This summer, I had the opportunity to be on a ministry team with Houghton College. Basically, all that means is that I hopped in a van with three other people, and traveled to a new summer camp each week. So when someone asks me about my summer, I struggle to find an adequate response. So, instead of constantly trying to wrap up what two months of non-stop youth ministry looks like, I’m going to answer with this blog.
My camp experience was unique from most camp stories because I traveled to a new camp each week. I worked with a new staff, new director, new camp ground, and new campers every week for about eight weeks. I’m tired just thinking about that. I knew from the beginning what this job would entail, but the still small voice inside of me told me to go, and I am so glad that I listened.
Camp forcibly removed me from my comfort zone. I’m comfortable in the back seat where I can mind my own business and keep my opinions to myself. However, as a camp counselor, you’re forced to be front and center, directly working with students who have deeper wounds than you could imagine. Sometimes I feel like I have been dealt a rough hand in life. But then I talk with a student who lost their father to a drug overdose, or a student who has literally never been told that he has the ability to accomplish anything. Hearing their stories broke me. The issues that I have had to work through seem minimal at best compared to what some of these kids have faced, and that sucks. I can pray for them, and hope that God intervenes in their lives, but realistically, I have to walk away. I can’t be with them after the week ends, and telling them that I’d be there for them after camp would only make things worse.
That was a lot to take in, but camp isn’t all rain clouds. I had the opportunity to see some lives changed by the grace of God. Some of my campers felt like they had been freed from years of anger and resentment towards family members. And some of them learned what it truly means to be loved by God. Some of the kids with the deepest wounds also found the sweetest victory by the end of the week. I connected with so many great students, and I will carry their stories with me forever.
This summer showed me how to love unconditionally. Jesus loved the worst of the sinners, and didn’t flinch at the thought of sharing a table with broken people. This summer, I really got a taste of what that really means. Most of the students I encountered needed to be loved more than anything else. They didn’t need to be yelled at, lectured, or told that they were wrong. They needed to be shown what the love of Christ looks like. And that means welcoming them with open arms, whether or not they want to change anything about their life. It means building relationships and seeing people as more than projects in need of improvement.
I also learned to not doubt myself so often. God has given each of us gifts and abilities that help us in the situations that He places us in. I always knew that was true for those around me, but I always left myself out of the group of people with gifts. I was on a ministry team for a reason, and it’s not because I’m the greatest camp counselor, or that I love God more than anyone else. Humility is important, but it’s also important to remember who the Lord has made you to be. This summer, I feel like I really came to terms with who I am. I feel so much more confident in myself, and more than that, I am so much more confident in who God is.
Lastly, I learned to lean on others. I am independent to a fault, and sometimes (most of the time), I choose not to reach out for help when I need it the most. However, when you’re living and traveling with three other people, they begin to see the best and worst of you. I had no choice but to depend on my team for support and guidance. If I didn’t, I would have lost my mind, and I would have hated every minute of being a camp counselor. God gave us friendship. Community was His idea. Who are we to not lean on those around us? “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) I had three amazing strands to pull me through each camp, and I would not have been able to do this without them.
Before this summer, I had never been to a summer camp. I never really counseled impressionable students before. Heck, I had never even spent more than a week outside of New York. I was nervous about how I would do, and whether or not I would even enjoy myself. Things are a little different now. Now, I feel like I can take on the world. I feel ready for any challenge that may come my way because I know that God is in control. He gave me this summer to prepare for another chapter in my life. Listen to the soft voice of God, especially when it tells you to do something unusual. You never know where He will lead you or how you will grow as a result. These past few months changed me. Camp changed me. God changed me.