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A Conservative Alternative to the Boy Scouts?

The Christian Perspective / Chris Hughes
The Truth Network Radio
September 3, 2021 1:00 am

A Conservative Alternative to the Boy Scouts?

The Christian Perspective / Chris Hughes

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September 3, 2021 1:00 am

Mark Holder of Trail Life USA, a premier national character development organization for young men and a traditional Christian alternative to Boy Scouts of America, joins Chris to talk about the organization's faith-based values and the opportunities offered to the young men of tomorrow.

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I don't know about you, but I was pretty upset a few years ago when the Boy Scouts started allowing homosexual group leaders and then I think they might even take girls now and they've changed a lot of their previous moral code and I was really upset when that happened. I didn't know if there was another alternative, but now I know that there is. I'm Chris Hughes and our guest today represents a great Christian organization called Trail Life USA. Mark Holder, I want to thank you so much for being here with us today and telling our listeners just what Trail Life is. How are you today? Chris, I'm doing fantastic and it's an honor and a privilege to be on your show to stand up and let people out there know a little bit more about Trail Life USA and what we stand for and what our ministry seeks to attain.

Well, I'm excited to have you here. I was never really a Boy Scout. I was a Cub Scout many, many years ago, but I've always loved the scouting process and I'm a Southern Baptist. We have something called RAs, which is Royal Ambassadors and it's kind of based on scouting.

I don't know if you're familiar with them in some churches, but I've always loved the concept of young men being able to get out and do things and particularly if their fathers participate and just having, I think male bonding is important and it's important for young men to have an example in their lives to help them out. So I know there were some problems and we're not really here to talk negative about Boy Scouts, but tell us a little bit about what led to the formation of Trail Life. I have a good friend, and I don't know if I shared with you, John Stemberger, I think was one of the founders of Trail Life. John's a friend of mine. I think he's an attorney in Florida and was with a Christian organization called the Florida Policy Council. But tell us a little bit about why you got started and what you are.

Okay. It's been around eight years ago, a group of concerned leaders decided to get together to see if they could develop a boy led, I mean a boy focused organization that could step into the gap of this dark culture that we've found ourselves encountering out in the world today. So they met in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss starting a new boy focused program that would embrace cross centered activities first and foremost, and then secondary outdoor adventure program. John Stemberger was one of those. Mark Hancock was one of them.

Rob Green was another one. And then Patty Garibay, the founder of American Heritage Girls was there as well, seeking to see if they needed a different organization or if it would be part of American Heritage Girls. Out of this meeting, Trail Life USA was born. It was established to be a program to address the darkness that is pervading our culture at an alarming rate. And it was to seek to raise a new generation of boys to become Christian men, Christian leaders, and even more importantly, Christian fathers and Christian husbands. So that was basically how we, you know, the foundation of Trail Life frames. Boy, Mark, and that is so important because we live in a society today where, you know, divorce is prevalent and many times a father is absent from the home.

And it is just so important for a young man to grow up and realize that he has a biblical responsibility to be faithful to his wife and be active in his children's lives as they're growing up. So you've been in place eight years and you mentioned you're kind of like a scouting program. What sets Trail Life apart from, you know, like I mentioned, RAs or other groups that might be involved, whether in church or out of the church from previous groups. Okay, Chris, first of all, you know, we're church owned. When a church charters a Trail Life troop at that point, they own that troop. Once they go through the vetting process with Trail Life USA, they own that troop so that it can become a ministerial outreach of that local church into the community with the sole purpose of drawing boys, their dads, and ultimately their families there into the church fellowship. Being church owned once the troop becomes a ministry outreach to that church, you know, it can go into the local community. It can tailor the theology of that troop to match that church.

We are non-denominational, so we do have a range of churches that we work with. In order for a church to charter a troop, they need to be able to sign off on the Trail Life USA statement of faith and values. If they can do that, then they can charter a troop. So is there a cost involved for them to charter the troop or just say that they agree with what you believe? There is a $99 pre-charter fee when they get ready to start the chartering process. Then if they get to the point to where they're ready to go, they do have a $350 chartering fee that they pay. Then each boy that charters right now, the annual dues is $28 and some few cents. And for every adult, it's approaching $30 a year dues.

I'm looking for the right word, but it would be annual. And this is just boys is Trail Life, right? They're not girls that are members. We do not include girls, but we do have a sister organization called American Heritage Girls that Patty Garibay started in.

It's actually 20 years old, so we're not officially attached to American Heritage Girls, but we do work hand in hand with that organization so that we can have those troops also in the same churches that we have Trail Life in, so that girls have the same opportunity to have a class centered organization to be a part of. So Mark, I know over the years, we've heard horror stories of different leaders of different organizations. Is there any kind of vetting process? Like if my church wanted to start this and we had two or three men that wanted to be leaders, do they go through like a security background check or what are the qualifications? What do you call them? Is it a den leader or what do you call the local leaders? We've got what we call a core five, and when the church does charter a troop, it starts out, we've got a senior. Well, outside of that core five, we've got a senior ministry leader who would be the pastor or an associate pastor in that church who was responsible for keeping an eye on and overseeing the Trail Life troop. Then the person that works with that senior ministry leader in conjunction with the troop is called our troop ministry liaison. They're part of that core five, and they're the one who invites the others to be part of that troop. So that's the first layer of vetting that we have. Then we have a troop master, a committee chair, a treasurer, a chaplain, and maybe it is the rest of that core five that actually make up the leadership of that troop. Each and every member that is invited to participate has to go through a criminal background check.

It's a nationwide check, and they have to do that every two years. And then we have a child youth and safety protection program planning that we go through, and it's pretty intensive. It teaches you how to spot predators, how to actually observe and find those that would seek to find the weak and the lonely and cap them out that they could do things that would not be appropriate.

So it's a pretty good training that teaches you how to spot that. And then we're very adamant that we have too deep leadership. We never have a boy along with a leader one-on-one. We require that there be two leaders in the presence of every boy at all times. And then we also promote, once the boys start starting the troop, we promote a buddy system, but we don't want them two by two. We want at least three boys together at all times so that we have no youth-on-youth predators going on as well.

Boy, that's so important. It sounds like y'all put a lot of thought into that. And you know, the Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and with the steps that you've put in place.

I mean, nothing is ever foolproof, but that sure, you know, if those guidelines are followed, it's going to be very hard for a predator to be able to take advantage of boys. So I commend you for the work that your team has done in setting that process up. So, you know, so we talked about what a church could, you know, how they would start. And I guess before we leave that part of it, do they, so someone listening is listening today and they want to start a troop of their church. Do they go to a website? Do they call you?

Do you have regional folks across the country? What would be the step for a listener right now that says, wow, I didn't know about them and I want to do this in our church? Well, Chris, we do have a website and it's And when you go there, the first page that you arrive at has basically two icons in the middle of the page. The first one says find a troop and that's for any boy or family that's looking for a troop nearby that they can get involved with. And then the second one is start a troop.

And if you click on that one, if there's not one in your area and you are interested in starting that troop, then you click on that button and you can fill out the information and someone will contact you. The other thing that I wanted to emphasize was our statement of faith and value that we asked a church to sign off on to be able to start a troop. And basically that statement of faith and value says that we believe in a triune God and that's God the Father, God the Son, and the person of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are the inspired Word of God. We believe that every man, woman, boy, and girl was created in the image of God for the sole purpose of glorifying Him in their lives and with their service. And then lastly, but surely not least, we believe that sexual purity should be maintained until you're in a covenant marriage relationship between one man and one woman. And if a church can sign off on those, then they are free to start a trail life USA.

Wow, those are some great principles that really every Christian should abide by in their own life. So it sounds like you've got a lot of it covered. Well, tell me, I'm going to kind of go down a little rabbit trail here, but tell me what it looks like to be a boy in trail life. I know when I was a Cub Scout, we wore uniforms, and I can't remember if it was once a week, we went to a meeting, so do they wear uniforms? We are a uniformed organization, so we do have those. The uniforms are green, red, and black. They're mostly green.

They have a black shoulder with a red trim around the outside of that. We do offer uniform pants. Now, we leave it up to the individual church on how far they want to go. Some churches only require the Class A shirt, and then they let the boys wear blue jeans. So we are a little bit flexible in that because we want the church to be comfortable with what their congregation can't afford because there's some areas where there's lower income areas, so we don't want to force that on anyone. But I will tell you, once a troop starts meeting, some churches meet twice a month.

Some meet every week of the month. They're open to have it on any day they want to, but we do take what we call the carrot cake approach, and we know that if you offer a boy a carrot, even though it's good for him, he's not going to eat it. Same thing with the gospel. We don't want to be churchy. We don't want to make them sit through an hour and a half of like a summer school lesson, so we believe in kind of grading that carrot up into pieces, and if you put it in a cake, the boy will eat the whole carrot and never know he got it. So we incorporate a little bit of the gospel of Jesus Christ into everything that we do so that the boy's getting it, but it's fun while he does it.

We know we've got to keep it fun to keep their attention or they won't come back, so we try our best to make sure that trail life is fun for the boys and something they enjoy doing. Mark, do they wear a uniform? I mean, you told me they wear uniforms.

I'm sorry. Do they have the opportunity to earn patches, to put on their uniforms? Chris, I'm glad you asked that. We do have an advancement program, and our cornerstone, our capstone award is called the Freedom Award. So once they move into the navigator section of our organization, then they start work towards Freedom Award, and I'll tell you this, Freedom Award is about twice as hard to earn as what the Eagle Scout is now, so you cannot earn the Freedom Award until you're approaching your 18th birthday because there's so many requirements to get it, and it always includes a faith part of it as well, so they have to have a discipleship track to go along with their Freedom Track as well in order to get their Freedom Award. So like for the Boy Scouts, it's called the Eagle Scout, so your highest award is called the Freedom Award. Do they also do, I know you said there's a Christian aspect to winning that award. Do they have to do, I think Eagle Scouts have to do some kind of special service project. Is there something like that involved for the Freedom Award?

There is. They have to do the service project which would be out in the community somewhere, but they also have to do a cross-centered part of that service project as well where they're actually given back to their church, and that could involve, you know, missions. It could involve local missions. It could involve international missions.

They are required to do that. It's called the Worthy Life Award, and they have to be able to show their discipleship, and they have to demonstrate that discipleship out in the field as they move forward. Is there an opportunity, as I mentioned, I was in Royal Ambassadors, Trail Life didn't exist when I was a boy, and I was able to earn a $500 scholarship to college, which really helped me out down the line. Are there any scholarships or financial opportunities associated with the Freedom Award or other levels? Well, I'm going to let out a little long secret here, but there's only one university that I know of that offers a scholarship to Freedom Management, and that would be Erskine College in Dewest, South Carolina. They have that scholarship available for anyone who's earned their Freedom Award.

Well, that's that's something people need to pay attention to because college is so expensive these days, and so if you could get a scholarship by being involved in Trail Life and earning your Freedom Award, that might be something parents want to look at now when they're planning for their children in the future. This show is brought to you by Generous Joe's, the coffee company with the Christian perspective. This is the answer that Christians and conservatives have been looking for, a coffee company that gives back to causes you care about.

Order your coffee today at and even subscribe to a subscription coffee plan and never forget the coffee you love or the causes you care about. So are there different levels? And again, I'm not may not be using the right term, but when I was young, as I mentioned, I was in Cub Scout. So the Cub Scouts were for younger boys. Are there different levels in Trail Life or just all age boys go to the same meeting? Chris, we are open to boys that are K-5 through 12th grade, and we are broken down into three different groups. The first one being the Woodlands Trail, which is the elementary school boy's age, and it's broken into three patrols. K-5 through first grade is our foxes, and then second and third grade would be the hawks, and then fourth and fifth grade would be the mountain lions.

That's the three patrols that those boys are broken into. Once they cross over into the middle school ages, we have the Navigators, which would be sixth grade through eighth grade. And then once they go into senior high, they move into the Adventurers area, which would be, of course, ninth through 12th grade. So that's how it's broken down with Navigators and Adventurers being the one that's on the path to freedom. And if you were comparing it to what the Boy Scouts were, you know, the Woodlands Trail would be closer to what the Cub Scouts were.

Chris Bounds Right. So what's a typical meeting like an hour and a half, two hours long? And what happens? Is there scripture memorization? Or are there stories?

Or are they doing something? What's a meeting look like? Well, we try to encourage that the meeting always start with the presentation of colors, where the American flag and the trail officer flag is actually presented. And then of course, you have the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.

Then you have a prayer and then the color guard usually retires. And then we definitely encourage the troop chaplain then to have a devotion for the whole troop there so that that's being covered. And then the patrol was usually break out into their patrol groups and go go do their patrol specific things. Our Woodlands Trail has a has a joining badge so that when they they've learned the motto, they've learned the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, they've learned this the trail off sign, and they get a joint patch and it's divided into seven branches like sports and hobbies.

Christian heritage, there's seven different distinct areas that they do it. Their lessons are geared to get branches to go on that so that they're applying it and learning their skills. And then with the doctor with the navigators in the Woodlands, they usually break out and go to the go do badge work. But now we'll say this, when a troop is functioning like it was designed to function, it is boy lead. So you've got your adventures that are actually putting the program together every week. And they're the ones when it's functioning like it should, they're leading those Woodlands Trails and they're teaching them so that we're developing that leadership skills. Yeah, that is so important. I didn't realize that it was led by the troop members, because leadership development is such a huge skill.

And so I commend you for for having that training. You mentioned Christian heritage, or so do you teach them about the Christian heritage of our nation? Or what did you mean by Christian heritage? Well, Christian heritage, as they get older, it gets more and more in depth. So it starts out with Christian heritage from the time, you know, Jesus ascended back into heaven, and then it progresses and goes through Christian church history. And then we want it to we want to once we get into that we want to develop into that denomination that the troop belongs to get into their church history so that they know it.

Wow. So that's so beneficial. And it's too many Christians today don't know the history of Christianity.

So that's wonderful that you're doing that. So Trail Life USA, as I mentioned, there are other organ, you know, like a WANNA is a big program in churches. Do you conflict with these others? Could a church that has a WANNA and RAs? Do you have examples of churches that also have a Trail Life troop? How does Trail Life work with the other things going on in a church?

Chris, sometimes we do conflict. There are denominations out there that have their own program similar to Trail Life. And some of those are like Royal Rangers and Christian Church Brigade.

So we would conflict with them. So you know, we realize that Trail Life is not for every church. But it is it is for a lot of churches, we would not conflict with RAs or AWANAs or programs like that, we could exist side by side with those. Because they're not really outdoor adventure programs. They're more mission missions oriented, and things such as that. So there were a lot of churches that have RAs, that have a WANNA, and we have no problem whatsoever existing with those organizations.

Good. I really encourage our churches and pastors and others that are listening or maybe you're just a parent to go to their website. It's

Is that correct, Mark? Yes, And check them out. Mark, several times you've mentioned outdoor adventures. What is the outdoor aspect? Do you go on camping trips?

Do you learn how to make fires? What is that side of your organization? We do it all. We encourage the Woodlands Trail. I volunteer at the local troop level as well. And we seek to involve the Woodlands Trail at least two times a year to take the whole troop out on a camping adventure. But it's usually truck camping where you're able to drive up to the campsite if the Woodlands Trail is involved, and set up your camp there so that they don't backpack in. But once they hit the navigator and adventurer age level, we seek to promote backcountry camping, where we're out camping, backpacking 10, 12, 15 miles out multiple nights so that they're backpacking and carrying everything they're going to need to get by on their backs as they go out.

I know my local troop, we partnered with a troop from the neighboring state out in Georgia back in March. And we did a 12.2 mile hike, started on Friday evening, and finished up Sunday afternoon. And we started with the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain, over the Pinnacle Mountain. But the great part about it is you've got your devotional nights going on, and you can have your church service out where you can observe God's wonderful creation.

And what better place to have a church service where God's glory is manifest right in front of you as you watch the sun rise over the mountains. That had to be so much fun. I'm jealous. I'm picturing y'all doing that. I know as a boy, probably some of my best memories are when my father would go camping with me with church groups.

And I'm using RAs as an example. Just great memories with my dad and friends that I got to know that are still friends over the years. And learning how to make a campfire. Some of the funnest times are sitting around a campfire cooking a weenie or a marshmallow or something. But to tie that in with learning about Jesus, too, this sounds like such a great organization. And we've only got a couple more minutes, Mark, but if churches want to do this, they go to Trail Life USA.

And we've been talking about the outdoor adventure and the different things that the organization has done. So, Mark, you mentioned earlier, just so we can clarify a few things with folks, this is a boy only organization, right? No girls?

Yes, that is correct. And what, tell us again, the age requirements. I know you kind of covered the groups, but what are the age requirements? If people, if boys... We cover K-5 through 12th grade.

Okay. And folks, if you didn't catch the beginning of that, they have different age groups. So your kindergartener's not in a group with a junior or senior from high school. They're age-specific groups that they break down to. And then the boys earn their way as they grow older and earn merit badges and so forth. They work their way through the program until they finally end in what you call the Freedom Award, right, Mark?

Yes, that is correct. So I'm just, I'm excited about what you guys are doing and I'm going to be praying for you as you grow. How large are you now? How many troops do you have and are you all over the country? We are in all 50 states and we have, we're approaching 850 troops nationwide with about 35,000 boys and adult leaders. We have experienced unprecedented growth this year. We've added, since January the 1st, we've added 106 new troops with about 6,000 boys and adult volunteers and added to our ranks as well.

That's, that's just incredible. Even in Hawaii, you have troops. Yes, we do. And even in Alaska, we have troops.

Wow. I used to live in Hawaii. I love it there, but you know, they don't always have everything we have on the mainland. So I'm glad that you've expanded to there into Alaska. Are there plans to go international at some point? Well, we've looked at it, but we do realize that once we go offshore, then we're subject to the laws of another country and we want the religious freedom that we have here in the United States. In no way do we want to compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So that's the one thing that's kept us hesitant about going international. Yeah. Well, Mark, thank you so much for being with us today. Folks, the organization is called Trail Life.

You can go to their website, You need to start one of these organizations within your church, start a troop in your church, because young boys need to learn how to be godly Christian men down the line. And this is a great program to teach them masculine things, to let them be around other boys, which needs to be done and be in the company of godly men. Mark, we're praying for you and we thank you so much for being with us today. Chris, thank you so much. Just completely jazzed about the opportunity to present our ministry and to just go forward sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as we move forward.

Amen. Well, we'll look forward to having you again down the line and learning more about your organization as you grow. Folks, thank you for joining me today. I'm Chris Hughes and this is A Christian Perspective. Please subscribe and like our podcast and please share it with your friends on social media. Now let's go change the culture for Jesus. This show is brought to you by Generous Joe's, the coffee company with the Christian perspective. This is the answer that Christians and conservatives have been looking for. A coffee company that gives back to causes you care about. Order your coffee today at and even subscribe to a subscription coffee plan and never forget the coffee you love or the causes you care about. This is the Truth Network.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-08 17:31:31 / 2023-09-08 17:42:36 / 11

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