Many of you know that I love church camp and believe it to be one of the most valuable experiences that a child can have. I have SO many fun and important, life-defining camp memories that have contributed to who I am today - good or bad, it is what it is!
I always tell the kids and families of our church that camp is too important to let a little thing like money get in the way and we have NEVER denied a Grace Kid from going to camp if they and their family were willing. This is due to the gracious gifts of many over the years who have contributed to camp scholarships.
But I am not writing about you sending your kids to camp today, nor am I asking for scholarship assistance (if you feel so led, that's fine). I remembered, the other day, a letter that I received about 4 years ago from one of the men in our church who has been a faithful counselor for several years. I asked Ken if I could share some of his thoughts from that very important letter and he graciously granted permission and blessing (my emphasis added) . . .
Dear Pastor Tonya,
As I packed for preteen camp last Friday, it occurred to me that I might be getting to old for this. I also thought of my aging parents who I try to call each day and how far behind I would be when I returned to work. I hate to admit it, but I even entertained a passing thought regarding the expenditure of a week's vacation. I did recall how much fun middler camp had been in 2004 and 2005. I thought about how much I missed being there with my wife and son last year. Patrick and Dawn had a wonderful time, but I felt a sense of personal loss. Finally, I realized that I had made a commitment. It was too late to back out.
Monday morning the loading process itself was interesting. We had no pin for the trailer hitch and kids were beginning to arrive; but with the help of parents and kids the trailer finally got loaded. I settled back in my seat as we drove to Camp Garner Creek and realized that, yes I was probably too old for this. We arrived at the camp and had a hectic hour of getting settled in. Room and counselor assignments for our cabin required some adjustments and it seemed like mass chaos for about 30 minutes. I was really counting on Kaleb Kilpatrick's help, but he was needed elsewhere. For some reason the other counselors that passed by all looked younger than me, some much younger. I walked out on the porch for a moment and realized that my earlier concerns were real. I was really too old for this, and I had no doubt about it this time.
Then camp actually started. I got to meet a bunch of fine young men. One was mine, several I knew well, several I had seen at church but did not know well, and two were strangers from other churches. They were all unique and wonderful. I count them all as my friends now. Through each chapel service, cabin devotion, activity and trip to the creek I got to know them better; even my own son. They are rapidly growing up on us. Within a ten minute window I could see the boy in them and the young man in them. I could tell that their parents had been involved in their lives and that you had taught them well as their children's pastor. They are all truly fortunate. That's not the case for all young men.
For reasons I will explain in a moment, I want to share my memories of this camp with you. Pastor Dustin's sermons were on target for this age group. The children responded to his sermons, and I believe to the call of the Holy Spirit. I can best summarize it with my son's private comment to me after chapel. He told me that "Pastor Dustin sort of gets you right here", pointing to his heart. He added that he felt like there were some things he needed to do differently. The altar calls were awesome and I believe many made real decisions pertaining to how they plan to live their lives.
The night-time devotions in my cabin were awesome and inspiring. The guys in my room really responded to the calls fro prayer requests. The were very mature and very real! We prayed for family members back home, a wonderful Sunday School teacher, a Sunday School teacher's wife, parents, grandparents, family situations, relationships and those who are ill. We prayed for the guys, specifically wisdom in decision making. I won't mention specifics, but again they were spontaneous and real. All I had to do was ask "any prayer requests?" and an outpouring followed. Most of them boldly prayed out loud for their requests and for requests made by others. The guys didn't always listen well this week, but there was one exception - devotion time. They listened intently and participated vigorously. I am not really sure ten adults would have had a better devotion time. I had an opportunity to share my testimony with the guys in my room and we talked about how we become Christians. We talked about the parents we all respected and loved, and many voiced their feelings. Again, all of this to a fine group of parents and pastors. Please notice that I used the plural form for pastor. The two young men from other churches participated as thought they had been with the Grace guys forever.
On a lighter note, I saw guys climb the zip-line tower, look sixty feet below, say a quick prayer, and step off in faith. The thing is that when they hit the ground below, they were about 6 inches taller, a year older and brave enough to slay dragons! It might not have fit in with Pastor Dustin's message that day, but it made for a wonderful devotion on faith! Someone really ought to put signs on the top of the platform reading "faith" and "courage"! It might even be a good place for a Bible verse. I also witnessed guys working together and participating as a team. I'll admit that this was often done grudgingly, but they did it anyway. They also argued and taunted each other at times, but I also saw them take up for and motivate each other. I saw friendships develop and, in some cases, mend.
As a counselor, I got to play in the creek with the guys I measured craw fish (crawdads) for them and got to argue with them over the appropriate names for these little creatures. I urged them to jump off of rocks into the creek and I had to slow some of them down. We tried to squeeze in creek time whenever possible, even if it was for only 15 minutes. On a last night night-time hike to the creek, some of the guys were amazed at how different the creek was at night. I got to swim with them in the pool and I got to try to buck them off my back in the pool. They came from every corner of the pool to jump on my back. I paid for this with sore muscles that night, but I loved every minute of it. I had to push them into bed and drag them out of bed. In short, I had an opportunity to experience boys being boys. In today's world far too few boys get to experience these things. I'm thankful that this group had an opportunity to go to camp and be a boy for one more time. I will admit that even the counselors get to "be a boy" one more time. By the way, I admit this with no feelings of shame! When you are standing waist deep in a creek with thirty kids jumping and screaming around you, there are moments when you feel as if you are eleven years old. It's a refreshing feeling.
Then there are the surprise camper moments, like running into a couple of boys who were in your cabin at Middler Camp two years ago. It was great when their eyes met yours and you instantly knew they remember you. It was an even great surprise when they spoke, remembering your name and sharing something they remembered. It's an awesome feeling to see old friends, even when they aren't old. Then you have the impromptu opportunities with this year's kids, like being able to pray with a child that you find crying on the bunk or the creek bank discussion with an older kid who says he's bummed out this week because he lost a girlfriend the previous week. Perhaps the problem was a lost Bible or craft item. At first glance some of their problems seem minor, but then you realize that to them they are a major life crisis. It was apparent that some boys even had greater problems. Some missed their parents due to military deployments, divorce or other reasons. These weren't necessarily from our group; you often have a chance to meet kids from other rooms or even other cabins.
Finally, there were staff moments. It was fun to see those I had worked with previously. I had the opportunity to make a new friend, the other counselor in my cabin. We were very different in many ways, but we had many more things in common. Toward the end of the week we had an opportunity to talk on the cabin, it was a great time for me. The next morning we had an early-morning opportunity, again on the porch, to pray together for the kids in our rooms, our families and each other. I will continue to pray for him in the coming months as he experiences the birth of a little girl and then a deployment to Afghanistan. My friend had experienced some frustration with his room. We joked that our best action might have been to line our whole cabin up and apply a two foot paddle at times. I firmly believe he planted some seeds though, seeds that will later sprout. My friend is a godly, courageous, and honorable man and I pray for his safe return from Afghanistan and to this camp.
I realize this has been a lengthy letter. Now I'll explain why to the best of my abilities. I'm not entirely sure! Perhaps you may be able to use it if a future person is sitting on the fence, unsure as to whether or not to be a counselor. If so, I hope you can use this to show them that the rewards are greater than the commitments. It's hard work, it's tiring, and at times it's frustrating; but it's worth every minute of it. I've spoken of the men and boys, but I'm sure the female counselors would echo my sentiments, perhaps with a few altered details. I may have written this for you to use on me if you ever need help and I tell you I'm too old. I caution you never to joke with me about going to camp if you don't need me; I'll probably accept the joking offer and then you'll be in a sticky situation! Seriously, I pray that others will get this opportunity and take advantage of it. Counseling is a wonderful experience for a father, an older teen, or any man. You don't have to have boys, or even children to do it. Don't let me go in anyone's place, but sign me up anytime you need one or more.
This camp was great for my son. This camp was great for me. Thanks for the hard work you put into organizing the camp and thanks to all the other workers. I would offer these thanks had I not even gone. I had a son who needed to be there!
This is a beautiful look into the heart of camp. Ken can't go this year. There have been a lot of changes at his work in the past few months, and his mother is very sick. He knows that the days ahead will require time and attention for her and his father.
Will you take up the mantle? Can you picture yourself there? It might change a kids' life and it will definitely change yours!
Primary (finished 1st and 2nd grade) July 11-14
Middler (finished 3rd and 4th grade) June 27-July 1
Preteen (finished 5th and 6th grade) June 20-24