When Things Go Wrong


Paul Martin
IMG_0002We had a great weekend on the mountaintop at our most recent fall retreat. Despite being down a team member, we pulled off all of our plans, had a great time of fun and felt God in moments of spiritual renewal. Our buses rolled out on time, headed for home, and I sent the first group text to our parents telling them of our arrival time. Then, the unexpected happened. Our second bus in our eight-vehicle convoy didn’t make one of the turns coming down the mountain.

What started as a slight miscalculation ended with the people hauler hanging at a very precarious angle. Suddenly, there was smoke and screaming where only moments before there were jokes and laughter. Students were scrambling out of the emergency windows and adult leaders were frantically helping them down from the bottom ledge of the bus. The right front tire was hanging about four feet from the ground.

IMG_0003That’s the scene I arrived at after a long, exhausting weekend. My first thought was how could this have happened?! As we regrouped, we began to understand the trauma we were facing. Students were stunned, or crying silently, or screaming hysterically. These are the moments when we learn the most. Here’s what I learned.


I met two of my adult leaders as I arrived, and we came up with a list of what was most important. The first thing we did was gather everyone, make sure they were physically unharmed, and pray. Thankfully, we didn’t have any injuries. Secondly, we took care of immediate needs. Our plan was to give space for those who needed to process what had happened. We also needed to occupy those who weren’t affected by this experience. We also needed to assess our travel plans and come up with a plan to get everyone home safely as soon as we could.

Make Assignments

When we knew what needed doing, we split up our team to best provide the help needed to our teenagers. Some of our leaders leaned more towards counselors in that time. Some just kept our youth occupied. Some took the task of finding food. I had three tasks. I talked to the camp director to make sure we could stay at the camp should we need to, and to see if there would be food. Food is a great comforter in these times. I talked with the travel company to establish a plan for getting us home. I also had one more task.


It has been this ministry’s policy that youth not bring cell phones on retreats. That meant, of course, that most of them had them anyway and were already contacting their parents. As much as I could, I wanted to stay ahead of any escalation of this event with parents. So I started texting through our group text (remind.com) and posting on Facebook. I posted a picture of what happened and explained that that no one was hurt and everyone was safe. I then started communicating every 20 minutes, even if we didn’t have any news to report. In anxious times, parents just want to be updated.


Even with this plan, I learned a lot. What was most helpful, though, was our team’s response to do what it took after a weekend of togetherness. Through it all, we stuck together. The investment in our leaders was apparent in their ability to help manage all of the cascading issues created in this incident. Most importantly, our group was reassured of God’s faithfulness through the whole situation. I know we can’t plan for everything, but I feel so much better prepared for another one of these times, should it come.