Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Week at Camp

I recently spent a week with 9, 10, and 11 year olds at Camp Mechuwana, a United Methodist camp in central Maine. I’ve wanted to be a counselor at the camp for years, but never quite worked it out. So this summer, I found myself, responsible for 6 boys in my cabin. Our cabin held the distinction at one point of the lowest score in the “cleanest cabin” daily contest. I believe I can say, without a doubt, I had the dirtiest, loudest and smelliest cabin. We scored a whopping 5 points out of a possible 17.

The week was tiring and rewarding. We were on the go much of the day. Each adult counselor shared responsibility for the safety and nurture of each camper. My most commonly used phrases included:


“It is time to quiet down.”

“Put down that stick.”

“Wow that looks great!”

“Nice job.”

“Please pass the______.” ,

“You guys were great!”

I think you get the idea. Camp counseling for me is an exercise of offering nurture and grace while keeping the campers safe. Sometimes a difficult task. It seemed the kids that were the most challenging were often the kids who needed love, acceptance and grace the most.

I want to tell you about one camper. I’ll call him Tim (not his real name). Tim lives in foster care. I do not know his circumstances, but could tell right off he would be a challenge. Tim loves creepy crawling things. He spent hours hunting for moths, slugs, beetles, crawfish, and frogs. His single-mindedness enabled him to be quite successful in his hunting. It also led him to wander off, to not relate well to other children and to keep his counselors always on guard.

He had a hard time staying with the group. More than once we were dispatched to find him, after he had disappeared. It is not that he sought to be difficult, but rather he marched to a different drummer than the rest of us.

A couple of times, I had to speak with him about staying with the group. I explained that he was important and special to us. We didn’t want to lose him or have him become injured. His reply each time was “I’m not important.” “No one thinks I’m special.” I assured him that we did. But he did not believe me.

Much happened during the week for Tim. A particularly heart wrenching episode involved forcing him to give up the live frog someone discovered in his pocket. You see, Tim considered his captured creatures his only friends. Tim was heartbroken and furious at the loss of his friend. Once again, in our conversation, he stated that no one thought he was important.

Saturday morning the parents began to arrive. Some couldn’t wait to get out of their cars and run up to their kids. I watched several big hugs and remembered the times we had done the same with our sons.

When Tim’s foster parents arrived it was a different story. Neither got out of the car to give Tim a hug and ask him about his week. In fact, it was only after his counselor had trouble opening the van door that any attempt was made to get out. Before Tim left, I got down and hugged him. I said, “Tim, I am so glad you came to camp. You always remember you are a special boy.” I think he said yes. But that may be wishful thinking altering a painful memory. As he rode off, to my surprise tears blurred my vision.

I do not know what will happen to Tim. I’d like to hope he’ll remember my words, the fun at camp, and that at least for a week a bunch of adults thought he was special.

Tim reminded me why camp is such a vital ministry of the church. A week at camp, for some of campers, is the best week of their year. That alone makes it all worthwhile. Camps like Mechuwana are only possible because adults choose to share a week of the summer as a volunteer counselor. I thank all of you who have ever been a camp counselor. You have touched my life, and the lives of kids like Tim.

Maybe you have a story of a church camp experience, as a camper or a counselor. I invite you to share it with us as a response to this blog.