Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Am Not Alone: A Reflection from Camp

Did you have a good week at camp??

So many people asked me this question at church this morning. I found it difficult to answer.

I spent the past week serving at Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp for kids in the foster care system. This was my second year with this organization, and the week at camp again stirred up all kinds of emotions. 38 campers were there, being served by 74 adults and young adults. The kids have all been part of foster care for reasons that are far outside of their control; they have been wounded by parents and others. The world has been hard for them, but many are incredibly resilient. That said, every one of the campers we served was hurting in some way, and many acted out.

Was it a good week?

I decided that I can honestly answer that I believe we were faithful to our calling in serving at camp. We intend to love the campers lavishly, to show them the unconditional love Jesus has for them. The name of the camp--Royal Family Kids--is significant; we strive to roll out the red carpet (literally!) for them from the moment they arrive, to function as a family, and to remember that while they are hurting kids, they are first of all just kids.

Were there hard times? Definitely. When an overstimulated camper melts down and takes off running, that's hard on the guides working with her. When a camper who has been told many times that he is worthless refuses to even try at an activity, that's hard on the staff members running the activity. When a camper who has been shown so much negativity in his young life heckles the drama team in chapel, that's hard on the actors putting on a skit.

But were there good times too? Absolutely. A camper who could not swim when he arrived at camp on Monday was jumping off the diving board without a life jacket (into the caring arms of his guide waiting in the pool below) by Tuesday afternoon. A timid camper who would barely speak volunteered to sing a duet with her guide at the talent show to rousing applause. A camper who loves all things creepy-crawly made a strong connection with our Nature Guide and made sure to save a place at the table beside him for every meal the rest of the week. Campers craving the time and attention of caring, loving adults had this need met--excessively!--for a whole week. It's no wonder that when the limousines came rolling up to camp to pick the campers up at the end of the week and drive them back to regularly life that many campers had tears in their eyes...and most of the staff did too.

How can I best capture the feeling of camp for those who weren't there? It's a challenge, but here's the best I can do:

Each summer at camp, we teach the campers songs in chapel, and at the end of the week, they each receive an MP3 player pre-loaded with the songs and scriptures from that summer's theme. In chapel, we teach them actions that go along with the songs, and we all sing them together. (By the time the campers are getting on the limos for the ride back home, many of them have their earbuds in and are already listening and re-listening to the songs they learned.)

This summer, one of the songs was "I Am Not Alone" by Kari Jobe. The lyrics of the chorus are powerful, when considered from the perspective of our campers:

I am not alone 
I am not alone 
You will go before me 
You will never leave me

If you are not familiar with the song, here is the lyric video. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch it...

Now, picture this scene:

It's our daily chapel time. The kids have sung songs; energetic songs that get them pumped up and excited, as well as more reflective songs that remind them of who they are as kids in the Royal Family of God. They have had the opportunity to hear scripture read in a meaningful and engaging way. They have participated in a Bible lesson on how much Jesus loved the apostle Peter, restoring him even after Peter had denied even knowing Jesus. They have been watching a drama unfold throughout the week about a kid who is in a challenging situation, being tempted to give up and take the easy way, but is being encouraged by people who love her that Jesus is with her. And now, it's time to close chapel for today. The music leader cues up "I Am Not Alone," and the campers, guides, and staff do the actions as they sing. At the end of the song, everyone in the room joins hands with those next to them, repeating the chorus: "I am not alone, I am not alone. You will go before me; You will never leave me."

38 hurting kids, surrounded by a community of faithful, caring adults willing to give up their time for a week. Volunteers from all walks of life: a grandmother, a machinist, a police officer, a professor, a pastor, a high school volleyball star, a corporate headhunter, teachers, administrative professionals, social workers, college students, nurses, farmers, homemakers, professional photographers, and IT professionals. All coming together to love kids who hurt. All joining hands and singing over them, praying over them, reminding them: You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.

Was it a good week at camp? Yes. It was a good week at camp. A hard, wonderful, heart-wrenching, lovely, tearful, elating, exhausting, good week at camp.

Thanks for asking.

Chapel at Royal Family Kids Camp...
Image by Royal Family Kids of NW Iowa [All rights reserved]

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