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Camp stories, part 3 June 23, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church.
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We’re level at 30,000 feet. I just ordered a Coke and got to keep the can. The seatbelt sign has been turned off, and chubby baby is being carried up and down the aisle. I’m a little relieved. The staring was kinda disconcerting. The flight attendants are loving on the baby, picking her up and helping her mom keep the tears away. And so, again, I think about my camp kids.

I had a cabin of six boys all week. I knew half of them well and others were brand new to me. One in particular was a second-time camper, and I remembered his victory last year. He was terribly homesick, and we made a call to his house. Mom answered, but I think she realized she would be want to sweep in and rescue her dear child, so she quickly handed the phone to Dad. He said something to the effect of, “Stick it out, you’ll be fine.” And he was. A year later, here he was in my cabin, talking World Cup soccer with me. I smiled.

We went on a Night Hike Monday night, and I quite enjoyed being way out in the woods, shining my flashlight off the path into the dense undergrowth or up into tall, daunting trees to see what might be watching us. I always forget how many stars you can see at camp, far away from the city lights. I read Genesis, chapter one, and marveled.

Lights out was remarkably easy, all week in fact, and I crept out of the bunk to our leaders’ meeting. We do this every night after lights out. We share important information about the next day, pre-planning what orders we’ll need to utter over and over again. We swap stories about the day that has passed, about certain kids or milestones. It’s usually very late, so we sometimes get a little punchy, and there is much laughter. Oh, and someone always cries. Monday night the tears were shed for the kids we’d just met, and for their stories. A few kids were struggling to fit in among their peers. An unkind word spoken in passing can be monumentally devastating to an 11-year-old. Some kids had started to open up about their broken lives at home. One little girl actually had to count on her fingers the number of step mothers she’d had. Our burden was heavy on that Monday night.

Tuesday morning we sent the kids off for what we call a Quiet Time. They had a very detailed guide of verses to look up and instructions about how to spend time alone with God, and even how to pray. We knew some of the kids already had devotions every day, but we also knew that others didn’t know Luke from Leviticus. The kids disbursed, all around camp, and we kept a watchful eye to see if any seemed totally lost. I sat with one boy who must have equated Quiet Time with Time Out. He had just been sitting there, staring. I showed him the guide in his book. I prompted him to look up the first verse. I think it was in Ephesians. So, he started flipping the pages in his Bible, from the beginning – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers – hoping he would soon reach Ephesians. He would have, of course, but probably after lunchtime. I showed him the Table of Contents, and we found Ephesians together, and he read the verse. Now, I’d like to say how gratifying it was to unlock this eternal source of life for a child, but honestly, I’m not so sure. I know this kid. He’s a handful. He doesn’t listen, he’s usually doing the wrong thing, and he has most certainly been taught how to look up a verse before. It did not surprise me that he was sitting there staring, not doing what he was supposed to be doing, and I felt a bit of bitterness even as we read the Bible together.

I thought a lot about that kid, and the few others we had like him, all through the week. You pour so much into them and seem to see no progress. You give them the living, breathing Word of God, and they choose to ignore it. And finally, you lose it and yell at them when they’ve wandered off again, ignoring instructions repeated five times over. That night, I prayed really hard for three of them in particular. I voiced their names to the God Who created them and, as far as it was up to me, I gave them to Him. I said something like this:

“God, You know these boys. You made them, and You have a plan for them. But I know the grief they must have caused their mothers and fathers, and I know the grief they’ve caused me, even in this short time here at camp. I’m sure we’ve all messed up in how we’ve handled them, but there must also be some other reasons they behave so badly. God, You are omnipotent, and you can transform these boys, overnight even. I have faith in that. If they are Your children, fill their hearts with Your love and change their lives.”

The next day, the page-flipping boy smiled at me and said, “How are you this morning?” Felt kinda like Eddie Haskell, but I was a little less cynical and a little more hopeful.

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