Weekend camping trip grows into outdoor ministry

A camping trip in Johnson Valley attracted over 70 students, acting as both a getaway and worship weekend for its attendees.


Bree Mays // THE CHIMES

Biola students enjoy activities such as spikeball during the Johnson Valley camping trip.

Ashley Grams, Staff Writer

A dried up lake bed. That was all sophomore cinema and media arts major Evan France needed to create a growing ministry in hopes of bringing Biola students closer to God through the outdoors. France’s dream began last fall when he brought eight friends to Big Bear. Last January, the trip grew to 39 students and last weekend 72 students attended a camping trip to Johnson Valley


On Friday, Sept. 20, France and Tytan Heresa, a friend of France’s and a United States Marine from the Miramar military base in San Diego, along with a leadership team of 8, took 62 Biola students for a weekend camping trip in Johnson Valley, a desert area in the shadow of Joshua Tree. France and Heresa invited students by word of mouth, distributing a Google Form and charging $20 and two cafeteria meal swipes. France and his team planned out the details of providing food, gear and transportation, leaving students to simply arrive on time with a packed bag. 

Most people who went on the winter returned last weekend. As friends invited friends, the number of attendees snowballed into the 70s.

“I was excited because after going on the first Johnson Valley camping trip, I was expectant of how God would show up again,” said sophomore nursing major Lindsey Valdez. “I had made some amazing friends there and just wanted to grow even more in those friendships while being outside in God’s beautiful creation.”

Students communicated through the GroupMe app and received access to Google Sheets containing a transportation schedule, emergency contact numbers and pertinent safety information. 


Despite the cold nights, the response from those on previous trips was overwhelmingly positive, prompting France and Heresa to dream of an even larger outdoor ministry.

“Jokingly we said, ‘This year let’s double it’ and we more than doubled it,” said sophomore nursing major Abbey Lynch who organized transportation. “It’s been really cool to see just that plan, and that dream in a sense, come to fruition.”


France and his team said an integral part of planning was prayer. 

“I love [camping] so much just because it’s a way for people to get away from the distractions of their daily life,” France said. 

Providing a way to escape from weekly stress and into a weekend filled with fellowship and worship is the heart of the leadership team. The leadership’s intense preparation allowed students to relax and connect with the present community. 

The community gathered around a bonfire Saturday night in the middle of the desert after a full day of activities, including spikeball, volleyball and slacklining. Students began to worship and pray over one another.

“On the last night, the worship session, just seeing everyone praise God together that was really cool,” said freshman engineering major Jacob Catey. “Everyone was just worshiping with all their hearts and it was super encouraging and it just made me thankful to be at Biola.” 

Students found comfort in community despite the size of the group, making the trip a success in the eyes of the leadership team.


France and Heresa say they have received multiple requests for future trips in the same location.

“In terms of numbers, if we come to Johnson Valley we can take an unlimited amount of people,” France said. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but now that we’ve seen what we’re capable of through delegation and a leadership team, anything is really possible. God totally provided.” 

Due to the size of the lake bed, space is not a restriction for the team and the off-highway vehicle area is free for campers and recreationists, which keeps the cost low.

Plans for a trip next semester are already in the works, France confirmed in a text message after returning from Johnson Valley on Sunday night. 

“For future endeavors, it’s just grow as we go,” Heresa said.

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