically leaving the dorms is freeing – it’s harder to focus on school when you’re around a campfire, laughing.”
On the surface, nothing about the three-day event seemed particularly extraordinary. Men froze in tents, huddled around campfires (made entirely out of hot coals – thanks, California burn ban), grilled meat, argued, laughed at lame jokes, threw frisbees, twisted ankles and stared in silence at the stars.
The low-key nature of the event, according to Hulet, is the point.
“I don't want to overthink it,” he said. “It's not this grand, hugely important event for the University, but it's another discipleship moment. You can't have the conversations you have here at a basketball game, a small group or riding down to church together.”
Dr. Todd Bolen, a beloved Bible professor, sees a greater purpose in the camping trip, now in its third consecutive year. For Bolen, it represents a chance to connect to students on a more personal level.
“This is a great chance to talk to guys, finding out what’s going on in their lives, encourage them,” said Bolen, “But it doesn’t stop here. Next week, and the week after when we’re in class, we’ve talked and kind of know each other better.”
The trip pays dividends, even from an academic perspective.
“Something I’ve seen over and over again is that students learn better from teachers that they know, that know them outside of the class,” said Bolen. “They’ll listen to you better. My teaching and class is therefore improved because of some of the relationships formed here.”
In the eyes of Junior, Sam Brooks, the men’s camping retreat gives weight to Bolen’s words. “By and large, the faculty and staff care about the students. A lot of them go out of their way to get to know specific students, with this trip as an example. Nobody forced Bolen or Hulet to be here, and yet here they are, eating hot dogs at this picnic table with us.”
Whether at a campground or in the classroom, the biblical principle of discipleship – where an older Christian helps a younger Christian grow in the faith – permeates every aspect of TMU. How discipleship plays itself out practically is largely left up to the situation.
“Discipleship’s sometimes put into a box like, oh, we have to read a book together or it’s not discipleship,” said Bolen. “There’s a place for that. But on another level, it’s sharing lives. In the context of this short camping weekend, it’s cooking a meal together, sitting around a campfire, or throwing an ax, or just going on a hike.”
“I think a lot of times it looks like a faithful friendship,” Baldridge explained, “encouraging one another and trusting one another as friends.”
Joe Keller, Vice President of Student Life, believes the key to the relationships at TMU– and perhaps the key to the school’s unity at large – can be found in a unified doctrine.
“We’ve got a faculty member, an RD, an athletic coach, somebody in food services all unified in doctrine and that have the same goal of caring for the student,” said Keller. “You’re not a faculty member here unless you’re committed to that. From a student’s perspective, that’s pretty unique.”
Ultimately, the culture of discipleship at TMU – and on a smaller level, the Men’s Camping Trip – finds its roots in Christ, and a campus wide desire for every believer to become more like Him.
“I like the idea of Colossians 1:28-29,” said Hulet. “It tells us to proclaim Christ, then labor, strive, and toil with all our energies so that every man may be complete in Christ. And that’s what we’re doing.”