Have you ever stopped to think about why some of the most successful team-building programmes involve the outdoors or some form of adventurous pursuit?

We know that the outdoors is good for us: the exercise, the fresh air, the beauty of God’s creation, the break from technology all have a positive impact on our cognition, our mental well-being, and our soul. Many experts in the field of psychology have studied these effects, showing that being in nature is linked to improved attention, lower stress levels, better mood, increased empathy, and increased cooperation. But in addition to the scientific data, simply consider how you feel when you breathe that deep sigh of relief while enjoying a beautiful view or sitting next to a campfire.

In 2006 I had the privilege of spending a year as an adventure instructor at a school in Magoebaskloof, Limpopo. Although a number of years have passed since then, I’ll never forget the experience and the lessons I learnt.

The learners at the school had the opportunity to participate in multiday adventure-racing events where they had to not only kayak, mountain bike, trail run, or hike between checkpoints, but also navigate throughout the race. Sometimes teams got lost. During a year-end event on the Wild Coast, one team had to spend a night out on the slopes of a remote valley. They had a cell phone strictly for emergency purposes and let the organizers know they were safe and would find their way in the morning.

Think about that for a moment … A group of teenagers, alone in the wilderness of the Eastern Cape, with emergency supplies but no camping equipment. Some may be horrified by the situation, but I think of it with admiration. The kids faced a challenge together; they could call for help or rescue if need be, but they didn’t; and through that experience, they discovered just how strong they were.

That’s what I like about adventure: it puts things in perspective fairly quickly. Living simply, taking care of only our most basic needs, and facing unforeseen challenges in nature breaks down barriers and forces us to step outside of our comfort zones. It grows a form of genuine connection with other people and with our awe-inspiring God that, I believe, isn’t possible in the busyness, noise, and daily technological assault of modern-day life. Even Jesus needed to escape into the wilderness at times.

We can take these benefits of the outdoors and of adventure and apply them in the context of Christian counselling.

In her symposium called Christian Counselling Out of Office, Candida Millar encourages those who are trained as Christian counsellors to consider the environment in which they engage their clients. Some may benefit from taking their practice outside, and there are examples of counsellors who are doing this in simple, yet imaginative, ways.

Stepping outside may simply mean going for a walk instead of having a seated, indoor meeting with someone. It may mean taking a small group on a multiday excursion. Or, it may mean stepping outside of the familiar into another person’s context.

In Chapter 3 of the famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus gives Scout the following piece of advice which shapes much of her growth during the rest of the story:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Jesus was very good at that and made it a priority to engage with people in their context: the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), his conversation with Pilate (John 18), how he showed Thomas his wounds (John 20), to name but a few examples.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that a counsellor should compromise their beliefs, convictions, or manner in which they live their life for God; I simply want to point out that there is immense value in meeting a person “where they are.” It encourages those in need of help to come just as they are, in the spirit of Charlotte Elliott’s famous hymn, Just as I am.

And isn’t that exactly where ministry and counselling need to happen—in the context of the person in need of help; in the context of the world?

Jesus is the ultimate example of empathy and putting oneself in another’s shoes. He showed his love for us by quite literally taking our place and experiencing the death we all deserve. Let’s be brave enough to step outside of our own contexts into another’s; to minister outside of our comfort zones; or to simply step out of the office every now and then.

Short Bio: Carrie Milton is a veterinarian and language practitioner. After completing her Bachelor of Veterinary Science and working with a variety of animals for a number of years, she reawakened her love for the written word. Accredited by the Professional Editors’ Guild, she has tried her hand at everything from theses to fiction.