At about the time I post this, I will be on my way to another year of Children’s Camp. If you had told me 15 years ago that a week with goofy, sweaty, emotional, ego-driven, teary, disruptive, funny, angry and sweet kids would be an annual highlight for me, I would have never believed you. As a young pastor, still in my twenties, I found myself very comfortable with adults, but with little time for little ones. One year I was camp pastor for a youth camp, during which I felt a severe disconnect with the kids while I loved spending time with the other leaders. I became one of those pastors who showed up to pray every time we sent a group of kids off to camp, never imagining that I might some day be going with them.
That all changed when a pastor friend asked me to sub for him one year. "They will need you to run the song slides from your computer and take pictures of the kids during each day," he said. "Then show the pics up on the screen as kids are entering the auditorium for worship time. They’ll love it!"
Out of guilt, I said, "Yes." In my thoughts, I would check off this obligation and no longer need to go to camp. At least, not for many more years.
By the end of that first week, I found myself volunteering to come back the next year "If you need me." I was still connecting more with the adults than with the children, but loved the upbeat atmosphere and the craziness of the kids. The next year I found some way to serve. Somehow, I was "hooked" by then. Within a couple years, I was asked to be camp pastor. I’m not sure how many years I have been in that role, but it is long enough to see young adults in our church who were once kids I got to know at camp.
I tried to describe the experience to a few friends recently. Camp is zany. Kids in elementary school are usually more concerned with conquering the opposite sex than with attracting them. Every year it’s the girls against the boys in all kinds of contests to determine who will "win" by week’s end. Every year the girls out-scream the boys and every year the boys out-gross the girls. In the midst of all this, miracles happen. Some kids arrive at camp from backgrounds so broken that their counselors hear their stories and break into sobs. Other kids are more mature in their faith than some of the counselors. Mix them all together and God starts tenderizing all of our hearts. By the end of the week, the staff is exhausted and ready for home; many of the campers want to just stay.
I have lots of "favorite" camp stories. Most of them involve the kids themselves, but one stands out. One of the men from Stone Ridge, Tim, signed on as a counselor a couple years ago. Tim is a retired Marine…"Semper Fi!"…who had no idea what he was getting into with a group of ornery boys. One night we invited kids to follow Jesus if they wanted to. After they stood up and gathered around me at the front of the auditorium, we sent them outside to talk with their own cabin counselors about what they felt God was saying to them. After they were done, they went back in and joined the others in the auditorium. I don’t know what Tim heard from one or two of his boys, but it was enough to wreck him. I looked over and saw him sitting on a bench, his shoulders wracked with sobs. Kathie, our Children’s Minister, was praying with him.
I have a feeling that Tim will never be quite the same after that year at camp. I come home every year realizing that I won’t be, either.
Here at home, I have been experiencing our Life Repurposed series at Stone Ridge with a quiet amazement. We are so honored that God is touching people among us. He is repurposing all our lives and it is reflected each week with our speakers. I hope you can join us this weekend. Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!