During the schools’ Easter holidays, 8 young men from the Diocese boarded a minibus to Dorset and arrived at an area of derelict woodland that would be their home for the next 3 days. The boys had signed up for a course called ‘True Survivor: Beyond the Wild’.
True Survivor is a course that mixes a Catholic retreat for young men with ‘Bear Grylls style’ survival training!
It certainly wasn’t glamorous, and upon arrival, the instructor and retreat leader Will showed the boys their facilities. Have a look at the photos to see how basic it was!
The guys set up camp and soon began with a talk from Will, thinking about what the essential elements of wilderness survival are (shelter, fire, water and food) and then heard some of the real-life survival situations Will himself has been in!
The boys were then challenged to see that just important as surviving physically is surviving spiritually and there are some pretty essential elements for that too: the shelter of the Church, the fire of God’s Mercy, the living waters of prayer and our spiritual food, the Eucharist. This set the tone for the trip, and the guys experienced a mixture of practical workshops teaching those survival skills, input about spiritual survival, as well as Eucharistic adoration, Mass and a service of Reconciliation.
Some of the hands-on sessions that the guys experienced included foraging for wild garlic (but don’t try this at home folks, it’s notoriously easy to get it wrong), skinning and butchering a deer that had been taken by a hunter a couple of days before the guys arrived (!), lighting fires using only natural things in the woods, purifying water and building survival shelters, again using only what was available in the woodland.
We spoke to a number of the guys about what made them sign up for True Survivor and what else they gained from the experience.
Tim, 17, said, “I went to True Survivor because I wanted to experience the wilderness: I enjoy being outdoors. I also wanted to be around a small group of men where it is easy to talk about brotherhood. The retreat leader was relating the faith to survival situations. We might be facing 'spiritual hyperthermia' which is a way of describing when things in life draw you away from God, until you can lose your faith. Finding God's grace can reverse all that.
True Survivor is a very engaging and intense course that really builds up your faith and brings you closer to God. It was a great opportunity to meet other young men who share my Catholic faith. It was great to talk to them and we formed a tight-knit group.”
Will, aged 16, said, “The survival aspect was what interested me but I also wanted to be closer to God. The survival aspect interests me personally because of what I want to do when I'm older: I would like to join the military and the survival aspect will help me. Also, I need God when I'm out there, I need his protection. Since I was 7 I began to take my religion more seriously because I know I need his support!
In terms of highlights, obviously all the things we did: lighting a fire and building a shelter were good. Spiritually, the prayers were good: night prayer and morning prayer.
If I was to encourage somebody to come on this trip I would say, ‘If you don't know if you believe in God or you are having struggles, even if you go to Mass every week this will build you up, and the survival element will educate you. Although I thought there would be girls on the trip. I nearly didn't go when I found out.’"
Vincent, aged 15, said, “I went on True Survivor because firstly I really wanted to explore the beauty of God’s creation as we stayed in a forest. I knew going to True Survivor would make me closer to God again and teach me all about survival, in both physical and spiritual ways.
If I was to encourage somebody to come on this retreat I would say, ‘True Survivor will not only teach you to a survive critical conditions in the wild but more importantly link these survival skills to Catholicism and strengthen your relationship with God tenfold.’”