Senior High Teen Camp 2021
We saw God work with incredible power this week. The power of an improbable coincidence followed by another improbable coincidence that was followed by five more, the power of the Spirit’s gentle nudge, the power of the cup of water given in Jesus name, the power of the still small voice.
When thirty-seven teenagers masked up and hauled their luggage into the lodge for Sr. High Teen Camp, they were starved for connection, community, and just camp itself. Gracious, after a year stuck at home, so were we. Though we felt inadequate, God’s call was clear and strong.
We could not have run camp if even one of our counselors had decided not to come. And guess what? Three of them were last minute additions. The Lord knew of our needs long before we realized them ourselves, even putting camp on the hearts of experienced former staff as early as February. It was so amazing to watch Him work to bring just the right counselors for each cabin’s hurts and heartache. He lined up staff who had just come through difficult trials, the same kinds of trials that their campers were currently facing. We were amazed as we watched Him work. The more we needed Him, the more His power was revealed.
And the miracles were not contained to counsel staff. We were short an assistant cook and a friend of Sweet Tea’s just happened to be available for the first half of camp. Then, Scruff chatted with one of our former staff members as he dropped his sisters off for camp. He became available to help in the kitchen right as Sweet Tea’s friend was leaving. Another former kitchen worker who hadn’t been to camp in years texted Scruffy out of the blue, asking if we needed help. Yes, yes we did!
Amidst the crazy fun of camp, we saw that the still small voice of God had begun His work long before campers arrived. Maybe that isn’t a fair description at all. Amidst, presumes that the crazy fun is separate from the work of God. In my experience, God uses the very rowdiness of camp to do great things for His kingdom. The thrill of night games provides community which rolls over into cabin time, allowing new friends to share their hearts in a way they never would have before running through the woods screaming and laughing together.
And it was rowdy and fun and full of life, finally! After fifteen months of ministering to one family at a time with individual retreats, camp was full of riotous sound and the incredible intensity that thirty-seven teenagers provides. It was so very lovely.
I go to bed before anyone else at camp due to getting up early to write. As I lay beside my open window, roars and screams filled the forest outside. Nope, not fifty bears having a brawl. Campers, playing night games in the woods, filling the darkness with laughter and ridiculousness for the first time since summer 2019. I fell asleep smiling. The wildness of camp at work in the lives of kids can sound insane, but it is the very best kind of crazy! We have missed that sound so much.
This wildness is what can be confusing to people at times. It doesn’t always look like ministry and yet, we are honored to observe and participate in ministry of a purity and depth that I’ve rarely found elsewhere. Just like the Atomic God Bomb coming in the form of the still small voice. Confusing, but indescribably lovely all the same.
How does wearing a bison hat and kitty ears in the cabin skit draw kids to God?
What about a rousing game of GaGa Ball with your cabin?
Making or even missing a basket on the sport’s court with new friends?
A quick snuggle with Princess Leia Freyja, the camp dog?
Launching water at an unsuspecting friend?
Revisiting a grade school game?
Fun on the paintball course?
Swimming. Not in a pool, lake, or even a sparkly river, but in a pond.
Becoming a weird battle-hermit-crab-thing through the use of a laundry basket?
Donning glowing necklaces, bracelets, halos, and even nose rings for the amazing (and very neon) Worship SmackDown! Yes, even a glowstick artfully displayed on your nose can be a vital puzzle piece in someone’s walk with God.
What is it about all of these seemingly disconnected and crazy-looking activities that leads to this moment? A young woman choosing to make a declaration about her relationship with God by asking to be baptized in our humble pond. This moment certainly looks like victory, spiritual growth, and ministry.
What you might not know is that this moment of victory, coming up out of the murky water of the pond with a joyful smile, surrounded by spiritual mentors. This moment would never have happened without all those other seemingly less spiritual times together.
Why did this young woman want to be baptized here? She could have taken a class at her local church, walked down the smooth steps of a baptismal, and been submerged in pristine and well-chlorinated waters surrounded by the church body.
It is because the body of Christ is not contained by a church building. Her church, the church, is here too!
And this part of the body of Christ, this is the part who had sword fights with her. This small segment of the church is the one who did crafts with her on the porch, took her out to Inspiration Point at midnight to worship under the stars, dunked her in the dunk tank, screamed with her while she zoomed down the slip-n-slide, applauded the crazy skit she did with her cabin, listened when she told her story, and held her as she wept.
The part of the Body at camp is simple, humble, obscure. But God works in mysterious ways and yes, sometimes those ways involve a foam sword or a glowing nose ring. It is the very humbleness of the ministry that gives it Atomic God Bomb power.
We expect to see God in the mighty wind, the destructive earthquake, the raging fire. We expect our Messiah to topple kingdoms and ride to His throne on a warhorse. But sometimes God comes in the still small voice. And our Messiah, well, He rode to His glory on a donkey and was lifted up to victory on a brutal Roman cross. So when our speaker this week planned sessions around God’s Atomic Power, it is no wonder that we saw that power at work like a still small voice among us. We serve a Lord who said that His disciples would receive honor for the simple obedience of giving a cup of water in His name. He is a God who does mighty works with simple people in humble circumstances.
God worked with quiet power. A camper asked to talk with the speaker about a relationship difficulty. Then the very person they’d been struggling with stopped and talked with Van Helsing. That camper walked toward the firepit in front of Van Helsing and he felt the spirit prompt him to ask if he wanted to talk. They had a two-hour conversation that was made possible by that still small voice working with power in the humble venue we call camp.
Our camp nurse had never shared about her battle with anxiety with the staff before. Yet, at staff training she told her story. Then along came senior high camp and so many of our precious campers were battling anxiety. The counselors were able to tell their campers that our very own nurse also had this struggle and still manages to do important work at camp, not the calmest environment out there. We had camp counselors who thought about not coming up to serve because of their own anxiety. God called them anyway, with great insistence, and you know which campers were in their cabin? Exactly! The still small voice of God, working with earth shattering power in the lives of His people.
Here, Scruffy is scowling his displeasure about all of the cracker packets that the ravens have strewn about the camp. He is not fond of ravens. Do you know what else his is not fond of? Sharing his story.
Which seems crazy to those of us who have heard his story. God brought Scruff out of an incredibly dark place. He was actively antagonistic toward God, even going so far as to write a paper with the goal of disproving God’s existence. The journey that led that angry young man into the arms of Jesus is so amazing, but Scuff is loath to share it as he feels people need to hear from others besides him. If pestered, he shares his testimony from time to time. What he has never shared at camp, is the story of how his brother committed suicide four years ago.
Despite his reluctance, God brought this topic up again and again. Simultaneously, He set a weight on Scruffy’s heart that sharing this never-discussed story was important. It started on Memorial Day weekend when a nine-year-old girl said that 2020 was the worst year ever. Scruff smiled and said that he’d had several worse years. He expected to walk away from the conversation at that or perhaps hear an exhaustive list of the awfulness of 2020 from the eyes of this sweet little one.
Instead, that little girl gazed up at him and asked which years were worse. He told her that 2017 was one of his worst years. Undeterred, she asked why. In words appropriate for one so young, he tried to explain the pain of losing a sibling to life-long depression.
Then senior high teen camp came and camper after camper talked about depression and suicide. Scruffy held onto his story, not sure if he should share or when it would even work to do so.
The weight of Scruffy’s story remained. He stopped me on the stairs as we were rushing off to camp. “I think maybe I’m supposed to share.” I told him that from where I stood, it was pretty clear God was calling him to do just that. He met my gaze and said he didn’t know when he could possibly share. Our speaker had all the sessions planned and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant dinner conversation or a cheerful bedtime story.
Then it was campfire on Friday night. We sang worship songs under the stars, snuggled up in blankets around the fire, and silence filled the meadow. No one shared. Finally, Scruffy stood.
Scruff told them about his brother. About missing a phone call from him in the middle of a busy camp summer and then finding out later that he was gone. He told them what it felt like to lose a loved one. The guild, grief, and despair. Scruffy told our campers that suicide does not make anything better for those left behind. He was given the strength to share what he had never shared at camp before by the still small voice of God. Nothing else is as powerful!
Campers began to stand up, toss their sticks into the fire, and share from their hearts. Campers shared who weren’t going to share … but because of Scruffy, they knew that they could. So so many of them were struggling. So many needed to know that yes, dark moments can overwhelm, but life is not made better for those left behind.
So yeah, camp doesn’t appear exactly like what people think ministry should look like. There are more water fights and less hymnals. There is more mud than expected and sometimes bugs in your hair. There is screaming as Partake dons her wedding dress, Choco puts on his tux, and while wearing terrifying make-up they swoop down the road riding on one-wheels.
The worship includes glowing nose rings and things get blasted with an air cannon during chapel time. But God has a habit of using the humble things in this life to do mighty works.
Those campers who swam in the pond with their cabin, ran from Partake zooming by in her wedding dress, laughing during skit night, and cried during worship. Those campers were being ministered to all week. They were loved in little and big ways all week long. Until their hearts were soft enough to hear the still small voice of God. That same gentle whisper that called the staff to come play paintball, gaga ball, and mini golf. The same whisper that commanded Scruffy to speak of his pain. That is what a week of craziness with new friends and caring counselors does. It helps hurting hearts to grow strong enough to dare to listen.
1 Kings 19:11-13b
“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.”
P.S. Besides the girl who was baptized (from whom I got permission) I do not put a camper’s story by their picture to preserve anonymity.