Chris Qualls is a long-time TCK worker. He has lived in China since 2003 and is the youth pastor at BICF ZGC (learn more about their youth group here). Chris is also the Director of Journey Wilderness Adventures (JWA), and runs summer trips specifically for TCKs (as well as trips for expats in general). In the past 10 years, Chris has traveled through more than 30 countries pursuing various outdoor adventures. We’ve asked him to share with us a little about what JWA is doing and why he is passionate about it.
How long have you been working with TCKs?
I’ve been working with TCKs in Beijing for the past five years. I arrived in Beijing in 2006 after spending two years in Henan province teaching English. I immediately got involved at the International Fellowship teaching sunday school and working with the youth program there. But the truth is, the reason I really got involved with the teen program in Beijing was because they reminded me so much of my family back in the US. My grandfather is a pastor, my dad is a pastor and several of my aunts and uncles are pastors or working overseas. So when I began meeting many of the teens at the International Fellowship I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between them and my cousins. To be honest, I just enjoyed spending time with them; it was easy. Now I lead one of the youth groups within the BICF – One Way is the youth group that meets on the west side of the city and I have some pretty amazing teens that I get to hang out with each week.
How did you get started doing wilderness trips?
It wasn’t until I was in College that I had the opportunity to get involved in outdoor sports. I started whitewater kayaking on the Ocoee River in Southeastern Tennessee and spent quite a bit of time camping with friends. During my junior year of College I was driving down the road and was confronted with an emptiness in my heart. I was a Christian, but for the past several months hadn’t been paying very much attention to the Lord. I knew that I needed to refocus on Him and that I needed to do something to get out of the funk I was in. I prayed and asked the Lord what I should do and I felt Him whisper, “Come away with me.” I had never known anyone to go camping or even hiking by themselves but I knew that at the next available holiday I needed to get away on a private retreat with the Lord.
A couple of weeks later was our Easter break and after speaking with some friends I had a place in mind. About 45 minutes from my university was a quiet meadow next to a stream far away from the distractions of the city. I put my camping gear in the car and headed up to the mountains to spend three days and three nights in prayer, fasting, and meditation with the Lord. On that trip I met with God. For me, it wasn’t about the hiking, it wasn’t even about the natural beauty all around me; for me, it was about reconnecting with the Lord and finding a suitable place to do so.
Towards the end of that long weekend the many stories of Jesus, John the Baptist, David, Elijah, and others who met with the Lord in the wilderness came alive to me. I began to understand the power and purpose of practicing the spiritual disciplines in God’s Creation. I started noticing the many passages in the Bible that talk about the Glory of God being presented in His Creation. It was on that trip that I began to understand the role of the wilderness in the life of the believer. It was on that trip that I became more aware of silence and the satisfaction that can be found when we are truly at peace with ourselves and with God. I now understand the value of the wilderness in my life and that’s why I am so eager to present opportunities like this to others.
How do wilderness trips benefit TCKs?
A wilderness backpacking trip is the perfect environment to learn more about yourself and to discover more about the world in which you live. It’s also a great place to deepen relationships and build friendships with others. Even though TCKs tend to travel a lot, a backpacking trip is a different sort of travel experience. It allows people to really engage with their environment and the people they are living with each day. It isn’t a very suitable place to have surface level relationships and it really encourages people to be vulnerable with one another. I feel like TCKs will deepen their trust in one another on these trips and be rewarded with some amazing friendships that will last for many years.
“Most of us were perfect strangers at the beginning of the hike, but by the end of it I felt that a true bond of love and understanding had grown between us.” – Emily Kempson, TCK Trip 2010
I want these trips to be something that TCKs living in Asia look forward to in the summers. Something that will get them out of whatever funk their in at their current stage of life. I know that while I was in college I needed something like this to move me past where I was at and my hope is that these trips will be a place of growth and reward for TCKs living in Asia. I also want to provide an opportunity that is currently unavailable in China to teens who live here. There are several companies in the US who offer trips like these but there are currently no wilderness backpacking companies in China. I believe in the great value and benefit that comes from these trips and want to see TCKs in Asia have the opportunity to experience the wilderness in a fresh and exciting way.
Do you have trips for adults?
Yes, Journey Wilderness Adventures has six trips this summer. Two for Third Culture Kids (June 17-26 and July 29-August 7) and four for Adults (July 1-10, July 15-24, August 9-18, and August 20-29). The June TCK trip is also an official BICF youth event. We’re really exciting to be providing Wilderness Backpacking Retreats to the international community living and serving in Asia. Our space is limited this summer so if you’d like more information about how you can join us on a trip into the remarkable Tian Shan mountains in western China this summer please let us know. Write us at – firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us online.
An extra note: JWA has experienced guides and first aid personnel, and carry satcom gear in case of emergency. We recommend JWA as a group and Chris Qualls as an individual – these trips are amazing. The Tianshan mountains are are incredibly beautiful, with lakes, verdant valleys, snowy peaks… you name it!