Middle school camp is for such an amazing age group. This is the age of choices. This is the time when a child’s brain grows to be able to understand the abstract things in life (try explaining a metaphor to a ten-year-old) and when they start to understand the complexities of the world around them. They begin to see that they have a say in who they are and who they will become tomorrow and the day after that.
Appropriately enough, our speaker Wiggin spoke on choices.
On Monday his theme was The Choice is Yours. He showed a clip from Tangled where Rapunzel is trying to decide whether to leave her tower. The question for that chapel session was, “Are you going to live in your tower or make the decision for yourself?” He reminded them that everything they did or didn’t do during their week of camp (paintball, dunk tank, horseback rides) was their choice. Would they truly experience the week or remain distanced from the possibilities and people around them?
On Tuesday, Wiggin showed a clip from Monster’s Inc. to remind us that we have a choice about how we see the world around us. In the clip, Sulley tucks Boo into bed. He has the choice whether to believe that there is hope for humans and monsters.
We have the choice to see how bad the world is and to despair, to see both the good and the bad and figure that it sort of evens out, or to see that the world is not how it is supposed to be, that there is bad and good together, but to still hope for when God makes things right. We have the choice to hope.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Many children have lived through so many hard things by the time they reach middle school and it is at about this age that they are able to process what they have gone through or are going through and then realize when something is wrong.
Just like the monsters in that cartoon are suddenly waking up to the world around them, these little ones become newly aware of the hardship, pain, and evil in our world.
But there is another side to this coin of awakening. Middle schoolers are also freshly aware of their ability to choose to follow God. So much important work with the Lord happens in kids hearts at this age.
It was especially touching for Scruffy to watch Wiggin serve as camp speaker. You see, Scruff and I were here to see Wiggin come to camp as a nine-year-old camper, become a C.I.T., go on to be a camp counselor with our own boys as happy campers in his cabin, grow up, get married, and then come back to teach kids about Jesus.
It is such an honor to have been a part of camp ministry long enough to watch children grow up, grow in the Lord, and then dedicate their lives in service to Him. It isn’t often that we find ourselves doing the same thing for 23 years. But the benefit of being called to serve at the same place for so long is that the full picture of what happens when kids come to camp begins to unfold. Watching Wiggin speak was one of those beautiful moments.
One of our cooks got to go on a horseback ride with a cabin of campers. She told about the camper who rode in front of her and his constant narration about the ride. “The horse is walking now.” He would turn around in the saddle to make sure that she got each important declaration.
“Oh, the horse is trotting.” He would look back and inform her about each change in pace. “The horse is now walking.” Then a moment of drama! His horse stumbled over a rock. But don’t worry, this camper was quick to alert our cook about the experience.
On Wednesday, Wiggin spoke on The Choice We Can’t Make. Sin is in every part of our world, even when we try our best. He showed a clip from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe where Edmund makes a deal with the white witch for some Turkish Delight and the promise of being a prince.
One of the stories from this week that was especially inspiring (yes, it made both Scruffy and Boo Boo cry) started out as a negative.
Scruffy had to deal with a discipline issue in one of the boys’ cabins.
One camper had been bullying another and of course this was discovered when the bullied camper reacted in frustration. As anyone who works with kids knows, it is usually the second person who gets caught, leaving the adult to figure out what exactly happened to elicit the response of the second child in the first place.
After the counselors and our speaker did some sleuthing, they brought the child who had started the kerfuffle to Scruff.
Scruff was just so proud, watching our team work. They showed compassion to both the child being bullied who reacted badly and to the child who had made the initial bad choice to begin with.
By the time Scruffy came on the scene, this camper was ready for some serious conversations about what was really going on with him. We always have a choice in how we will react to the hard things in life and it was so apt that this was exactly what Wiggin was speaking on. This camper recognized that what he had done was wrong and he wanted to make things right. He went up to the other boy, apologized for what he had done, and asked to start the friendship over again.
The camper came back and apologized and the other camper was quick to forgive. In fact, this camper was worried about his bully and the bad choices that this child had made. He thanked his counselor for helping the other camper to feel better, even though he had been the one hurt by the situation.
The counselor set up a board game where both campers played together and it was incredible to see these boys taking responsibility for their actions, apologizing, forgiving, and moving forward with a fun game together.
On Thursday, Wiggin spoke about The Choice Jesus Made. He showed the clip from Mulan where she makes the choice to take her father’s place in battle. Our Lord and savior took our place in a battle that we could never win. Because of His great love, He fought the fight in our stead.
On Friday, Wiggin talked about The Choice of Life. We can live in death or we can choose to live in life with Christ. He showed the clip from The Lion King where Simba hears his father’s voice in the stars, “Remember who you are. You have forgotten yourself and so forgotten me.” He called us to remember who we are. We are heirs with Christ, beloved children of the King, precious sheep of a loving shepherd. We belong to Jesus and we can truly live by walking with Him.
On Saturday, Wiggin talked about The Daily Choice. Wiggin showed a clip from Return of the Jedi . The Emperor has Luke at his mercy but Luke says he will never join The Dark Side. Wiggin pointed out that Luke’s choice of “never” requires a daily choice. It is the same when we choose to follow Jesus. That choice happens again and again with each step that we take for every day of our lives. In the movie, The Emperor’s eyes grew cold and he says, “So be it.” No matter how bad the situation is, we always have a choice.
Wiggin stopped the clip at that dramatic moment but the campers knew what happened next. Many of them made “lightning fingers” simulating The Emperor’s attack. But they also knew that even though Luke’s choice to do right was painful, it led to the downfall of the evil empire. Even though we are not fictional characters, we too are on a journey and we too always have a choice.
John 15:4–“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
After pond day and horse rides, night games and skits, Watchamabob and dunk tank and slip-n-slide … comes the campfire.
We gathered around the LED fire (fire danger is high in Eastern WA) and passed out glow sticks to the campers who wanted to share. We listened to the wind in the aspen trees. We leaned back and looked up at a dark sky filled with stars. We sung a few songs and then slowly, bravely, the campers came forward.
“I’ve been going through a lot, but coming here felt very homey to me.”
“I’ve had a hard time making friends but coming here I felt accepted and was able to make friends.”
“I wanted to come up here because I knew I needed love and I would find it here because I did last year.”
“This is the one week I look forward to all year because it is a break from the busy schedule and the sports and the drama of the rest of the year.”
The highlight of the week for our speaker was listening to a camper share who had never been around Christians before or heard about Christ. She said that even though we didn’t have the same beliefs, she felt loved and accepted.
Upon hearing the gospel, she said that it was beautiful.
Camp is a strange and lovely experience. It is wild and delightful, much like a furry dog wearing a wig. But that very strangeness, the same rowdy fun that causes us to stick Oreo’s to our foreheads and run through the forest at night in search of a stockpile of rocks painted gold … that also bonds us together. Creates memories. Solidifies friendships that can last a lifetime. Then when chapel time comes, of course children share with that counselor who went in the dunk tank just to make them happy. Of course they honestly discuss the Bible with the leader who walked beside them on the hike and swam with them in the pond. What seems silly, leads to moments that are deeply profound.
Like children learning that they are loved, that they don’t have to be a victim, that they don’t have to be a bully, that they have the power to change, that the God who made them gave them a choice.
Luke 9:23–“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'”