To ring in the New Year, La Vida’s executive director will travel internationally to scout out new locations for future expeditions.  

La Vida’s Abigail Stroven and former trip leaders Hannah Donnelly and Electa Sutton will travel to the trails of Chile’s Patagonia this January to connect with local organizations and determine the feasibility of guiding opportunities there in the future.   

“The goal with this trip is to get people really excited about other parts of the world where they can encounter the natural world,” Abby said. “As La Vida experiences catalyze character formation for individuals, we hope to expand our understanding of the natural world and what a community of faith looks like around the world.” 

The three women will spend the next two weeks traveling around Patagonia, navigating the transportation system, identifying ideal hikes for future participants, solidifying emergency protocols and looking into gear that is needed that might differ from La Vida’s traditional Adirondack trips.  

The dream is to provide an international experience for college students who loved their La Vida experience and want to take their newfound skills to the next level.  

“An opportunity like this would give our staff opportunities to lead in new places and for students to be immersed in a new culture while experiencing the natural world,” Abby added.  

The idea to scout out the trails of Patagonia came from Jeff Stevenson, professor of Spanish, who reached out to Abby. He noted that he and his wife had a house in Patagonia and had lived there for 15 years, and the backcountry could lend itself to a unique leadership development experience for students.  

“I thought it would be wonderful if Gordon College students might have the same experience,” Stevenson said, explaining that he has lived in Chile for 15 years and welcomed students in the past. “More importantly, however, is the fact that Abby and I share an interest in leadership development. Knowing that Abby would build a leadership development component into the trip to Chile assured me that this wouldn’t be just a tourist trip.” 

Stevenson explained that he is concerned that tourism to Patagonia be done in ways that support the local economy and provide sustainable employment for Chileans serving in the tourist industry. He hopes that future trips led by La Vida could do just that.  

As a Spanish professor at Gordon, Stevnson also hopes that some of the students that choose to go to Patagonia in the future might decide to study Spanish and even consider spending a semester abroad in Chile while at Gordon.   

The three women embarking on this trip have a heart for adventure, education and connecting with the global community. For Hannah, the executive assistant to Southern Wesleyan University’s president, this trip is a way to give back to an organization that has played a huge role in her personal and professional growth.  

“If I were only allowed one phrase, I would describe this upcoming expedition as “a sweet gift from the Lord,” she said. “It is an opportunity to serve La Vida, which has served and given me so much during my years working there.” 

Having spent the past two years working in Colorado’s outdoor industry, Electa will use her skills in project management and guiding internationally to benefit the team.  

“I have seen and known many people who love the wilderness, but few who have had a wilderness experience the way the Bible describes and La Vida cultivates,” Electa explained. “On our trek I am eager to again experience challenge, embrace community and explore creation the way the Israelites, Elijah and Christ did. I hope to know the nearness of God in every vista, every lash of wind on my face and every echoing laugh of my friends. Plainly, I am most excited for La Vida––a wilderness experience that brings transformation and renewal.” 

While this is the first time that a team from La Vida has gone to hike in Chile, it is not the organization’s first time working internationally.  

In 2016 La Vida’s Nate and Amber Hausman traveled to China and partnered with Concordia International School of Shanghai, Journey Wilderness Adventures (JWA) and a Beijing-based company called The Hutong. The Hutong provides educational experiences for students that are a unique blend of cultural immersion and experiential outdoor education. They provided the logistical support for the trip by preparing a route, organizing transportation and guiding the team through the wilderness. 

When they left China Nate and Amber felt sure that the spiritual curriculum they had prepared reached the students well and opened the door for them to explore their faith more. Topics of discussion were based on community development, cultivating personal faith, learning to be present and not worrying about the future.  

During an end-of-trip debrief session, all six leaders commented on how much work went into preparing for the trip, but how incredibly evident it was that the planning allowed the trip to be well-implemented. Many students commented on how they become more aware of the role of technology in their lives and the need to find balance with its use. They came to realize that time with friends and family is something to be treasured, not disrupted by the buzzing of cell phones. 

As Abby, Hannah and Electa prepare their hearts and minds for what lies ahead in Patagonia, one thing is for certain: La Vida can be experienced all over the world.  

“We believe it is important for students to experience a new culture and step outside of our bubble on the East Coast,” Abby explained. “If this trip [to Patagonia] goes well, this could be a way for students to experience the awe and wonder of God’s creation abroad.”