In 2019 I spent 4 months hiking 1500 miles on the Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT. During that time, every other hiker I met became an immediate friend. Connections were made easily without all of the pressures of ‘real life’ and because we all had the same goal, hiking from Georgia to Maine. Judgments and mental and emotional walls were stripped away because we were all dirty, smelly and tired. We quickly became like family.

There was a common saying on the AT “No pain, no rain, no Maine”. Yes, some days were miserable and emotionally, mentally, and physically challenging but there was always someone around who understood completely and could help you to work through those times. It was life-changing.

2 years later, I was invited to NextGen 2021. Similar to when I started the AT, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and it wasn’t anything anyone could even explain in words. Here we were, a group of people from all over the world, all working towards the same goal of growing our love relationship with the Lord and with each other in a way that’s only possible in a specific kind of setting and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We trudged through the grit and grime of our souls. Getting dirty, smelly and tired together in our emotional and spiritual burnout; and there was always someone there who completely understood and could help to work through the rough terrain that comes with spiritual growth and healing.

We had another saying on the AT “Don’t quit on a bad day”. What is experienced on a bad day on trail is very temporary and by the next morning, you will feel like a new person. I think this can be translated into the NextGen conference, ‘experience’, or ‘happening’ as “Don’t quit leaning into the experience when your emotions and feelings get muddy” that is when breakthrough and growth will happen. Shortly after, you will feel renewed.

It’s incredible that at NextGen in one week, with the blanket of our Father’s love, we had an even closer family connection than the one that took months to build on the Appalachian Trail. NextGen is life-changing. I truly cannot wait for our next family reunion!