Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Well, the summer is essentially over, yet I just recently started feeling like I had arrived in Southeast Alaska. It is finally getting the rain, gray skies, and chilly air that supposedly mark every summer. August has arrived, and with it have come the pitch-black nights (that are beginning at more “normal” times now) and the death of most of the flowers around camp. I just recently that Juneau is in a rainforest, which I didn’t know existed in Alaska. I feel like I missed out a little by not getting to see the tundra that is the rest of the state, but I guess I already know what cold feels like.
It’s been sort of strange this past week. Counselors have slowly been trickling out, and I am one of the few left. I’ve been spending the last few days hanging out with the remainder of the crew. Monday night was spent in front of the fireplace in the dining hall, drinking tea and eating s’mores. We stayed up there for a few hours sharing childhood stories, talking about church, and generally soaking up what was left of our time together. In my opinion, it was a nearly perfect way to end camp.
What can I say? I am finished counseling for the summer. Looking back over the past couple months, it all just seems like a blur. People have come and gone, drama has started and ceased, and God has been moving in and through it all. I feel like I just got here, and I also feel like I’ve been here forever. It will be weird to go home and realize that nobody else will understand what this is like. But it will be okay.
Finally, it is my turn to make the journey southward. Around 2pm on Tuesday, I listened to everyone sing me “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” (as is camp tradition when someone goes home) as I gave my final hugs and goodbyes. I teared up a little as our car drove away to meet the boat at the front beach, but I guess I was mostly used to goodbyes by now. As the boat went around the cove and camp slowly faded out of sight, I wondered if I would ever see that place again.
I spent a few hours in town with Ray and Lyn, my camp “parents,” before going to the airport. Lyn and I went up Mount Roberts Tramway to enjoy the view of town from above. We watched a short film on the native Tlingit (pronounced “Klingit” or more commonly “Klinket”) people and learned words like “gunalchéesh” (“thank you”) and “I gu.aa yáx x’wán!” (“Be brave”). Afterwards, we ate at a seafood restaurant called The Hangar, which was delicious.
I checked in at the airport around 7pm (making sure to weigh my bags before I arrived this time – 49 lbs and 46 lbs each!), took some more pictures of some more stuffed bears, and then awaited my departing flight to Anchorage. I was feeling a little depressed, knowing that it was all over – but God was at work even then. One of our campers saw me sitting outside the gate and came over to say hi. I hate to admit that I have no recollection of her, but it was encouraging to feel like I never really left. I was seated next to a young Mormon man on the first leg of the trip, which I believe was God reminding me once again that my part in ministry could extend beyond the borders of Juneau. While we didn’t talk extensively about our religious views, I did get the opportunity to share with him about God’s love and faithfulness, Christ’s complete atonement for our sins, and what the Bible says about life after death. (Just for kicks, I also ordered a hot tea and asked him if he was a tea or coffee drinker. He politely said no, but that he did enjoy the smell.)
As I write this, I am on my final flight home: Chicago to Oklahoma City. (Naturally, I am well-prepared for the 100+ degree weather as I sport a hoodie and rain boots.) I am jet-lagged, hungry, and a little disoriented by the lack of mountains, tall trees, and ocean. The red eye flight from Anchorage to Chicago was 5 ½ hours of death, but I made it through by the grace of God. But I suppose that can be said about pretty much everything in life.
It’s going to be a crazy rest of the week. I’ll get home this afternoon, spend the next two days packing, and then head back up to school in Bourbonnais, IL on Saturday. I’m excited for the opportunities God is already giving me to minister, though: I’ve been asked to be a mentor for the Freshman Connections class this semester, and I’ll be helping out again with the College Church senior high group. It’s going to be busy this fall, but God is faithful, and I have faith!
Thank you to all who have been praying for and writing to me. I’ve said it before, but I really do mean it when I say that can’t express enough appreciation for all your love and support. You guys helped make this summer for me. I hope my words and experiences were encouraging to you and helped to strengthen your faith as they have built up mine.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24
Grace and peace to y’all!
Week 11: August 9-15
Colt 3 (ages 7-9) was the final week of camp this summer. It was a little hard to register in my mind that this would be my last group of kids, these little ankle-biters that were just living and loving life. Once again, I wasn’t super excited about it at the beginning of the week, but then I came across the passage in John that says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle this week alone, but I knew I could do it as long as I was connected to the Vine.
The Wizard of Oz was the theme for this week, and I’m serious when I say that I would be alright with not seeing that movie again for about five years or so. The kids seemed to love it, though, and the chapel speaker (a.k.a. our head cook, Pat) based her messages off the different characters. My girls and I also decided to give our cabin an “Oz” theme by creating a “yellow brick road” out of paper, hanging up our life-sized drawing of Dorothy, setting up a little garden outside one of the doors, and decorating the inside with colorful streamers and gift bows. And our hard work paid off – we won cabin clean-up that day!
I had only eight girls this week – three of whom I had previously during soccer camp, including the one who gave me hugs every 25 seconds. For some reason this time around, however, I was much more welcoming of the clinginess and actually enjoyed it most of the time. I guess I just needed a little more love than usual (or maybe God gave me an extra love language for that week). I only had a couple of “problem children” – one who was terribly homesick all week and almost painfully difficult to understand and another who was just painfully difficult. All in all, though, my cabin was fantastic. I had a blast hanging out with my girls as we skipped and sang, “We’re off to see the Wizard!” which happened pretty frequently after chapel. They also responded really well in our morning and evening devotions, and two of them got saved! (The only “bad” devo night was after the Carnival, when they were all hyped up on sugar. They had also spent fifteen minutes or so reading out of some Eliza Thornberry joke book and couldn’t stop giggling if their lives depended on it.)
By the end of the week, I was sad to see (some of) those girls go. I had grown especially attached to the hug-loving girl, who comes from a Mormon family. There were several times when she told me how her beliefs conflicted with the ones she was hearing throughout the week from chapel messages and my devotions. During our one-on-one time, she showed me her Mormon scriptures and told me about some of their practices. I didn’t really know how to handle it – this little girl was only nine and really didn’t know any better. I couldn’t imagine adopting a belief system different than that of my parents, let alone at her age. But she had heard the Truth all week, and all I can do is hope and pray that the seed produces a harvest someday.
The night the campers left was one of the strangest times I’ve experienced this summer. Now that it was all over, I felt almost as if it were the very first night I got to camp, and I was about to start all over again – I was lost, lonely, and seemingly purposeless. My work here was finished, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I get that feeling to a certain extent nearly every weekend, when I have little responsibility and no schedule. But it was different this time. I had come out to camp for a reason, and that reason was to serve God and love on kids. But the kids were gone now, and all I could do was ask God to point out the next direction.
Thankfully, the guys felt a little more purposeful. They decided it would be a great night to burn stuff – lots of stuff. Around 10pm, they created a huge bonfire on the front beach, and several of us hung out and talked down there for a few hours while it burned. (One of my favorite parts was using a leaf blower to spread the flames.) For whatever reason, it felt really good to watch stuff be on fire. It felt almost as if I could just throw all my anxiety about the future into those flames and then stand back and watch them burn. It reminded me that our God is a consuming fire – nothing can escape Him, and nothing is beyond Him. Jon-Michael made a comment about how we should make t-shirts with this summer’s theme being: “Echo Ranch Summer 2009: Did that just happen?” God has done some crazy stuff this summer, like provide just enough guys to counsel, just enough people to be on work staff, just the right number of kids for the people we had available… Things we knew we wouldn’t be able to pull off on our own. Our God is truly faithful.
I sat down in front of the big windows in the dining hall with my Bible and prayer journal on Saturday night. My heart was exhausted, and all I could do was keep asking God, “Help me. I need You.” I felt that I had no idea where to go from here – more specifically, after I was finished with school in December. I have been wanting a clear calling and direction from Him, and it just hasn’t been happening. Jon-Michael saw me there and came over to chat. He told me about how it sounded like many of the counselors have been struggling with this same thing – wanting to know the will of God. But he explained that we are not supposed to know God’s secret will; we’re supposed to “just do stuff,” and God will illuminate different situations in which we can serve Him along the way. His will is ultimately that we love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength – everything else will fall into place from there. “Just focus on God, that’s all.” It reminded me that that was the way of the righteous in the Bible – they did not need to ask God for direction each and every time they made a decision; they just lived lives that were pleasing to God because they followed His commands. When He wanted them to follow a particular path, He made it abundantly clear. And when they disobeyed Him, He still worked through it to bring about good. It gave me a lot of peace about the days to come; I love the way God uses people to speak truth and give comfort.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The final Maverick (ages 12-14) camp of the summer was this week. If you didn’t catch it from my last post, it got off to kind of a rough start because I wasn’t expecting to counsel. When I learned that I would be after all, I had fairly mixed emotions. I felt excited about sharing my passion with an age group that I already knew I loved, but I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to spend as much time with the counselors who would be leaving that week. As mildly frustrating as it was, however, I was fired up (in a good way) and ready to go Monday morning. I could hardly contain my excitement during my quiet time with God that morning – I felt like I was flying through the Bible, finding passages that related to why Jesus died and why that matters and how much He loves us and all those kinds of things. I knew it was going to be an awesome week.
I had nine girls in my cabin with four who had been in the same cabin during Maverick 2 week. I had become pretty good friends with their previous counselor (Nikki), and I knew she had had a strong connection with that particular cabin, so I was a little intimidated when I got them in mine. (But you get used to hearing “my last counselor did…” and “last time I was at camp, we did…” after awhile.) Overall, though, it was a great week.
It started off on a pretty discouraging note, though. During our first evening devotion of the week, I got grilled by one of the girls on how it could be that Jesus was the only way to heaven (and whether this or that or the other thing was a sin), though it seemed more for the sake of making me frustrated than because she really wanted to know the answers. Everyone else seemed to either be sleeping or just not care. (This was after a guys vs. girls version of Capture the Flag played out at horse camp, in which one girl severely gashed her lip and one of mine lost her shoe somewhere in the woods. The only fun part was when the counselors all stood up on the tractor on the way back to base camp, doing the Hokey Pokey and nearly falling off several times. Jon-Michael was right when he told the campers that we would be losing our minds this week.) This attitude seemed to carry on for the first few days, reflected by their responses to chapel messages and the questions I asked to try to stimulate some discussion.
By Wednesday afternoon, I felt completely hopeless. I had come into this week so ready to get these girls on fire for Jesus, and in response I was getting meaningless questions and blank stares. During free time that day, I sat down with my journal and Bible, trying to find some encouragement. I wanted someone to talk to, with whom I could share my frustration, so God thought it would be a good time to send Nikki over. (He has done this at several points this summer. When I needed an encouraging word or someone to lean on, He would send just the right person almost immediately.) She was there to listen to me vent, almost to the point of tears. When it was time to round up all the campers for a big group game, I was in tears. I just wanted the girls to care, to realize how important God is, to fully grasp that He is everything. On a more selfish note, I wanted to “click” with my cabin, and I felt like we still hadn’t up to that point. Once again, though, God had it under control. They dynamic seemed to change completely that afternoon, and I felt for the first time like I was part of the group. Devotions that night put the icing on the cake – Nikki came over to help lead, and the girls were a lot more responsive.
The theme for the week was “Wild, Wild West,” so the chapel theme was based on the idea of being free – what those who traveled West were looking for. By the end of the week, several of the girls had felt challenged and spiritually driven by the messages in chapel and the testimonies of others. I got the opportunity to encourage and mentor a few of the girls in their relationships with God during our one-on-one times – the only instance in which I love being used. But there were also girls who really could not have cared less about anything related to God, and that was disappointing. But if it takes a time (or several) in the depths of the valley to bring them to Him, then so be it. I hope they remember.
While the spiritual aspect is certainly the most important part of camp, there were lots of other sweet parts of the week. Because the weather has been so hot all summer, we have been setting up a slip and slide in the sports field for the older kids. This week, we set it up on a hill on the beach so that it went into the ocean. While I wasn’t excited at all about going on it (it was rainy outside, and the ocean is cold!), it ended up being a blast. We also decided to incorporate the “chastity chat” into this Maverick camp, which wasn’t nearly as successful as it was for the senior high group due to the younger age and lower maturity level. But it was good for the girls to hear about modesty, “fleeing” from temptation, and healthy relationship boundaries with male friends (side hugs instead of bear hugs and saying things like “you’re swell” rather than “I love you” – no kidding).
My girls and I decided it would be a good week to prank a boys cabin, so we decided to try to carry out the same one my senior high cabin failed at completing a few weeks prior. The plan was to tie a rope to both doorknobs of the cabin to keep the guys from opening either door, put trashbags over all the windows to make it look dark outside, and wrap toilet paper all around the cabin. Around 1:30am Wednesday morning, we set out on our mission. We soon figured out that the rope wasn’t long enough, so we resorted to TPing only – and then discovered we pranked the wrong guys cabin. So we just did it to all three. No one ever figured out it was us, but they didn’t seem to care as much as we hoped when the truth was revealed. Oh well.
Counseling is always exhausting, but I have to admit that I miss these girls. Around the end of the week, I realized that some of them were the kinds of girls I would be friends with if I were closer to their age. We had a good time taking pictures, singing Disney songs, eating meals together, all those kinds of things. Oh, sweet goodness. Guess I’ll just have to keep up with them on Facebook.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Week 9: July 26-August 1
Bronco 2 (ages 10-11) camp was this week. It was weird to come full circle, back to the age group I first counseled. I feel like I have changed since that week of camp – not in personality, likes and dislikes, or level of maturity – in a way that reflects how God has been working in my life. I have seen His glory, witnessed the power of His truth. I can recall several instances of answered prayer when I thought things would never work out. I know now that God truly is trustworthy. I always knew He was, but I never really handed Him the reins in my life to the extent that He could work as much as He should have been able. I’m beginning to take bigger leaps of faith now, trusting that He will direct my path and not lead me astray. It’s all easier said than done, and I’m nowhere near a full understanding of God (who could ever be?), but even these small steps have and will continue to change my life for the better. I hope and pray that it doesn’t stop at the boundaries of Echo Ranch, the “bubble” of life lived through faith and experiencing God like never before. I know it doesn’t have to and certainly should not, but it’s going to be a bittersweet homecoming nonetheless.
Sunday was one of the best and worst days here for most of the counselors. I think it was a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, apathy towards counseling, and the long weekend. We never really know what to do with ourselves when we have free time. Sometimes it’s nice to feel useless, but after getting used to going and going for several days in a row, week after week, the abrupt end in scheduled activities and responsibilities is always a sort of shock. I also missed my mom and hadn’t spent some real quality time with God in about a week, neither of which helped my mood at all. I knew that I had no desire to counsel this week and wasn’t ready to take charge of another group of kids. So I decided to buckle down and lock myself in a cabin to kick it with Jesus for awhile. It was awesome. I read Jeremiah 6 and came across this verse:
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
This verse is so simple, yet so profound, and it hit me really hard that particular night. In my prayer journal, I paraphrased it this way:
“When you get to the point where you could make either a good or bad choice (or any choice at all), STOP. Look around you. Which way does the Bible direct you? Which way does God tell you to walk when you ask Him? If that is the way you choose, your soul will be at peace.”
I had been feeling convicted about some of my decisions and attitudes before that, and reading this verse just showed me that choosing the right way really wasn’t as complicated as it felt. All I had to do was look for the biblical way and ask God where to go. Waiting is difficult, but God wouldn’t leave me hanging forever. As I continued to read and pray (and after a brief visit from some of my campers who had arrived early), I could feel the stress and frustration with the past and coming weeks being lifted off my shoulders, and I returned from my personal monastery a seemingly new being. What made it even better was walking into the dining hall and seeing five people wearing ridiculous dress-up hats, drinking tea, and eating candy, chocolates, and Girl Scout cookies. Naturally, I put on a funny hat and joined them. We stayed up late talking, laughing, and playing “Truth or Truth” (since no one was really up for the “Dare” portion). Our questions to each other – both funny and serious – led to some pretty good discussion, which uplifted all of our gloomy moods. Needless to say, the day ended on a fantastic note.
Monday, as usual, was relatively awkward. And most of the counselors, though not wholly dissatisfied with life, weren’t feeling up to counseling this week. But we had 123 kids to counsel this week (more than any other week so far), so we sucked it up and did our jobs. In addition, with so many counselors who had recently left, we were pretty short on work staff (only one counselor was assigned to work staff) and had no idea how we were going to pull this week off. But God certainly provided helping hands. Several people from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other places all said awhile back that they would be available to come and help out this week, even before we knew this week would be the one we needed help the most.
I had one of the easiest cabins ever this week. Almost all of my girls had been to camp several times, and I had one girl who is a staff kid and another who used to be a staff kid. I had another girl whose mom used to be a wrangler at the camp. All of my girls were saved before coming to camp as well, though a few of them didn’t seem to understand what salvation really meant. It was encouraging to see what they had learned about the gospel message by the end of the week. My evening devotions have gotten pretty redundant in that I always focus on what it means to be saved. There is so much confusion these days on how one knows he is a Christian, how to get to heaven, and the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven – especially among youth. I’ll admit that I sometimes get annoyed repeating the same thing over and over, but I know they need to hear it. I just hope that being able to recite all the “right” answers didn’t stand in the way of the excitement of getting to know God better, for them or me. Even though it was repetitive, I did get the opportunity to explain the gospel several times throughout the day to different girls, rather than just talking about it during devotions. The girls also had a lot of questions about God, so it was fun being able to pull from knowledge I forgot I had and God’s inspiration to give them answers. I love the childlike faith these kids have, the simplicity of their questions, and how easily they accept your answers.
The camp week in itself was pretty typical. We did Sweet Dreams again (where we “sneak” out at night to find a plate of cookies hidden in a predetermined location), which the girls loved. It was also pretty hot this week, so we broke out the slip ‘n’ slide once again. Bronco camp also includes a “crime” that is committed at the beginning of the week that is related to the theme (“Wild Wild West” this week) and a kangaroo court at the end of the week. For the crime, one of the wrangler’s “stole” Jon-Michael’s fancy belt buckle given to him by his “Grandpappy”. At the trial, it was decided that the criminal masterminds behind the plot were Skylar and Alicia (the two counselors from Texas) and Naomi (the counselor from Arizona). They were “syruped and sanded” (having syrup and sand dumped on them) as their sentence. I got called up as a suspect, but thankfully I was let go at the end.
One thing that wasn’t so typical is that about half my cabin got sick this week. One of the girls had a horribly sore throat all week and cried more than once about it. On Thursday night before chapel, she was coughing so much that she thought she might throw up, and I felt so frustrated and completely helpless. I had been asking God to really help me feel for these girls because I really felt like I didn’t care anymore, so maybe that was Him breaking me. I don’t know. But our time spent waiting around for the nurses to come to our rescue was time well spent. It gave me time to connect with her a little more one-on-one, which I probably needed more than she did.
I feel like God has been teaching me to remember the good things He has done when I feel like the situation is hopeless. After a few days of counseling and frustration, Nikki (one of the counselors) and I decided to do a joint devotion one night after our evening devos with our cabins. I let my campers make s’mores over the stove in the cabin, and I could not keep the fire going for the life of me. It was still a productive night, however. I was able to share a brief version of my testimony with them, and as a result, four of them wanted to share theirs. I loved hearing that several of them really did understand what Jesus did for them, even at such a young age. At our “big people” devo afterwards, we talked about Psalm 77. It begins with David’s desperate cry to God, who couldn’t feel more far away. “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.” But it goes on to say: “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget the victories during those times spent in the valley. During counselor devotions the following day, God brought the topic up again. Randy, the staff worker who leads our devotions, had us read Joshua 4:1-7. In this passage, the Israelites are commanded by the Lord to set up stones as a memorial to something He had done for them. We spent the whole session remembering the victories the Lord had accomplished this summer. I know it’s not a coincidence when the same topic on God keeps coming up in different places, and it’s something I have definitely needed to hear lately.
I got the blessing of seeing a clear, starry sky on Thursday night. This wouldn’t be a huge deal at home, but for the past couple months, it has never gotten dark enough to see the stars at night. I couldn’t believe how shocked I was to be able to see them as I walked back to my cabin around midnight, and I went down to the beach so I could see even more. It was strange to think that the Big Dipper hanging in the sky in Alaska is the same one I see back home in Oklahoma or at school in Illinois. After being here for nine weeks, it’s hard for me to register that I am thousands of miles from anything familiar – I feel like this is my third home now.
After hiking the kids out on Friday, the counselors were able to wind down once again. I spent the evening with Nikki, Mandy, and Alison taking goofy pictures and making peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Saturday was also very relaxing, with time to sleep in a bonfire debriefing session about what life would be like after camp. As we sat around the fire, we talked about things we missed from back home and things we would miss from here after we left. We discussed how no one from home would understand what it’s like here, try as they might. We talked about what God had done in our lives here at camp, how He had worked in the lives of the campers, and how He would continue to work in us once we got back home. It made me more excited than ever for these remaining weeks of camp – seeing what He would do and whom He would save. But I’m also excited to go back home with a more solid faith and hopefully boldness in sharing the gospel. I want my life to reflect that change, and I want others to desire the same passion that has been given to me. The change doesn’t have to stop here at camp.
I’ll be on work staff for Maverick 3 (ages 12-14) camp this week, which I’m both happy and sad about. I’m bummed that I won’t be counseling because Maverick is my favorite age group to work with, but I’m also glad because Mandy and Nikki, two of my better counselor friends, are leaving this week, so I’ll get more time to hang out with them and say goodbye. Hopefully we can make some good memories working in the kitchen and taking goofy pictures and sanitizing outhouses (or cleaning the girls’ bath house with a hose and a broom, like Mandy I did a couple weeks ago). Either way, it will be a good week if we just surrender it to God. It’s that same painful message that hits me over the head every single week, yet taking up your cross daily is something you can only do on purpose.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Week 8: July 19-25
Work staff week was a much-needed break for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the children, but even too much of a good thing can be bad sometimes. I was put on work staff with two other girls, and it was great. I cleaned innumerable amounts of clothes, dishes, bathrooms… But I had fun and felt productive. Maybe busy work isn’t always that bad. We actually spent about two hours the first day sitting on the couch in the boys’ dorm (instead of cleaning it) snacking on dried mango slices and talking to one of the guys about his ideal wife. It was glorious.
My mom flew out to visit me last Wednesday (July 22nd), which was definitely a high point of the summer for me. I had said that she would be happy to help on work staff, so she was put on the schedule to prepare the dining hall for lunch with me. We basically put her to work as soon as she got here (helping me fold laundry, serving food to the kids, putting away dishes), but she seemed happy to do it. It was kind of fun to give her a taste of what real camp life is like, at least from behind the scenes.
I really believe her being here was a God thing. I have been needing a spiritual and emotional boost for awhile now. And now that the summer is just about over, I have started worrying about the future again: whether I will graduate in one semester or two, what I will do after college, etc. God brought her out here to encourage me to keep going strong and to assure me that He has everything under control. My favorite part of her visit was praying together over what I'll be doing during this last semester of college and beyond. Later that night, she left a sticky note on my laptop with Jeremiah 29:11 written on it:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I still haven't taken it off.
She said that being here for a few days also gave her some time to recharge spiritually, which was exciting to hear. It was wonderful for me to take a short break from the day-to-day camp life, hear stories and updates of life at home, and just spend time with someone who knows and loves me. We got to sleep in the nurses' apartment and go sightseeing in downtown Juneau for a day. We had a blast walking around, shopping, doing the whole tourist thing. The weather hadn’t been great Wednesday through Friday, but it was gorgeous on Saturday. I gave her a tour of camp, which included a couple of rides down the sky trolley and a trail ride. She left Saturday night.
Saturday also included a ladies’ night hosted by the full-time staff women. We all got to dress up and have a real live tea party, including little baked treats, games, and fancy teapots. Naturally, it was my dream come true. I think I drank about four cups of tea and ate my weight in baked goods and fruit. The guys, in the meantime, took the opportunity to prank our dorm room. They pulled a canoe in through the window, filled it with water, and put a live fish inside it. When a few of the girls returned, they bombarded them with water balloons. Thankfully, I missed that part. We named the fish Mohammad before he died the next day. We have yet to retaliate, but I’m sure something will happen before the summer is over.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Despite the nearly overwhelming awkwardness of the week, however, I did have fun with my girls. I also learned that you’re not really supposed to sleep at night during that week; instead, you prank other cabins. On Tuesday night, I woke from the “twilight zone” to an air horn being blown into our cabin. After yelling at whoever it was to get out, I got up and saw “HA HA” written in shaving cream outside on the ground. (I learned later that one or two of the guys had urinated into bottles and poured them all over our porch.) The next night, we decided it was our turn to prank a guy cabin. Our vision was to wrap toilet paper all around a cabin, tie a rope to both door knobs to keep them from getting out, and tape black trash bags over all the windows so they couldn’t see daylight. We left our cabin around 1:30am with our supplies and hid out near the boys’ cabins, waiting for them to fall asleep. Unfortunately, our plan failed. A group of guys found us hiding and chased us down the beach, spraying us with shaving cream along the way. We then returned to our cabin, grabbed some balloons, and headed to the bath house to fill them up with water. Soon after the water balloon battle began, we were all instructed to go to bed by another one of the counselors (who had learned that two other water balloon battling cabins had woken up some of the staff workers). Thankfully, we were not bothered for the rest of the week.
These girls were competitive in the games as well. They had been talking smack against the boys all week, so we decided to compete against a specific boys cabin for Mission Impossible (a night game in which you sneak around to different locations and try not to get caught by guards). We dressed in all black, painted our faces with camouflage colors, ran fast, crawled through horse poop, and beat the boys! For their punishment, they had to eat breakfast without hands or utensils the next day. We were pretty proud of ourselves.
In all the chaos and madness of the fun and games, I really wasn’t sure how to incorporate spirituality into the group. I had shared my testimony with them during our first evening devotion, but they weren’t as responsive as I had hoped. But once again, God showed me up. He really hit (most of) those girls at the very core during chapel as Jon-Michael was speaking. We did our evening devotions in the gym on Wednesday night. At that point, I had thought that the girls hadn’t been listening at all in chapel or devotions and couldn’t care less about God. To my shock, however, every girl expressed what God had been revealing to them during the messages. One of them broke down and surrendered her life to God again after the Lifehouse skit the next night. As I talked to a few of them later on in the week to learn their testimonies (an event that, in itself, was a major answer to prayer), they expressed how they wanted to keep each other accountable for their actions and spiritual lives once they got back home. It was so awesome to see Him work – without my (intentional) help.
Another element of the spiritual growth in these girls was the death of one of their close friends before camp (http://juneauempire.com/stories/070709/obi_460685120.shtml). Cameron Clark died on July 1st at the age of 16. He was hiking up Mt. McGinniss with some friends and then dropped his backpack off a cliff. He suffered a fatal fall while trying to retrieve it. This event deeply impacted many of the Juneau teens. While it undoubtedly made many of them angry at God, it drew some of them closer. It got them thinking about God again. It raised discussion. It helped them realize how important it is to remember that you’re not invincible, follow God, and share the Good News with those who haven’t accepted it.
At the counselors’ praise and prayer session on Saturday night, I expressed how I felt that I had failed at my task that week because my heart and mind just weren’t in the game. I felt drained in every area, but God had worked in my girls’ lives nonetheless. I was approached the next day by one of the staff workers while I was helping to clean up the dining hall.
“Reagan, you know what you said was a lie, right?”
“What did I say?”
“When you said that you failed in your cabin. God did work through you, just by you being there for those girls… You did exactly what He wanted you to do.” (paraphrase)
I tried my best to keep down the tears but failed miserably. Maybe He gave me those girls because I was just meant to listen and encourage rather than be actively involved in their spiritual lives. Or maybe He just wanted to show me how His power is made perfect in my weakness. Maybe it was both. I may never know the reason that aspect of the week went the way it did, but I do know that His ways are certainly higher than mine.
I left quite a bit of detail out, like how my girls dropped me after my “trust fall”, that I finally learned how to play ultimate Frisbee (and loved it!), that we spent most of our “rotations” time napping… Just ask me about it later if you care to know the extended version. For now, though, pray that God would give us all renewed strength in Him, passion for His truth, and love for the kids. We’re all tired, but the work isn’t done yet.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
My mom is coming to visit me this week! Big up to moms who fly to Alaska to visit their daughters who work at summer Bible camps.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Week 6: July 5-11
Wow, what a week. What an incredible week.
It started off pretty rough. Kirk, one of the guy counselors, got sick in town over the July 4th weekend. We left him lying on his death bed in Auke Bay on Saturday night so he could recover before coming back to camp. He ended up in the hospital, having been diagnosed with both pneumonia and anemia. He had to get three blood transfusions. The kids from Maverick 1 who had returned to Maverick 2 this week noticed that he was gone because he had led worship for them the last time, so we were all pretty worried. Once again, though, I can’t deny that God answers prayer. We prayed for his recovery during chapel, and he came back Wednesday! He made a glorious and pretty epic entrance into the chapel while Jon-Michael was speaking. As he walked up the steps and into the room, Jon-Michael announced, “Hey, everybody, Kirk is back!” And the crowd roared. What better way to demonstrate the power of prayer right in front of these kids? God really does work in all things for the good of those who love Him, all to glorify Himself. Awesome.
Mondays are always interesting for the counselors. The first time you meet your kids is generally pretty awkward. You unintentionally form your opinions of each girl based on how much she talks to you or what she looks like or whether she offers you a piece of gum when she gets unpacked. Those impressions never last. Just another lesson to be learned.
The counselors are expected to talk with each camper one-on-one at some point during the week to gauge where they stand with God. After talking with each kid, we’re supposed to fill out evaluations for each one so the camp can know how many kids are unsaved, saved this week at camp, or were already saved. We had received a new survey to give the kids along with their evaluations. This survey included questions like What is sin? What are the Ten Commandments? How can you know right from wrong? Where do you think you’ll go after you die? Why should God let you into Heaven? How sure are you that you’ll go to Heaven? It was really interesting to see the results.
I had ten very different girls in my cabin this week: three 14-year-olds and seven 12-year-olds. One of the 14-year-olds was the poster child for “troubled teen”. She dressed the part, came from a verbally abusive home, and didn’t have a much better experience at school. She made friends by telling perverted jokes and had no problem with swearing. She had no interest in God at all; in fact, she hated Him. One of her friends had recently committed suicide, and she blamed God for not saving Him. When I looked at her survey by the end of the week, I was heartbroken by the answers she gave. What is sin? “Me.” How sure that you will go to Heaven? “Not sure at all.” In spite of her answers, she had some really interesting religious views. She believed there was a God, but she didn’t care at all. She believed that everyone would be forgiven in the end and that everyone would go to heaven. She viewed Christianity as a crutch for those who needed someone to blame or a reason not to be scared of death. I prayed like crazy that God would break down the walls of her heart and reach into those crevices. But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.
I had several other girls who were struggling spiritually as well. Many of them wanted to be close to God, but they didn’t know how. I forgot how dramatic middle school is. A few of them gave me the rundown of every friend problem they are currently dealing with, and all I could do was nod and try to be empathetic (empathic?). Most of the girls came from non-Christian and/or non-church-going homes. In fact, I don’t think any of their parents went to church. If the girls went at all (and very few of them did), they went with grandparents or friends. I can’t even imagine how hard that would be. One of my biggest questions about my life is whether I would be a Christian if I hadn’t come from a Christian home. I guess I will never know, but I am so thankful that God blessed me with those circumstances.
So, back to Monday. I clicked pretty well with my girls, which was awesome. In fact, the only dramatic thing that took place didn’t involve my cabin, thankfully. A girl got a stick stuck in her foot. It was impressive, too. It was probably half the thickness of a pencil and about two inches long. It was in the top side, running from between her big and second toes to between her fourth and pinky toes. Ouch. She had to be taken to the ER in town to get it removed, but she came back on Thursday.
Tuesday was when the cabin drama began. A few of my girls (including the one I talked about) were or had become good friends with one of the guys at camp. One of the girls got really upset when she hung out with that group because they all made perverted jokes. Another girl felt caught in the middle between the girl who was upset about the jokes and the one who was making the jokes. While the first girl was outside crying, I listened to the side of the girl who felt like she had to choose between friends and the girl who “wouldn’t change who she was”. Sweet. It was all okay in the end without my intervention, thankfully.
The counselor skit team performed the Lifehouse “Everything” skit (look it up on YouTube!) again on Wednesday night, and the response was about the same as last time. Jon-Michael, the chapel speaker for the week, talked about death and how important it is to know where you’ll go when your life comes to an end. Many of the kids, including about half my girls, spent that evening crying for various reasons. Devotions that evening consisted mostly of stories about how loved ones had died. These girls had a lot of pain to deal with. A couple of them experienced some awesome spiritual wake-up calls, though, which was incredible to witness. One girl talked about it during devotions, and another borrowed my pen so she could journal about God for around half an hour. They realized that they needed and actually wanted Him. Oh, sweet goodness.
I’m not sure I had ever prayed so much in such a short time span. I came to a much better understanding of what it means to “pray without ceasing.” I told many of my girls that, as you get to know God better and better, prayer just becomes natural. I pray when I’m walking around camp, sitting in the bathroom, lying in bed, everywhere. There’s nothing like having a true, growing relationship with God – when Christianity is a lifestyle rather than a label. Probably as a result of talking to God so much, I could tell that He was talking back through me. There were so many times where I was convinced that the words coming out of my mouth were not from me. As I told my girls my story during devotions or answered their questions about God or gave my testimony in chapel on Friday, I knew that my words were not my own. I got so pumped up during my testimony that I was out of breath! I focused a lot on the times I found God during times of deep loneliness and how He worked through those trials of my life to bring me true joy and satisfaction in Him. At the end, I read Psalm 73:23-26, which says, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
I also don’t think I’ve gotten so much water dumped on me in such a short time span. Since it was a hot and sunny week, we played a lot of water games outside. One of the games involved being blindfolded and searching for a water gun in the sand. Once you find the water gun, you squirt other people with it until you find theirs. In a round with all the other counselors, I never found mine, so I got shot by everyone and then a hose to the head. A popular phrase around here is “for the kids” (or “FTK” for short). It’s the only response there is for the times you find yourself looking ridiculous while dancing in chapel or wearing tacky outfits on themed dress-up days or getting a pie smashed in your face for losing a cabin competition. This was one of those times, I guess. Another one of those times was the day I decided to read my mail before doing the ritual Gray Squirrel dance after dinner. I said that I only wanted to read it and that I would do the dance anyway, but I guess that didn’t cut it. They made those of us who were impatient get on our knees while singing the song, and then we got water dumped on our heads. FTK. I guess I’ll know better for next time. I also got water thrown at me by a kid who didn’t appreciate me chasing him down with a noodle (the swimming pool kind) during Storm the Castle. That was only for him, though.
Friday was my favorite day of the week. It was the day of Crud War, which was something I hadn’t participated in since I went to church camp in high school. The whole point of Crud War is to throw lots of gross stuff at other people. I got shaving cream smeared all over my face, potato/cheese/cream/noodle/meat slop in my hair, and flour in my ear. Nice. We all ran into the ocean to wash the gross off before showering. It was the first time I had actually fully submerged myself in the Pacific Ocean, so I guess that was epic. After chapel, we had the campfire. Unlike the last one, where we sang silly songs and talked about all the good times, this campfire included worship and testimonies shared by the kids. One of the kids who shared was the guy that all my girls loved hanging out with. We learned that he had struggled with some pretty intense depression recently and had wanted to kill himself before being turned in by a friend from school. He wasn’t sure where he stood with God now, but he knew he wanted to come back to Him. This hit four of my girls right at the core. When we got back to the cabin that night, three of them really wanted to share their testimonies, so we stayed up until just after 1am doing that. One of them talked about how she had struggled with self-image. Another talked about how she had cut herself, and battled with depression, been abused from her stepdad, and had dealt with suicidal thoughts. Finally, the girl I talked about earlier shared. Before sharing, though, she prayed aloud for the previous girl. I couldn’t believe it. I thought this girl wanted absolutely nothing to do with God, and here she was, sincerely praying for one of her friends! After telling her life story, she said that she now believed in God and had a greater respect for Christianity. Unbelievable. There is a God! Needless to say, this was the highlight of my week. I had prayed so hard for this girl to let God in, and I saw it right there in front of my eyes. God answers prayer.
Even though this girl wasn’t ready to accept Christ into her life at the end of this week, she told me she might start reading her Bible. Since she didn’t have one of her own that wasn’t a children’s Bible, I gave her one of the camp’s. On the inside cover, I wrote a note that told her about how much God loved her and would always stand by her side and that I hoped she would really get into the Word and eventually put her faith in Him. She was so grateful. I hope and pray that she actually reads it. If you think about it, please pray for her.
God answers prayer. If it seems like He doesn’t, then keep praying. “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:10. So pray big.
Speaking of prayer, the only senior high week of this summer starts tomorrow. I will be counseling again. Please pray that God prepares the hearts of the campers and counselors. I expect nothing less than greatness.