Serving in summer camp ministry is a wonderful thing, and in the context of the camp I served at it meant living in a stable and extremely close community of believers for two and a half months every year for 14 summers. There are great encouragements that come from this, but it also becomes easy if you are not on your guard to becoming so immersed in the bubble that you are shocked by the world around you when again exposed to it.
After 5 weeks of Junior High campers, this particular Senior High week was more shocking than I expected it to be, and by this point I probably had 10 of my 14 years already under my belt so I was no rookie. You see, there is a beautiful innocence that still comes with younger campers during Junior High weeks. Many of them are just entering that teenage phase where they are discovering who they are, but for many they have also not yet been exposed fully to some of the vices that the world has to offer. Senior week however is already a different story, and this particular week was all the more difficult because of the large group that came together who lived the party life to the fullest at the age of approximately 16.
Stories of heavy alcohol consumption and sexual innuendo were there norm that week along with the sad reality coming clear that for many of these campers their parents were too busy with their own lives to really care. They were rich, they had it all, and they really had no felt need for God, or so I assumed anyway. Throughout the week we shared the gospel step by step as we always do, beginning with creation, explaining the reality of sin, introducing the person of Jesus Christ, sharing His death on the cross and His invitation to follow Him, and then on friday talking about what a life with Christ could look like.
It was my turn to speak that Friday and I was convicted. I was so sad for the lives these young people were living that I decided to give a talk where I addressed the issues head on. You drink because you're really looking for .... You party because you're really looking for.... You're sexually active because you really long for.... I said it all, and I drove the point home that they would only ultimately find these things in God. It was all truth and I was encouraged after by fellow staff with comments like "way to drop the hammer," and "wow they really needed to hear that." However, when I look back now, I realize that what they really needed to hear, and all they really needed to hear was "God LOVES You."
I remember back in 2004 two of my 14 year old camp guys took me to Spring Hill in a valiant attempt to teach me how to snowboard. While we were there I ran into a kid I knew from a few years before and with whom I had since lost contact. We had been close when he was around 14, but as he got into some different things that he knew weren't good for him he stopped returning my calls. At one point I talked to his mom who explained that she thought he was ashamed of what he was involved in. Finally, in my inexperience I just plain gave up trying to contact him. Here he stood now, and we talked for a couple of minutes of awkward how are yous before he walked away. I turned to my two boys with me and I made them promise me that day that they would never be ashamed to tell me anything. I promised them in turn that whatever struggle they would face, whatever addiction they might battle, whatever it would be it would not affect my care for them. They of course in their youthful innocence assured me that they would never do any "bad" stuff, but I made them promise me anyway, and they have both kept that promise to this day.
When I gave the talk at camp that one summer, as unintentional as it was, I resorted to shame and I resorted to legalism. By allowing myself to get caught in the bubble, I forgot what I new and resorted to answering my emotions. These campers already knew that their lives weren't headed in the right direction, but by challenging them head on I let them know that I disapproved, and essentially I let them know that they should be ashamed. Once again what they needed to hear was, "God Loves You," but I think they also needed to hear, "and so do I."
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15
I am thankful that God is in control of all things and not myself. I am thankful that by His grace he has allowed me to continue to care for people and to slowly (sometimes painfully) learn from my mistakes and move forward. I am thankful that others can learn from my failures, and I am thankful that through that some of the guys that I've cared for will go on to (and some already have) to do a better job of it than I ever have.
remember, God Loves You.