As I mentioned in the last post, my week at camp was incredible. I left tired, but with a cup full of joy, encouragement, and utter amazement at the work of God.
Over the course of the summer, as I was doing a Bible study with some friends, a passage of Scripture from Isaiah 58 that I’d never really noticed before caught my attention. It convicted me and I think it really prepared me for camp. It applies not only to the week at camp but to everyday life….it’s about true fasting and the abundantly joyful heart that God gives us when we abandon our selfish desires and pursue His will for us with a humble, servant heart.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
I read this again the morning the girls arrived. One of the specifications for children to come to this camp is that one or both of their parents are in prison. These girls came from broken homes. They’ve experienced hardships that I’ve never had to face. With some of the girls I could see it in their eyes and faces…the hurt, the pain, the fear, the neglect, the emptiness. In other little ones it was evident in the eagerness with which they clung to us. But in each one of them was the hunger to be loved and cared about: a void that I’ve never known. This was an opportunity like none other to pour ourselves out for the hungry. We could give them our fallible love, but how much more would the love of Jesus satisfy their thirsty souls!
Coming into camp, I felt unequipped. I hesitatingly wondered how God could take my fumbling words and limited resources and work in these girls’ lives through me. It seemed daunting to try and yes, I even wondered in the days leading up to camp what on earth I had gotten myself into. But…praise God that He used me anyway! He poured an abundance of grace and blessing into my life that week.
The first blessing was that I got an awesome junior counselor. She was on fire for God and passionate about His word. We were equally intentional about sharing Jesus with these girls and really played off each other during evening devotions in our wagons. I could not have gotten through the week without her. Her playful, fun-loving sense of humor balanced out my practical tendencies. For example, during the last evening I was trying to get my 4 girls to pack up their week’s worth of stuff in the dark with just 2 flashlights. Things were getting rather tense and a stressful when my junior camper came to the wagon with a huge grin on her face and a tub of nail polish in her hands. “Who wants to paint nails?” she asked and was greeted by resounding exclamations of delight. It was a great incentive for the girls to get packed up quickly and a sweet, girly finale to the night.
When my junior counselor and I got our “tribe,” I truly believe that it each one of those girls were placed in our group for a reason. They were all so unique and so beautiful. But one thing they all had one thing in common (which astonished me): their hearts were soft. I was bracing myself for challenges: girls who wouldn’t listen, talked crudely, and who knows whatever else they might do! But it never happened. My girls came to camp eager to learn. They listened when I asked them to do something. They wanted to talk. They asked questions. They eagerly listened to everything we had to say.
One example in particular was with one of my girls, B. Yes, she was rough on the edges. And yes, one of the first things she told me was about how tough she was and how she liked to eat squirrel brains and bear hearts for fun. But B had a beautiful heart, and a sharp, inquisitive mind. While we were first settling into our wagons and getting to know each other, she misused God’s name and my junior counselor gently asked if she could work with her on it. We talked about the third commandment and the holiness of God’s name. Instead of being defensive or coldly indifferent, B listened and understood. She caught herself several times that day and soon replaced it entirely with a different exclamation.
One of my highlights was reading to the girls. I love to read out loud and I brought a few of my favorite storybooks should the appropriate occasion arise for a good story. It did one lazy afternoon when I was in the wagon with one of my campers, K. I was hesitant to read to her at first. With her being 11 years old, I thought she might think I was treating her like a little kid. How wrong I was! She picked out The Quiltmaker’s Gift. We settled ourselves on the ledge of the wagon, dangled our bare feet over the edge, and I proceeded to read, inserting commentary on the illustrations. K was interested, intrigued, and seemed to love every minute of it. It seemed like one of those “stand still” moments and I was amazed by the enjoyment a simple story could bring both of us.
More of those moments came during devotions. My junior counselor and I worked together during the week to teach the girls about Jesus: His birth, miracles, death, and resurrection. After devotions, we sang hymns and worship songs to them. I truly believe that God gave us the words to say, and imperfect as we are, He took our imperfections and did something beautiful during those nights.
Now the week was not without its difficulties or surprises. They came in the form of certain medical ailments which kept us running back and forth to the nurse’s office. :) There were also lots of critters. We slept outside in covered wagons, which weren’t that uncomfortable. They were pretty ventilated and we had a fan running at night. Before my girls came, I made sure to kill all the wasps and spiders I could find. But that wasn’t enough: I was constantly killing 8 legged intruders – mostly daddy long legs – that week. The second night we came back to our cabin to find a large, black, hairy wolf spider about the size of my hand on the wall. The girls shrieked and I stared in paralyzed amazement. Shoe-in-hand, I instructed them to get back and hesitatingly went to smash it. Giving it further thought, though, and at the urgent request of all the girls, I ended up having someone else shoo it off. During devotions, one of my girls who was particularly afraid of bugs would shine a flashlight along the canvas top of our wagon, pinpoint spiders, and fix large, scared eyes on them. I’d then have to get up and smash them for her and continue reading (to avoid distraction, I finally made a rule that no one could use flashlights unless they needed to get up and use the bathroom). :)
I thought that the wolf spider incident was the last of drama with creeping things. Oh boy, how wrong I was! The next day around noon I was walking with my camper, S, to the wagon to collect her water bottle and Bible. As I stepped inside, I caught a glimpse of the edge of the wagon and there what did I see but a very large black snake coiled up right above my pillow. I gasped and called S to come out. But it was too late. She followed my gaze, screamed, and dashed about 20 paces away in the blink of an eye, exclaiming that she couldn’t sleep in the wagon again. “Oh brother,” I thought to myself. Not only did I have a large snake that I needed to get out of the wagon, but now I had a terrified camper who wouldn’t dare step a foot in the wagon! I got a long stick and prodded the snake. It fell off the wagon and slithered away into the woods, never to be seen again. With much coaxing and reassuring, S managed to overcome her fears and sleep in the wagon. We made sure to keep it our little secret. :) It did, however, take quite a bit of self control on my part to not let my thoughts run away with me that night and imagine a big black snake slithering across my sleeping bag.
The very last night, my junior counselor and I shared the gospel with our girls. Most of them were responsive. But one of them was not. She seemed embarrassed when we asked if they had accepted Jesus into their hearts or wanted to do so then. She pulled the covers over her head and didn’t talk. We didn’t push it, but I came away discouraged. As my junior counselor and I trudged back to the girls dorms to get ready for bed, we discussed what we thought went “wrong.” I felt like I had failed in my mission: that in those crucial moments this precious little girl’s eternity had rested on our shoulders. I then realized that not by human effort is the heart changed, but by the amazing, undeserved, incredible grace of God! That our eyes are opened to our sin and desperate need for a Savior is nothing short of grace. We need to be faithful witness for the Lord, but only He can change hearts. Only by His work can we really and truly believe.
My junior counselor said something so wise: we had planted seeds that night. Nothing is wasted in God’s sight. Who knows what He may bring into this little girl’s life to save her? We prayed and committed it to Him.
The week flew by and before I knew it, the girls were preparing to leave. It was sad to say goodbye, especially imagining the state of the homes they were returning to. I hoped that, however short the time we had together, God would use it. I would love to see these girls again next year, and even if I don’t, I can still pray for them. I can pray that somewhere down the road God will bring back memories not just of camp, not just of the fun we had, but of the saving work of Christ and of how much Jesus loves them.
Well, if you have made it to the end of my writings, I thank you for taking an interest in what I have to say. :) Until next time!