Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Camp Communities Change Lives

Summer 2009. Seems like an eternity ago since that summer and yet it was the summer that would make a huge difference in my life. That summer was the first time I experienced church camp.

I just finished my Sophomore year in High School and my mom and a good friend of ours from church were wanting me and two youth from church to go to a church camp called Camp Caroline. I resisted going, but the decision was made for me.

It was such a long drive. While the two other youth rode with the Hillyer van, another disciples church in downtown Raleigh, I rode with my parents. That comforted me, but the entire time I kept wondering how I was going to make it an entire week alone. I assumed I would be alone because I assumed that no one would hang out with me or be my friend. It was the nature at school so I assumed the same for all social situations I encountered.

We eventually arrived and got registered. My parents left and the adults led us in some weird dance activity. I hide in the background, hoping no one would notice I wasn’t dancing. Then the directors of the camp spoke to us and said we would be split into small groups. They announced who was in which small group, but I didn’t hear my name, so I just joined the last group to be formed, who thankfully I knew the leader (she was my minister’s wife). I stuck with their group for about 20 minutes, until someone came by and asked, “Is there a Kevin over here?”

My first thought was, “Did I do something wrong?” The director explained that they had been looking for me because I was in the wrong small group. So, I guess I did do something wrong, or that was my assumption anyway. I felt so embarrassed, but no one was upset. He walked with me through the dark camp ground to my right small group, who were really happy that I wasn’t lost and got there to meet everyone. It was the first of many moments that week that made me feel loved.

The week continued and throughout each day, I discovered the nature of what camp is all about. Camp is about community. Through the camp community, we created a sanctuary from the stresses and pain of the outside world. Through the camp community, we reminded ourselves of the power of God through the love we provided for our neighbors and ourselves. Through the camp community, we welcome new people to experience how camp communities change lives.

I used to believe that the camp grounds were magical and that whenever people came to camp, community was already established.

However, while my experience can lead to this assumption, the reality is that camp is not magical simply because of the location or program or God being present there (those these certainly do help!)

The real magic of community comes from the actions that we teach and lead while at camp.

When you see a person sitting alone or not feeling included, speak to them, invite them, listen to the stories that they bring into the community!

We all want to feel welcomed, to have a sense of belonging, and to know we are loved for being who God made us to be. When we welcome all people into the community, then we implicitly say to the person you are welcomed, you belong, and you are loved for being You!

To anyone who needs these reminders in life and needs a community that gives them a place to belong, camp can lead to a major change in a person’s life!

However, when this welcoming atmosphere is not present, camp can lead to not so good changes in our lives.

I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of people, either as adults or children, who attend camp and were ignored, discriminated against, or rejected by the community for one reason or another. These reasons can include, but are not limited to: one’s identity, one’s actions in which the community deemed were “sinful”, or simply for being different.

If this has been your experience, I am truly sorry. This is not what camp communities should be about.

Camp communities should invite differences of all people. Camp communities should not be concerned with “sinful actions” but recognize that people’s actions do not define the whole person. Camp communities should be a place where people experience the love of God through the love of others.

It is my hope, for all people who will be at camp this summer, that you create a loving space that will help change people’s lives in meaningful ways!

I have been blessed that my experience my first summer was a life changing experience. And after my first camp in 2009, I continued to have life changing experience at various weekend retreats and summer camps for the next few years. Even after I graduated High School, I volunteered as a counselor and worked as a camp staffer for several summers. Last summer, I was even honored to serve as a Camp Staff Director at Christmount. It now seems strange that this will be my first summer in eight years that I will not be participating in any camp program. Instead I will be participating in a different kind of ministry through the Hospital system. I am truly going to miss the camping season this summer.

For all the campers who are planning to attend camp this summer, I wish you many wonderful memories and lifelong friends that you will create and experience!

For all the counselors and camp staffers, I wish you a chance to share your gifts and joy with all the campers you come to enjoy your week (or weeks) with!

For all the Directors and Keynoters, I wish you peace in the midst of camp chaos and the chance to share your guidance with all the campers and counselors/camp staffers you get to lead!

For all camp communities, I invite you the chance to create a life changing experience, for ALL people, so that they realize they belong now into your community for life.

May your camp experience change your life and may your Ruah always be with you,