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:

“Walk!”

“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.

6 comments:

JONATHAN S. said...

Mike, Tim will likely remember your kindness through out his life! I suppose that it's not possible to have further contact?

Pastor Mike said...

I work with kids in foster care as part of my 'other' job outside of the professional ministry. It is such a multi-layered issue in working with these kids and families that are in crisis. Every case brings about unique challenges from all of the various people involved: the child, the biological parent(s), the foster parent(s), and all of the various case workers. (At one team meeting, I counted close to thirty people directly involved in the case between the families, the lawyers, the guardians, and the direct support staff.)

There is so much to share on the subject of foster care. I have seen many very good foster parents, and I have also seen some that are not so good. But I have come to realize that it can be oe of the truest types of ministry that a person can do. And there is an incredible need for foster parents right now in all of the states in the Tri-State District.

If you have ever thought about becoming a foster parent, I pray that the words in Mike's blog will move you to a new conviction. If you have never considered it before, think about it. It is very difficult work, but there are a lot of 'Tims' out there who need to be shown that they are important and that someone truly does care about them.

GloryGoal said...

Pastor Mike had some good insight with regard to foster care. We foster parented for a dozen or more years, with kids whose challenges prevented them from being placed in the general foster home pool.

It is a shame that the couple didn't get out of the car for Tim, but I have met and worked with hundreds of foster parents, and they are the exception, rather than the rule. There is a huge misconception that foster parents are "in it for the money." In reality, we were given $55 three times a year to clothe our children from head to toe. We spent well over $1000 each year per child of our own money, and the foster care system at that time, paid $9 a day.

Most foster parents give financially much more than they receive. Just thought it would be good to encourage folks considering foster care that most people are in it for the heart, and truly do care about the children.

They can make a huge difference in the lives of children and they will surely grow as well.

GloryGoal said...

Pastor Mike had some good insight with regard to foster care. We foster parented for a dozen or more years, with kids whose challenges prevented them from being placed in the general foster home pool.

It is a shame that the couple didn't get out of the car for Tim, but I have met and worked with hundreds of foster parents, and they are the exception, rather than the rule. There is a huge misconception that foster parents are "in it for the money." In reality, we were given $55 three times a year to clothe our children from head to toe. We spent well over $1000 each year per child of our own money, and the foster care system at that time, paid $9 a day.

Most foster parents give financially much more than they receive. Just thought it would be good to encourage folks considering foster care that most people are in it for the heart, and truly do care about the children.

They can make a huge difference in the lives of children and they will surely grow as well.

Mike Davis said...

My focus is not on the foster parents. My family took in a teenage girl while I was in High School. Rather my focus is on the needs of children like Tim and the ministry of our camps. I affirm what you all have been saying about foster parents. It is an incredible ministry and gift to a child in need. Maybe some of you have positive foster parent stories to share.

Melissa said...

I believe I can say, without a doubt, I had the dirtiest, loudest and smelliest cabin.

Hehehe. I can just imagine. :-)

On a more serious note, thanks for sharing your story about Tim. It is sad when a boy feels like the animals he's caught are the only ones who truly care for him. I hope he, and others who are in his situation, remember the people like you who try to help them remember their own self-worth during camp.

It's also very sad to me how lots of kids will feel more accepted a places like camp than in their own home.