Youth group alum? No, try survivor.

Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans launched a barrage of the funniest tweets I've read in a long time. She asked her followers to remember potentially dangerous youth group games we played when we were actually in a youth group. Then she proceeded to retweet every reply so that we could all see the hilarious atrocities endured in years long gone. I can't imagine how much fun she had reading through all of those responses.

Looking back, it's amazing that I survived youth group. And I'm not talking about safely navigating the popularity games because we all know I lost there. Nor am I talking about the trip Shane and I took to Nampa during our sophomore year where we (bored and unsupervised) snorted some Altoids and engaged in a two man game of tag. In the dark. Long story.

The grace that allowed me to fondly contribute to Rachel's invitation to reminisce is the miracle that I survived the officially sponsored activities horrors.

I am convinced that the 90s were a special time in youth groups. A time where the risk of life and limb were permissible as long as alcohol and foul language was not involved. A time when youth leaders were convinced that making kids fear for their actual safety was some sort of spiritual lesson we all needed to learn. A time when relay races were scientifically designed to risk either injury or humiliation. Those with no shame and no timidity prospered. I am also convinced that no youth group existing today would be able to do half of the stuff we did without a lawsuit.

There was the camp crowd favorite: Eat That Food. This was a game similar to Name That Tune, but instead of identifying songs, contestants had to eat a food. In as few bites as possible. Through my tenure as a teenager, I witnessed the following feats of Eat That Food: a grown man shoving an entire can of Spam into his mouth, a girl chug a 48 ounce jar of applesauce, and a camp counselor dump a full tin of Altoids in his mouth. Witnessing this game played many times over the course of six years, I saw things I never wish to see again.

There was the Caterpillar Relay. This was a race where teams laid face down and shoulder to shoulder along the beach. The last person in line rolled on top of his or her team mates to the front of the line. This created a new person at the end of the line who also had to roll over and over their teammates to reach the line's beginning. Thus creating a "human caterpillar." The first team to get their caterpillar across the finish line won.

When we went snow tubing, some were too lazy to walk all the way back up the hill so they would try to jump onto other tubes sledding down the hill. It was at one winter retreat that I got buried under four other riders; our overloaded and top heavy inner tube hit a jump and went flying without the tube. When we came down it felt like everyone landed on my head and the side of my face was ground into the ice and slush. I had to go back to the cabins with an eye-patch and a concussion.

Games of tag. Blindfolded. In the woods.

Games of hide and seek that had us kids traipsing through poison oak, poison ivy, and occasional bee hives.

Games of Sardines (like hide and seek, but only one person hides and everyone that finds that person hides with them). At night. No lights allowed.

Blind-man's volleyball. The volleyball net was covered with a tarp so that you were unable to see what the other team was doing. Then the ball was usually replaced with something hard and heavy. Or a water balloon.

Four-way tug of war.

Slip'n'slides that were carved into the slope of a steep hill.

Touch football matches that often turned into tackle football.

Full contact Ultimate Frisbee.

Camps were always the Super Bowl of dangerous and/or embarrassing entertainment. Every year had a different theme and those in charge of group recreation worked hard to have games that fit the theme. That meant many of the games during the year of "The Doctor Is In" involved bedpans. Two memorable relay races sent participants from one end of the field to a bed pan waiting at the opposite end. In one race the bedpans were filled with warm rootbeer and we were expected to drink as much as we could through a straw while laying on our stomachs, without using our hands. In the other race the bedpans were filled with baking flour and a package of M&Ms hidden in the powdery white mess; first team to find 20 M&Ms (again, without the use of hands and laying on our stomachs) were the winners.

Every year, the pinnacle of camp fun was the annual shaving cream fight. During the week, campers and counselors could purchase cans of shaving cream to save for the final night of camp. On that last night, a section of grass about the size of a tennis court (singles not doubles) was roped off with water filled garbage cans at each corner. All those who wished to participate would climb inside the cordoned area and wait for the whistle to blow. After the shrill cry of the referee's whistle, that small patch of grass turned into a battlefield. The ensuing pandemonium resembled what would happen if the food fight scene from Hook was set in Mad Max's Thunderdome. The war raged until the last man standing or until everyone ran out of shaving cream. The grass and surrounding field was stained a foamy white. Muscles and egos were bruised. And participants still smelled like shaving cream the next morning.

But at my church, when it was just us - the kids in our youth group - our favorite game was Wink 'em Blink 'em. This was an incredibly violent and flirtatious mash up of the Hunger Games and Blind Date. The girls would sit in a circle with one empty seat and a guy would be standing behind each chair including the empty chair (or the guys would sit with the girls behind them). The guys (or gals) would be staring at the top of the head of the person seated in front of them... all except the guy with the empty chair. He would be looking at all the girls and eventually, he'd wink at one of them.* The girl he winked at would try to escape her location, move across the circle, and sit in the empty chair. The guy standing behind her would attempt to catch her before she got away. Or roles reversed with a girl winking at a guy and that guy trying to flee the girl behind him. During my first years in the youth group, a simple tap on the shoulder was enough to keep the sitter in the seat. But as I got older, we got progressively more aggressive. Soon, the person that was winked at was permitted to continue away the single handed tap of the peer behind them. Both hands had to touch the shoulders. But then a two handed tap (one hand on each shoulder) was not enough; the person trying to prevent the escape had to hold the runner in place. Then we allowed those that were winked at to do all they could to elude the grasp of the person behind them.

By the time I was a high school senior, our rounds of Wink 'em Blink 'em produced more rug burns and bruises than I can possibly count. I can recall a few torn shirts. Jimmy got a set of fingernails scratched down his back that tore through both cloth and skin. Hair was pulled. Eyes were blackened. And there was at least one bloody nose.

I can't believe our youth leaders remained trouble free with our parents for such games. I hope my kids never have such insanity inflicted upon them. However, I wouldn't trade those days for anything.

We were young. We were wild. We were free. And we were unashamed. Sometimes, it would be nice to feel like that again.

* Now that it's in print - Wink 'em Blink 'em sounds way creepier than I remember.


  1. I agree the 90's were a special time for youth groups :) we were lucky!