What do a camper’s grubby feet have to do with being an action hero? Those who attended chapel at Senior High Teen Camp know. But for those who didn’t, there is still hope, if you keep reading you too can discover the answer to this vital question.
Behold, in all their glory, a camper’s feet. This particular camper won fame or at the very least notoriety, for being able to contort her feet in this amazing manner. She also chased down hapless bystanders with these dusty toes. Some were impressed, some were horrified, all were amazed. I was so amazed that I snapped this photograph to save the camper’s talent for posterity. At the time, I did not realize that this picture and these feet would play a vital role in telling the story of Senior High Teen Camp.
Van Helsing’s theme for the chapel sessions this week was The Action. His theme verse for day one, James 2:17–“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Of course, such a theme demanded watching some film clips that featured explosions, taking a quiz concerning the many action hero idiosyncrasies including why they are inclined to hold a pistol sideways (the bullets hurt more!), and holding a contest where campers and staff competed at holding the best action hero pose!
What? These things don’t seem very . . . Biblical? Stick around and I’ll share one of the great mysteries of camp ministry. Some things may look less heroic the more you investigate, like actors and/or campers posing in front of a flaming backdrop in full costume.
However, there are some things that seem less impressive initially, but suddenly grow amazing when you see the whole picture.
Camp chapel sessions may appear rowdy and haphazard at first glance. Give them time. Stay for the whole week. You won’t be disappointed with the things God can do with a handful of props, a flaming backdrop, and a few good workers intent in investing deeply in the lives of teens.
Teen campers are absolutely amazing!
Consequently, Senior High Teen Camp is also amazing. However, running a camp for teens is incredibly difficult. Why? Today’s teens are dealing with adult problems before they’ve even had the chance to grow up.
They have already walked dark roads by the time they rush into the lodge on that first day of camp. For many, their parents have already divorced. The family circle they thought they could count on is showing cracks. Teens have to make adult choices when they are still children. Alcohol, sex, drugs, the pain of toxic relationships, the pressure of sports, the stress of scholarship, the need to decide on a career path and take the steps necessary to attain their goals. Add to that the weight of all their friends problems as well. Being a teen is exhausting and incredibly high-pressure.
So many teens come to camp already deeply broken. They may look grown-up and have many grown-up decisions to make. But because they are children and do not have complete autonomy, many teens are also struggling under the burden of the choices made by the adults in their lives. Being a teenager is incredibly difficult. I am so proud of the many amazing teens that I know. Hug your teen, folks (or try to, ha!) they are superstars!
After a long school year, summer always comes, and you wouldn’t guess at the pain they carry watching these brave teenagers march through the doors of the main lodge at camp. The entire room crackles with energy and you should hear these kids sing!
Epona led worship this year and when she started playing the opening chords of the song “Stars” by Skillet I heard several campers say “yes!” and even saw a fist pump. There is something breathtaking about worship at camp, it always blows me away.
In the summer of 2016, Epona was a counselor in Bear’s Abode cabin.
Counseling a cabin full of campers is physically exhausting and emotionally draining. It takes all that you have and then some to care for these children with a parent’s eye for safety, a teacher’s eye for growth, a party planner’s eye for fun, a therapist’s eye for emotional health, a pastor’s eye for their spiritual journey, and God’s own love for each of them as His precious sheep.
Not an easy task. In fact, without the Holy Spirit, I don’t think any of us could do this job.
And so in 2016, while her campers slept, Epona stood alone on the Bear’s Abode stairs looking up at the night sky and singing “Stars” as she recovered from the tasks of the day and sought her Lord for strength and wisdom for the one to come.
In 2021, Epona was our worship leader. She decided to teach “Stars” to the campers that year. We worshipped outside that whole summer and it became a favorite of both campers and counselors. At the campfire on Friday, we looked up at the stars above and sang about God’s great love for us. It was such a beautiful moment. This song speaks so clearly of God’s power in our lives.
It is that power which enables us to take action that glorifies Him. To actually live out James 2:17 and be a people who don’t just believe in Christ but act on that belief in tangible ways.
On Tuesday, Van Helsing’s theme was Fists of Prayer! He spoke on how the Christian life takes strict training and hard work, but when you put in the time you get a huge payoff . . . especially with prayer!
I Corinthians 9:25–“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
During the chapel times, Van Helsing had a lot of fun with the action hero theme.
Action heroes are over-the-top awesome. The drive too fast and never crash . . . or if they do, that crash mysteriously propels them to safety. Action heroes are always witty, always find love under the most unlikely circumstances, and never seem to need to sleep, stay properly hydrated, or comb their hair for that perfect windblown look.
However, the cinematic explosions and ability of action heroes to only get a single decorative scratch on one cheek when a whole building and/or dinosaur falls on them only emphasizes what Jesus said about the kingdom of God not looking like we expect it to.
Jesus is the one who called us to action and His idea of what constitutes a hero flies in the face of what we normally see in a summer blockbuster.
Matthew 20:16–“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Matthew 23:11-12–“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 22:27b–“But I am among you as one who serves.”
Sometimes we think we know what a hero looks like . . . and then we see Jesus.
John 13:4–“so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”
Sometimes an action hero looks less like someone walking out of an exploding building and more like someone taking over a tired volunteer’s spot on the dish crew.
One of our support staff crew shared how meaningful it was that the support lead watched out for them and made sure that they got breaks when they were tired. A hard worker, she was used to being valued for her work ethic, but not always simply for who she was.
This same girl talked about how she had struggled to glean meaning from sermons in the past, but had soaked up so much from the chapel sessions. How much easier it is to hear of God’s love when His people sit right beside you, showing love in ways that you can see for yourself.
Sometimes a hero looks less like someone flying a fighter jet to inspiring music or battling a marauding mummy in foreign lands and more like a counselor letting his rambunctious crew of boys rearrange the bunk beds every single day for cabin inspection.
After a week of crazy ga ga ball games, slip-n-slide antics, the “bushwhacking hike” where half the camp followed Hiccup down from Weathertop straight through the bushes as he made a way with his machete, and the most insane skit of all time . . . of course his campers would let him pray for them around the campfire after they stood up and shared.
Truly, our Lord knew what He was talking about when He commanded us to serve rather that strut. To love when anger is the sensible reaction. To look to the needs of those around us, trusting that in His great love, God would care for our needs as they arose. We are indeed called to action, but as a different kind of hero.
Sometimes being a hero looks like respecting the person you disagree with.
Two of our senior staff believed differently about what the Godly course of action looked like when a decision needed to be made. I remember praying, stressing, wondering what God could do when the way seemed so clear to two different people. But what was clear to one individual who was faithfully following Christ was completely different from what was clear to the other who was also faithfully following Christ.
They talked, and you know what, both still hold to some version of their same opinion. However, they listened and showed respect. A third senior staff member was asked to attend their meeting to provide an impartial view of the discussion. She told us that it was one of the most powerful moments at camp for her. Not because they came to an agreement, but because they disagreed, were able to talk about it in a humble fashion, and left the discussion having honored their Lord despite their opposing opinions.
You never know how God will use you. Sometimes, the mightiest work of the day may come just from simply keeping your temper.
We do a lot of crazy activities at camp. From whipped cream pies in the face to zombie-themed night games, camp life is rowdy from sunup to sundown.
Then there is the fact that teen campers will make everything even more rowdy themselves. Yes, a simply day swimming in the pond, can turn into a mud bath for no apparent reason.
During Wednesday’s chapel session, the theme was Lock ‘N’ Load. God provides an arsenal of high powered weapons to help us face the enemies and challenges of life – the Bible.
Van Helsing pointed out that many action heroes have a black bag full of important action hero gear. When the bullets and exploding cars are zipping right past the hero’s ears and it seems like all is lost, they reach into that black bag for just what they need at just the right moment.
Just like Arnold packing his black bag for a final showdown, we can be confident that God has not left us defenseless. He has called us to action, but has also given us the tools we need to learn what actions please Him and why.
On Thursday, Van Helsing’s theme was The A-Team. The Action is not a solo mission!
Ecclesiastes 4:12–“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Van Helsing talked about how we are part of The Body of Christ, we were never meant to act as lone heroes, we are part of a team.
For him, he has four different kinds of people who have been a huge support to him in his journey with God.
THE MUSCLE: the one who prays.
THE BRAINS: the one who studies the Word (and provides Godly counsel).
THE HEART: the one who makes sure your needs are taken care of.
THE RECON: the one who is an accountability partner
With these four specialists on your team, answering God’s call to action becomes much less overwhelming. God did not design us to work alone. He calls us to support one another and expects that we will need and accept help from others as well.
On Friday, Van Helsing’s theme was Blockbuster!
Imagine the moment in a blockbuster movie when all the heroes band together and charge the great evil that threatens to destroy the world. Like this epic scene, when we live our lives the way God wants, we can accomplish the truly incredible through His amazing power!
John 14:12–“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
As Scruff and I worked through the highs and lows of the week, what many people don’t know is that we have many other tasks weighing upon us.
This year we are still grieving the loss of a beloved staff member and sometimes the pressures of these additional tasks combined with that loss means taking a moment to simply hide and weep.
And then life goes on.
Scruffy goes back to direct camp and work on projects and I wipe my eyes and haul my camera out to where the campers are having a water fight.
During one such moment, I had just stopped the tears of stress and grief long enough to head back to camp, my trusty dog at my side.
Princess Leia Freyja heard something on the lawn up ahead. Her ears came up, her tail started wagging, and she hustled me toward a camper who sat by herself sobbing.
Isn’t it just like God to get you through your tears just in time to hold another as they weep?
So, Princess Leia Freyja and I sat beside the camper while she cried and listened to her once she could talk once more. Why was she weeping? Because everyone had been so kind to her.
Let that soak in a minute.
This camper wept because of the kindness of the body of Christ. There are those to whom kindness is something they do not expect to encounter. No wonder it is a fruit of the Spirit. No wonder gentleness is one of the great actions God calls us to. No wonder patience and self-control are products of His presence in our lives.
God has called us to action. He wants us to be heroes. Just be careful to remember what Jesus says a hero actually looks like.
John 13:14-15–“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
In the spirit of this, Van Helsing asked Scruffy if he could wash his feet during chapel.
Now, up at camp with all of the sweat, dust, and outdoor play that occurs people’s feet get nasty dirty. We may not be in Bible times back when only the lowest servant washed people’s little piggies, but we are still highly aware of the general uncleanness of feet. We do this job ourselves, in quiet solitude, letting someone else do this grubby task is incredibly humbling.
But isn’t being humbled what Jesus actions were all about? He was God. God Himself with us in this dusty and broken world. He humbled Himself because He was the greatest among us and needed to show His sometimes unreliable followers what being a leader really meant. Being humble, stooping to do the untidy job, maybe even allowing someone you love and respect to do that job because they have asked to. Each of these is humbling. It puts us right where Jesus wants us, serving as He served.
So Van Helsing took action, humbled himself, and washed Scruffy’s feet.
Then Scruffy, recalling our Lord’s words of: “Go and do likewise” asked one of our new C.I.T.’s if he could wash her feet. She was a camper that week and yes, it was ironic because she had been chasing people around with her grubby toes all week long. In fact, I took a picture of them because of her antics and her feet are featured in the photo at the beginning of the blog.
Now this was awkward and initially she laughed and joked . . . but she has also known Scruffy for a long time. He was important to her and we love her very much. And somehow what had seemed so silly took on a gravity that she didn’t seem to expect. This camper began to cry as Scruffy proceeded to wash her dirty feet.
Then some left for cabin time and some stayed to pray for any who wanted support and one brave camper came forward and Van Helsing washed her feet, too. The same camper who had wept on the lawn with Princess Leia Freyja and I.
Yes, there are action heroes among us. You just might not be warned that they are around by the sound of an exploding car.
We saw counselors and campers taking God’s call to action seriously. They went from pranking each other’s cabins one moment, to standing with one another in prayer and tears the next.
Camp forges close relationships. So close that campers trust us with their hard questions about God. With their heartache and brokenness. Even with their dirty feet.
Teens carry incredibly heavy loads. At the very least, here at Camas we can give them a raucous week of rowdiness and laughter. Gazing up at the stars together, singing praises to God. Finding friendship and fun in a cabin full of kids who may be wildly different . . . but deep down are just like them. Experiencing kindness from the staff. Gentleness and a listening ear.
These simple joys seem small when compared to the rising tide of anger, hurt, and darkness that threatens to sweep teens away. But take heart, God uses the simple things of this world to shake nations and change hearts.
Again and again we watch the impossible occur at camp, right before our very eyes. God takes the simple joys of rowdy games, new friends, kind counselors, and a listening ear and He produces greatness out of our humble service. Once again, Scruff and I sat weeping at the campfire on Friday night as the campers shared.
They loved the food and the games and the dog . . . but they also felt safe, found friendship, and told us they had found a home.
“This is the happiest place I’ve ever been,” one camper said. “The happiest place in the world.”
They learned things about God that made their hearts burn. They opened their Bibles for the first time in years. They heard what the gospel actually was. They sang. They wept. They saw the stars. They gave Christians another chance. They gave themselves another chance. They realized that they were loved.
God calls us to heroic action.
Then He steps down among us and does the work before our very eyes with nothing but a group of broken people, our humble bumblings, and insistent attempts to love like Him.
Behold, the power of the action hero!
Philippians 2:5-8–“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
*To preserve their anonymity, I do not post a camper’s story below their photograph.