I have many friends who have chosen to serve in camp ministry this summer. Many are at Cedarwood, a place near and dear to my heart, and others are scattered around the many different camps in our surrounding area. Some are experiencing great joy, and some are suffering to say the least. While what I am about to say in this post is applies to all of us in a general way, I am writing for my friends who are serving at camp. There is a very unique dynamic to camp ministry that makes the highs really high, and the lows really low, and so if you are a summer camp worker, I want to encourage you with this.
1. Remember that it's not about you.
Suffering of any sort has a strange way of tricking us. It draws attention to itself, and it tricks us into believing that it is worse for us than anyone else. In short, we feel sorry for ourselves. I want to contrast this with the words of Paul:
We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, but the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God's power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left had for defence."(2 Corinthians 6:3-7 NLT- emphasis mine)If you are working in summer camp ministry, you will suffer at one point or another. Even in what I love to call the happiest place on earth (Cedarwood... not disneyland), there are huge struggles that will come your way. In fact, if there is no struggle at all, chances are you're not being faithful to the call to preach the Truth. You must remember that your service, and your suffering, is for the purpose of God's glory being revealed. (As an aside, it's also important to remember this during the highs. Use these times wisely- use the encouragement to dig deeply into Gods word and abide in prayer. God uses your joy for His own glory as well.)
2. God's purposes don't always make sense, especially at the time.
Even as I write this I shudder at the thought of what would have happened had I finished writing that resignation letter and left Cedarwood back in early 2000. It was really really close you know.
To put some perspective, if you who are reading this now know me in any way, the chances are high that it is because I didn't finish that letter. When you serve for 14 years in one ministry, you get to know a lot of people, never mind the fact that it was my experience at YFC that opened the door to make the step in to pastoral ministry in my home church. I actually can't really bring myself to imagine what life would be like if I had given up and resigned that year, mostly because of the people who would be missing from my life.
When I look back now, the pain I was experiencing at the time seems so incredibly minute compared to the loss I would have experienced had I left- but at the time it was real, and it didn't make sense at all. This is where faith comes in, and by faith I don't just mean trusting in God's plan, but actually asking God to enable you to trust him like the father of a young demon possessed boy in Mark 9:24 when he cried out "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"
If you are in the midst of pain and struggle as you serve, ask God to enable you to trust Him. Things may not get better in the short run, or maybe even the long run; but you may be very surprised 10 years or more down the road to look back and realize that you wouldn't want it to have been any different because you have now seen God's fingerprints on all that happened.
3. God loves you.
As much as God's love is such a central part of the Gospel, sometimes we still need that simple reminder, especially when we consider that our suffering is part of a much greater purpose. I will let God's word speak for itself to conclude.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NLT)