For forty-some years I took church youth groups on trips, accompanied by several adults, of course, on short trips, long trips, and in-between trips, for service, for learning, for recreation, for fellowship. The trip that took us to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park included some of all of these purposes. We devoted four days to work on houses that needed help—painting, repairing, building a wheelchair ramp. Then we had one full day and two nights in the Smokies.
We stayed in the national park campground. I gave the usual warnings, that included not keeping food of any kind in your tent. We would even keep the food we prepared together locked in the cars, out of reach of the bears, we hoped, though we had heard stories of bears breaking into cars. I repeated those instructions several times ahead of the trip, put them in writing, repeated them before we entered the park, and in the campground before we set up tents.
Shortly after we had our tents and equipment set up, sure enough, a bear came ambling through the campground. Everyone scurried out of the way, into the cars or behind them, giving the bear plenty of room. That bear seemed intent on a mission, heading straight toward one tent, which he circled for several minutes, stopped at the front tent flap, and poked his nose through the flap into the tent. He seemed to be pondering whether he should enter it or not, whether he dared to get into trouble with the park ranger or not, whether it would be worth it or not. Finally, he withdrew from the tent and continued on his way toward the deeper woods on the other side of the campground.
I gathered the group together at that point and asked the girls, whose tent it was, what food they had hidden inside their tent. They shyly admitted that they had candy bars stored in their knapsacks.
“Didn’t I tell you that there were bears here, they had a keen sense of smell, and they enjoyed candy best of all?”
“We thought you were just kidding,” one of them answered.