Together in canoes

Paddles in hand and muscles flexed, a Viva team comprising six staff members and volunteers joined with a larger group of other charity fundraisers to canoe an incredible 127 miles, over six days, down the River Thames from Witney to Westminster. Between them Team Viva raised a brilliant £4,250 for our global work with vulnerable children.

Vicki Price, Viva’s Fundraising and Engagement Co-ordinator, reflects on how the experience reinforced the power of collective action for a common cause.

We embarked on an epic journey that, if we are honest, I’m not sure any of us were really prepared for. Initially, it sounded like great fun. A way for us to spend time out together, as a team, achieving something together for the charity we love and give our lives to.

We were aware it would be an incredibly tough challenge, but, until a week or two before the event it was more of a ‘great idea’ that we knew we’d signed up for, without actually considering how it would be physically possible for us to do.

With no training or any real idea of how to canoe, we were comforted by the fact that we would be part of a bigger team, working at it together with two dozen others, and we knew it had been achieved before… so we threw ourselves into the challenge ahead.

It was hard. It took everything in me not to complain after about three hours in, every time I took a paddle stroke. My arms and shoulders hurt in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. The only way to keep going was to literally ‘grin and bear it’ – my team members being the main reason for grinning!

One of the biggest take-aways form the entire experience for me, though, was just how incredible the body of Christ is when we work together to achieve a shared vision.

The challenge demonstrated this four ways:

1. The team itself

Overall the team was made up of 30 individuals, most of whom hadn’t met each other before the challenge began. We were from across the UK, raising money for a number of different charities, with various church denominational backgrounds and preferred theologies. But, somehow, we were able to learn about each other, encourage each other and lean on each other when we needed to. Within a very short amount of time, this team became our ‘on-water’ family. By the end of the adventure, it felt like we could achieve anything just through working together.

2. The diversity

There is no way we would have had the same experience if we had all come from one church alone. Our diversity meant that the support we received from friends and family back home was far more wide-reaching than if we had all come from the same place with the same church family supporting us. We had supportive donations and messages reaching the team from all over the country – how great our influence is when we work together! But our diversity also meant that we had so much to learn from each other – so many areas of life to explore and wisdom to glean during hours and hours spent on the river.

3. The unsung heroes

Not all jobs within a team are viewed as equal. During the trip we had an incredible land-support team, whose job it had been to organise all of the logistics of how we would be well fed, get some sleep and ferry our overnight belongings around the country, all whilst also ensuring our water bottles were constantly topped up. How they managed it is a genuine miracle. They worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes to make sure the challenge ran smoothly with very little acknowledgement or credit – unlike the rest of us who just rocked up and took part in the challenge, posting all about it on social media and receiving a lot of very kind well wishes!

4. The hospitality

Finally, the churches’ potential for making things happen is astonishing! Every evening, a different church cared for us – not only by allowing us to use their halls and floors to camp out on overnight, but also by organising teams of volunteers to cook more food for us than we could possibly manage. They welcomed us into their homes to use their showers too! These people we had never met simply couldn’t do enough to make us feel welcomed and comfortable. I was simply blown away by all of this undeserved grace and hospitality.

When the Church unites around a need, in prayer, and is given clear information, guidance and goals, I truly believe there is nothing we couldn’t do. We are so good at welcoming the stranger and extending hospitality to those who need it: could you imagine if we did that with people in our world most in need of this undeserved grace and love?

How might we share this kind of hospitality today with those around us, those we wouldn’t usually, and those who won’t expect it?

And, like the logistics team, is there a place we are being called to do less notable work which we may not be credited for?

Let’s continue to listen out for these acts of hospitality the spirit might be nudging us towards. Who knows where the adventure could lead us?

The Viva Canoe Challenge Team 2019 was Anna and Chris Barker, Jonathan Cox, Anne Gallacher, Vicki Price and Brian Wilkinson. We’re grateful to our friends at Adventure Plus for organising the challenge.