I walked down to the meadow in the near dark on Friday night with just the outlines of the trees black against a darkening sky. The pale glow of lamps along the path lighting my way before I came out of the thick trees and into the open meadow.
I saw firelight outlining the campers and counselors who were huddled around the circle of the fire pit. Some lounging on the ground in the grass, some smooshed together on the benches, some standing quietly behind. The dog, sprawled in the grass, watching. Children jumped up and took a stick. Some were thankful for their counselors, a fun board game they played at the lake, or the new friends that they made.
For some children, just standing up in front of 60 people and saying “I’m thankful for Jesus!” is such a huge thing. No, it is not a particularly articulate expression of faith or the kind of apologetics one would expect from the mouth of C.S. Lewis, but this is huge for a child.
That first moment of standing before peers and trying to express how God has reached out and touched your life. Enormous.
How did you come to God? Bible stories read to you at night by a loved one. An understanding adult who always listened. Maybe that good friend who never laughed at your problems. Or that camp counselor who loved you even when you interrupted prayer with loud toots…for the 27th time.
It’s the little things that matter in the long run and for junior campers, they celebrate those little things with unabashed joy.
Yes, we hear about the tooting at campfire as well. As I said, unabashed joy. And I rejoice at these gentle beginnings of faith. At the camper who got to step away from the boredom of summer at home with parents at work. At the camper who was introduced to the beauties of the forest, the one who hiked for the first time in God’s glorious creation. At the camper who got to feel safe as he stepped away from pain and stress for a week. At the camper who finally found out where the book of I Timothy was and that Jesus is God. At the camper who asked crazy questions all week long, just because they wanted to know. Do not discount the gentle beginnings of faith. I watched children stretch and grow and be loved all week in such amazing ways.
I saw a little girl sitting next to Scruffy on the porch, pouring out her heart, sharing her hurts and her pain. Hearing from him that she was important and precious and loved.
I heard a little boy say “I get campsick when I go home,” as he waited for his parents to come and pick him up.
Then there was the camp counselor who had to pull a boy aside and have a chat about his behavior. But their talk ended with the child saying, “This has been the best week of my life.”
And who could forget skit night and that camp counselor who had to whisper every single line of their skit into the ear of every single camper in his cabin. He was zooming around the stage at the amphitheater, wildly whispering as the audience laughed. Priceless! Don’t let the fact that no one remembers their lines keep you from performing a skit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
As I watch my own children take those small and vital steps toward God, I can’t help but be thrilled. Yes, Scruffy and I teach them about the Lord at home. Yes, we read to them from the Bible, take them to church, and show them how to pray. But there is something special about camp and when they are there, I see their hearts and minds seeking and open to the things of God. Techie, our speaker, did such a fabulous job of teaching the children about God.
When I see one of them carrying his Bible to chapel for the first time or fighting to memorize another scripture for cabin points or raising his hand to ask his counselor a tricky question about the Bible, I rejoice.
What an honor to be a part of these little ones’ journey to God. To watch each of these campers taking one more step closer to Him. Not every moment holds a first time decision to follow God. Yet every act of love, every song and scripture, every skit and late night prank, every hug and honest look into the Bible is a part of their journey. It is such an honor to serve God here at camp, the honor of a lifetime.