NOTES FROM THE FIELD, with Jesse Lile

Appalachian Mountain Leadership’s mission is to foster and inspire servant leadership in participants and staff.It’s notable here that this mission drives our work with both participants and staff, and I have had some recent opportunities to work with some of our field staff beyond the facilitation of programs with participants. These opportunities involved working with field staff to further develop their skill sets for rock climbing and the facilitation of climbing programs. One of these field staff, Brittany Torbic, is currently taking a rock climbing facilitation course at Appalachian State University that involves necessary climbing objectives to successfully pass the class. In anticipation of these course objectives, I’ve been able to work with Brittany over the past few months to develop her personal climbing as well as facilitation skills to meet these course objectives. Just last week we went out on a wet and drizzly morning to practice what we anticipated to be her climbing objective (a specific route) before her course assessment later in the week. The route was challenging, and we worked it for hours. We payed special attention to the difficult moves on the route so she could practice them and be ready. I received the great news that she passed her climbing exam (and we had correctly anticipated what the route would be!).

Another field staff member, Jewel McKinney, had expressed interest in further developing her understanding and experience of climbing protection. During her time with AML I’ve had opportunities to work with her on developing these skills for climbing safely. We started by working on setting up top-rope anchor systems in a single pitch environment, discussing principles of safety and practicing the application of them in setting up these anchor systems. Recently we have transitioned to developing Jewel's understanding and experience of climbing protection in what is called a multi-pitch environment (where we are climbing higher and setting multiple anchors along the way up). This kind of climbing utilizes the same principles, but the application of them looks different and gets a bit more complicated. It also involves lead climbing, where an individual places protection in the rock as she/he climbs. As such, it is more committing and challenging. Recently Jewel led her first multi-pitch route, which was the third pitch of the route Jim Dandy at Table Rock. It was awesome to see her push herself into new terrain, and develop the confidence to take the lead on this pitch.

Opportunities like these are invaluable ways to foster and inspire servant leadership in our staff. By serving the needs of our staff I have the chance to model for them the very servant leadership we wish to see them embody in their roles with our participants, as well as their roles in their families, communities, and churches. These are also skill sets directly related to their work with AML, bolstering their competence and confidence to take on more and more responsibility when facilitating these programs. And with competence and confidence, these field staff are further freed up to focus ever more on the needs of participants (because they’re less and less preoccupied with their own performance). Still yet more, this work with field staff to develop certain skill sets provides us opportunity to tune in to aspects of life beyond the discipline being practiced. We’re enabled to explore together our growth edges in: Relationships with those we care about, ideological challenges we’re facing with new concepts/ideas we’re learning, negotiating and articulating our identities in the arenas of life we walk in. And as a steady thread through all these discussions, we’re enabled to explore how these growth edges of ours are informed and shaped by the person of Jesus.

It’s an honor to work with our field staff and cultivate the connection between true leadership and serving those we lead. So often in our society positions of leadership/authority are abused and misused, embittering and harming others. In these cases the term leadership itself becomes tainted, laced with offense and hinting at injustice. The work of reclaiming the term “leadership” and identifying it with service is a redemptive process; a redemptive process that unfolds in relationships and that tells a story far greater than our own.

Jewel and Jesse hone in their climbing skills in the multi-pitch environment.

Jewel and Jesse hone in their climbing skills in the multi-pitch environment.

Jesse and Brittany gear up for a climbing program.

Jesse and Brittany gear up for a climbing program.