Middle School Camp 2–Journey to the Strong Tower

During Middle School Camp 2 our camp speaker, Faramir, talked about journeys.

Before camp even began, I had the delight of hearing about two incredibly entertaining campers as they made the journey to camp itself. As their folks drove them up the camp road, they were chanting in the car. When they spotted any staff member that they knew from last year, they would chant their name. “Epona! Epona! Epona! Epona!”

“There’s Hiccup!”

“Hiccup! Hiccup! Hiccup! Hiccup!”

They weren’t excited for camp or anything, ha!

And thus, the shared journey that we call Middle School Camp 2 started with a bit of chanting and a whole lot of energy.

Faramir shared during chapel about his own journey to God and how campers can choose to abide in Christ themselves and find their strength in God as their strong tower. But unbeknownst to him, one of Scruffy’s long-ago journeys came full circle in an amazing way this week.

As many of you know, Scruffy didn’t find Christ until he was twenty-one years old and in the beginning stages of alcoholism. A friend from his hometown had been his roommate several times and was shocked to discover that when Scruff decided to follow Jesus, he also decided to stop partying. That friend teased him a good deal about this decision, but Scruffy didn’t let it ruffle him. They remained friends but over time, life happened and they lost track of each other.

This week, that old friend brought his daughter up to Camas to be a camper. He laughed at how much he’d teased Scruff and took a quiet moment to say that even way back then, he’d respected him for making those tough choices.

One person’s journey with God absolutely can encourage another person to seek Him, even years and years later.

There are so many ways that the Lord uses our travels through this world. Many that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but that bring blessings all the same. Two of our girl counselors saw an unexpected twist in a journey that began last year during the 2021 summer camp season.

They had previously counseled a cabin together that had stretched their skills to the limit.

There were many things that made this cabin a challenge including some very tough questions that the campers had about God. So many hard questions! One of their campers had also struggled with being kind to others. Both to the other campers and to the staff. It takes a great deal of patience and sacrifice to live out love for someone who is struggling to be kind.

That camper came back this year! Her counselors were struck by God’s powerful work in this young woman’s life in the year that they were apart. She was having loads of fun, energetic, a joy to be with, and kind. She zoomed through the camp activities making new friends and delighting in each new experience.

Oh how great are the commands of God upon our lives. He demands love just like His towards others and that can be hard. But look at the incredible blessings that can come. A struggling child might just need a week full of loving examples to find the strength and ability to walk into her own future with kindness and grace. May we give each precious one we see the honor of being treated in the same way that God has treated us.

Faramir also talked about how God is our Strong Tower. He gave the example of when a doctor puts a cast on your broken arm. The cast does not remove the pain of your injury. Yet, without the cast, healing is uncertain. The cast stabilizes your injury so that the break can mend, grow strong again, and be useful to you once more. God is like that. Our strong tower in times of trouble.

Another example Faramir spoke on was of trying to hold a pile of sand in your hands. On your own, it just keeps slipping through your fingers.

But put that overwhelming pile of sand into a bowl and suddenly you are strong enough to hold and carry it. The strong bowl holds the sand firm and now you can carry the entire load. God is our strong tower. It is in His strength that we find our own.

One of the camp counselors, Samurai, said that his favorite moment of camp was celebrating the birthday of one of his campers. Now, cake is always fun, but it was the campers reactions to his attempted surprise that really was the frosting on that cake.

He had to run all over the camp to gather each one of his campers for their surprise cabin birthday party. But once he got them all into the small meeting area in Bobcat, he realized that they would see the cake when he brought it in.

A “brilliant idea” came. He would make the campers wait in the bathrooms while he got the cake. He urged all of the campers and his CIT, Chat Noir, into the bathrooms. It was pretty cramped, but he told them to wait.

One of the campers shouted out through the closed door, “This is a hostage situation!”

Chat Noir corrected this alarming and untrue statement, “Don’t say that.”

Therefore, the camper again shouted through the bathroom door, “We are NOT allowed to say that this is a hostage situation!”

Following this, they accidentally put the wrong number of candles on the cake, ended up with trick candles that wouldn’t go out, and an entire cabin of boys enthusiastically blew on those irrepressible candles about twenty times before they were extinguished. What you have there is quite the camp memory … although, not the most germ-free frosting situation.

It is not an accident that incredible moments of spiritual growth often happen at camp. It is the very things that appear to be completely unrelated to the gospel and studying God’s word that actually help build the groundwork for many mighty God moments.

Leaping into the pond with your cabinmates looks like simple play at first glance. What it actually is, a powerful shared experience that creates a bond with new friends and builds trust between campers and the camp staff.

It is the same when they play night games, gaga ball, disc golf and zoom down the slip-n-slide.

Christ didn’t simply pull the golden rule out of a hat for laughs. Loving others with the same care and passion that you attend to your own interests is an incredibly powerful force. It heals hearts. It changes lives. Christ loved us through death itself and it changed everything. Even our small attempts to follow in His footsteps have the power to shake the world and bring life into dark places.

How do kids need love right now?

There are so many ways. Too many to name, but after listening to children share all summer, some of the ways are burned deeply into my memory.

Children need friendship. Sitting around the campfire (LED due to fire danger) out in the meadow, I heard child after child share about their hurt. Voices cracking with emotion, tears filling their eyes, fearful to say anything but compelled by something deep inside to be honest, they stood and shared.

“I don’t have any friends at home.”

“The kids at school make fun of me.”

“I didn’t think this was going to be a good week because I didn’t know anyone in my cabin.”

“None of my friends believe in God and I feel so alone.”

Do you remember the incredible joy of having just one good friend in junior high? Someone to talk with, to share funny moments and a laugh, to weep on, to hug, to listen to. There are children who have no one.

These children come to camp holding a fragile hope. Maybe here, in this place that says it belongs to God, they can make a friend.

Children need family. So many campers mourn their family losses at campfire. The parent who died when they were young, left them, divorced, or was never around in the first place. At the same time, so many campers speak about camp in terms of family.

“Camp is my home.”

“I feel loved here.”

Or quite literally, “Camp is my family.”

One camper who didn’t have a mother figure said, “Orchid is like my mom, this week and the week before.” Why did she come for two weeks of camp? She felt loved here and children need family.

There was even a camper who said, “Camp is like my emotional support animal.” Now, any of you who have gotten snuggles from Princess Leia Freyja the camp dog will know that this is a high compliment, indeed!

Children also need the outdoors. Screens and indoor things take up so much of our lives. Children need to be outside, seeing God’s creation and running around doing real life activities. Children need to get the chance to really live.

Do not discount the testimony of a child at campfire who talks about how much they loved playing capture the flag, hiking out to Inspiration Point to look at the stars, or dousing their counselor in the dunk tank. Children need a safe place where they can be kids. It is such an honor to sit around the campfire and realize that they had a wonderful time doing camp activities.

One staff member compared the camp program activities to salad.

Partake calls salad, “A dressing delivery system.” Program activities are like that. They are about relationship, loving God by loving one another. Program activities facilitate growth in our relationships and breaks down our walls and enables us to love better and to love well.

Our camp nurse this week was a bit baffled by all of the wild activities. After campfire she spoke with tears in her eyes, “Now I know why you do all these crazy things.”

You see, so many children shared this week that Scruffy tried to wrap up campfire three different times. “OK, everyone. It’s time to head back to the lodge …” but one more child would stand up to say that they had felt safe, loved, noticed. That they had made friends. That they had learned something new and amazing about God. That they had loved the camp food, “Dude! It just melts in your mouth. It was really good gravy!”

That they had simply had fun.

And yes, a bunch of children raised their hands during chapel wanting to follow Jesus. It is the fun of camp which makes this incredible ministry possible because children need love and they feel loved here at camp.

There was a fun moment at the beginning of campfire that I want to share. Some of the girl campers had flung their arms around each other’s shoulders as they stood around the campfire singing. They stood together and swayed to the music. Epona arrived late and noticed that there was a camper who wasn’t in the circle. She went up and put her arm around this camper’s shoulder and they stood and sang together.

Once the song was over, the camper said: “We’re outside the circle. That was really awkward.”

“Let’s join the big circle,” Epona said. She and the camper squeezed their way into the circle and flung their arms around the other girls. Epona helped this camper to march right up there and take her place with the other girls. She helped her to be brave.

But something funny was also going on during the singing. Edelgard had her arms around the campers and was swaying as they sang. Across from her, a particularly pesky camper caught her eye. She gave Edelgard a mischievous grin and started swaying in the opposite direction. Everyone struggled for a time and then got straightened out … only to have this camper get them going in the wrong way all over again.

One camper stood up at campfire and said, “I like that Faramir told his story. Most pastors act like their lives are perfect, but I realized that he had troubles, too.”

Another camper shared, “I’ve been afraid. I felt this fear following me but I feel like I can let it go. You guys can too, because God is God. We don’t need to be ruled by fear.”

When talking about that beautiful, somewhat never ending campfire, Scruffy said: “Campfire was so powerful, the way kids shared about meaningful stuff was really really cool. It just emphasized how important what we’re doing here is. We’re spending time in the lives of kids. Every time we spend a week getting worn out and exhausted, your labor is not in vain. It is desperately needed. The fields are ripe for the harvest … but the workers are few. When we do ministry the way we do, it hurts. Eph. 2:10, we’re living it out. We saw that in kids lives. Here felt like home. Here felt like they were accepted and loved when they didn’t feel like that at home.”

Yes, kids need camp because they need love. We are here to be that love to them, to show them Jesus, who is love come down just for them.

Ephesians 2:9 and10–“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

John 13:34-35–“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another”

Boo Boo

*To protect the anonymity of campers, I do not tell a camper’s story beneath their photograph.

Junior B Camp–Relentless and Reckless

This week of camp held many unexpected twists and turns as well as surprising moments of beauty. Much like this rare flower blooming right beside the dusty path down to the meadow. It is a protected flower, a biologist comes to count them every few years. Yet this one is thriving, out in the open, right beside the path that we walk every day. While this type of flower may be in danger, this particular blossom is relentless as it grows and blooms in such a rowdy location. It is ironic that one of my favorite photos from this week would so aptly illustrate our theme.

All three of our interns were required to work as camp counselors this week, leaving Scruffy and Bomber working to run the program and lead the support staff team along with their normal jobs. The interns both managed their cabins and helped those who had stepped in to take over their areas of expertise. Our camp nurse Trauma Trooper was suffering from back pain, therefore Mama Smurf assisted her as she cared for our campers and their various bumps and bruises. Phew! So many things ended up differently than our best laid plans.

Also, our camp speaker was unable to attend due to illness. Therefore, Scruffy needed to speak! During staff meeting on Monday, he gathered three different hats/wigs from the skit box. Scruff wore a different one as he led each of the different parts of the meeting as director, the program director, then speaker. Scruff brushed off a week’s worth of sessions that he taught for a rental group back in 2018 and we gathered as a staff to pray for extra strength and do what we were called to do, summer camp!

And into a wild and wonderful week of camp we went! While registration was going on, we played some games together to help the campers get to know each other and the staff team. First up, Chair Ball.

For chapel, Scruffy started with a crazy car story from his college days. In fact, one boys’ cabin actually acted that story out in their skit. It’s the one where they have towels on their heads and get a door slammed in their faces when they ask for help. You should ask Scruff to tell you the story of The Dust Storm And The 77 VW Dasher.

During the first Morning Jam worship session, I was sitting in the lodge sorting through pictures and posting the best ones for parents to enjoy. I noticed that in the group of boys behind me, there was one who REALLY wanted to do the motions to the fast songs, but his buddies weren’t quite ready yet.

After watching him try again and strike out, I left my computer and joined their cabin. That delightful camper was not daunted by the idea of doing song motions with a 44-year-old mom. He was just thrilled to be doing fast songs and motions and to be part of all the fun. I pulled aside one of his counselors and told him how excited his camper was about the motions. His counselor assured me that he would sit beside him during chapel and do the motions with him.

Later in the week, I saw that his cabin mates had come around. They were enthusiastically doing motions and singing at the tops of their lungs.

On Friday, at the campfire, this same camper stood up to share. He talked about the stars in the sky and everyone there looked up to the heavens to look at the stars, too. Then he said, “Worship made me feel like I was part of things and not left out.”

You never know what God will use in someone’s life. Crazy camp songs, or even a shaggy dog who gives slobbery kisses to one and all.

Another story from Junior B Camp, we had a homesick camper who was trying to decide whether to continue his week of camp or to go home early.

His counselor was attentive to his concerns and needs, giving him special care and trying to encourage him as he struggled with missing his home and family.

The camper mulled over his choices, feeling homesick, but also enjoying camp. Finally, he made his choice. He was going to stick out the week!

After that, he would check in with Scruffy regularly throughout the day.

“Look,” he’d say, “I’m still here!”

This camper slowly made a switch from needing a good deal of encouragement to taking the time and energy out of his busy camp days to encourage others.

On one day, when Scruff was wrestling with the message that he would give that night, this camper walked up to him, gave an encouraging word, and said: “Can I give you a hug?” It nearly brought Scruff to tears to see this little one actively using his gifts to help others.

And what message was Scruffy wrestling with, trying to figure out exactly how to share? This week, Scruffy spoke about God’s pursuit of us.

Like a shepherd traveling into the dangerous wilderness in pursuit of his one lost sheep.

Like a woman cleaning her entire house to find that one valuable coin.

Like a father rushing down the road to pull his broken, starving son into his arms.

Like Westley … or The Man in Black, pursuing Princess Buttercup when she is trapped by an evil prince who is able to force her into a loveless marriage since the law of the land caters to his every whim.

After reading scripture about God’s pursuit of us, Scruffy ended the chapel session by playing a song. He expected the campers to sit in quiet contemplation, thinking about how much God loved them.

The song was Reckless Love sung by Cory Asbury.

But contemplative silence was not what happened.

One of our most precocious girl campers heard the music and just started belting out the song, full voice, loud and strong. Slowly, more and more children joined her.

The words were included in the video, so even children who didn’t know it could sing along. By the time the video reached the chorus for the first time, the entire room of children were singing.

No one was leading them. Staff simply watched, amazed, or wept like Scruffy and I.

Adults would have known the purpose of the video, thinking on the words, enjoying the music, thoughtful, quiet, orderly.

But God doesn’t tell us to come to Him like orderly adults who understand social cues and are quiet when they are supposed to be.

“…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

No, our Lord said that if we want to be His, we come to Him as children or not at all.

And so the children sang. No leaders, top of their lungs, some in tune, some out of tune, some both. One boy sang harmony every single time instead of only on the ending chorus. Wild, reckless, joyful, strong. They didn’t sing because it was time to sing.

They sang because they saw that they could and knew they wanted to.

This, my friend, is how we must come to God.

Not confident that we know all the dos and don’ts.

Not with pride and a feeling that we are more worthy than others.

We must come as children.

Like children who hear a song and simply know that they want to sing.

When the song ended, that obstreperous little girl who has started it all looked over at me and furrowed her brow. “Why are you crying, Boo Boo?”

How on earth could I possibly explain?

So, I didn’t.

“I’m just worshiping,” I said.

Baffled, she shrugged and marched off to the next camp activity, having no idea that what had just happened would stick with our entire staff as one of the most amazing moments of camp.

So much beauty. So much craziness. It was such a busy and boisterous week.

One evening, Orchid found herself rushing around, madly searching for one of her campers.

She zoomed up to the lodge and found the “lost” camper with the nurse.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to see the nurse?” she asked.

“You told me to go to the nurse.” The camper reminded her.

Orchid sighed, the camper was right. It had been her idea for this camper to go and see the nurse, but when Orchid had gotten to the activity she’d wondered where the camper had gone.

The camper reached up and patted Orchid on the top of the head. “It’s OK brain, you can do this, just one more day.” It is so delightful when the campers learn how to encourage their counselors as they do the delightfully rowdy job of keeping each of them safe. So much learning and growth happened in the lives of these wonderful children.

One of the most fun moments of the day is worship time. Before they start, Epona always asks the campers to give her three reasons why they want to praise God.

The reasons vary, from grilled cheese to Princess Leia Freyja, there is always something to praise God about.

This week, one of the funniest reasons was this: “Praise God for Dragon scaring people and praise God for pie in Dragon’s face!”

Yes, the Watchamabob where Dragon was hiding under the table and when the campers lifted the box, they saw her head was very memorable.

What was also memorable was when Brennan lifted the box and splatted Dragon in the face with a whipped cream pie!

Then of course Dragon burst out of her hiding place and chased Brennan all the way across camp!

Hiccup had a moment to praise God for this week. He shared about a package that was incredibly encouraging to him.

He was in the middle of a very hectic week of counseling. His particular group of boys were incredibly energetic. He was starting to get discouraged when a strange package appeared in the mail.

It was sprayed liberally with perfume. Everyone at camp knows that smelly packages or letters have to be opened in public.

He opened the box … to find a smaller box.

He knew exactly what that meant. Box after box after box after box. “That package!” he said. “It was good to be reminded that at least some people thought I was doing a good job.”

Hiccup and Meteor Knight’s cabin was indeed incredibly active. They did everything together and they did it at full speed with every ounce of energy they possessed. Their counselors were kept quite busy chasing these rambunctious boys throughout the week. But they also memorized Bible verses and cleaned their cabin with just as much enthusiasm as they played Ga Ga Ball and Night Games. In the end, they even won the cabin competition!

Hiccup’s cabin was not only known for their speed and volume, one of the campers also kept telling Ragnar (Hiccup’s brother) that he reminded them of his Grandma. Ragnar would do something and the camper would reply, “Oh, my Grandma does that, too!”

Scruffy pointed out that Ragnar did wear a bathrobe over his clothes for a good portion of the week, which might account for all of the Grandmother references.

Boo Boo was startled to hear some fairly paternal words coming out of the mouth of Ragnar, her middle son and first-time C.I.T..

Once such occurrence appeared when Ragnar was tasked with getting the cabin to change into pants for the night game.

Camper–“I’m wild! I don’t need pants. I can do this in shorts!”

Ragnar–“You can be wild with pants on. Go get some pants!”

Rowdiness was not only found in the boy cabins. True, I didn’t hear any of the girl counselors tell about how they were awakened from a nice FOB nap by the sound of their campers racing through the rafters. But the girl campers kept their counselors on their toes just fine.

Our cook, Earhart, was sitting by the window in the lodge and was delighted to hear her sister Kanga leading cabin discussion. How wonderful. How sweet. “What is sin?” the campers asked.

Kanga and Orchid explained.

“But what is sin?”

Kanga and Orchid explained in a different way.

“Hmmm … so, what is sin?”

Kanga and Orchid explained yet again.

In the end, Earhart smiled in amazement as she went back to the rigors of the kitchen. Kanga was left to explain one more time.

It is no easy task to wrangle excitable children, keep them safe, make sure they are having fun, and tell them about the love of God all in one wild week!

During the campfire, we are reminded how God uses all of this wonderful rowdiness for His glory.

“I wasn’t sure that this would be as good a year at camp because I didn’t have any friends in my cabin. But everyone just welcomed me in.”

“I learned that everyone has troubles, not just me.”

“I love how everyone makes you feel at home.”

“I learned that God searches for you like a lost sheep and wants to put you on His shoulders and take you home.”

One of my favorite and rowdiest moments was when I was in charge of a boys’ cabin for about fifteen minutes.

Hiccup was up at the lodge and MeteorKnight had to take a camper with a possible allergic reaction up to the camp nurse.

Therefore, I found myself the caretaker of five young boys and in charge of handing out glow sticks so that they could share in front of our LED fire.

“Sounds easy,” you say. Well, no it’s not. You see, you have to hand out the glow sticks but keep the campers from cracking them until they are indeed ready to share. Otherwise, they begin waving their glow sticks around, then leaping around, then running around in the dark and tripping over wooden benches and getting hurt. Do not ask how I know this!

So, I was very carefully handing out glow sticks to “my” campers, one at a time, lest unsafe frivolity occur. Each boy got one. They shared.

“I thank God for grilled cheese sandwiches!”

“Ga Ga Ball was so awesome!”

“Night games, night games, night games, raaaaaar!”

The boys used up my last glow stick and I settled in, prepared to spend my remaining time shushing them.

“Can I have another glow stick?” one little boy whispered.

“I’m all out,” I informed him.


“Can I share even without a glow stick?”

“Of course.”

More silence.

“You’ll need to do it soon, they’re about to wrap things up.”

“I’ll go after one more person goes.”

No one went.

Scruffy got up and was about to signal the end of campfire, when he paused. “If there is anyone else who wants to share, this is your last chance.”

My camper stood up and went to the campfire. “Before I came to camp, I didn’t really believe much in God. But now I know that God has more of an impact on my life than I realized.”

He didn’t have a glow stick to throw into the “fire” but another camper saw and threw his own glow stick in for him. That wild and rowdy camper knew when he had important words that needed to be shared. Seeing him boldly walk forward, without a glowstick, reminds me once again of God’s great love. He seeks us, relentlessly, with the kind of love that doesn’t make sense. Then He calls is to follow, not like learned students or stately theologians. No, He calls us to come like reckless and rowdy children who just know that God is who they want.

Matthew 18:1-3 –“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”

Reckless Love

* To preserve their anonymity, I do not share a camper’s story underneath their picture.

Boo Boo