My work as Camp Pastor is now over. It was a lot harder and a lot more rewarding than I expected. In fact, I don’t think I realized I was expecting anything until it all unfolded.
Here’s what I learned about Jr. Highers:
no images were foundTheir faces do not express what is in their hearts unless you are relentless and then they will cry. Their skill with waiting out the awkward silence almost matches my own. Let’s be honest, a few times, they won the silence. They are both adult and child, mixed together in a way that makes it difficult to navigate things like kindness and discipline. I think it’s mixed up for them, too…
There were many precious pre-teens that I will remember for the rest of my life, but two are worth noting. They are at opposite ends of my experience last week.
no images were foundOne young man was immediately open and responsive. He answered questions eagerly, spoke to me after chapel several times and wrote me an encouraging note. When we ended Thursday night chapel with an invitation to life with God, he immediately approached me and wanted to pray. I encouraged him to choose the words and I would stand with him. Here is what he prayed, “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner, but I love you and I know you love me. Please let your Holy Spirit live inside me. Amen.”
Needless to say that when he was done praying (and quickly walked away) his counselor and I were a little wet around the eyelids.
The other camper who impacted me was a young man that maybe only said two words to me directly the whole week.
no images were foundI didn’t see him smile and I only heard offended or mocking words come from his mouth. I think if I had been one of the campers, I would have been scared of him. As it was, I felt compelled to pray for him all week long. Although I looked for a moment to connect with him, this did not happen. Besides his intense hostility, I saw dignity in his face and I will keep praying that he will see that even if the world seems to be out to get him, God is not.
I was not the kind of teacher I expected myself to be this week and it caused me to realize a couple of things. One is that most people would rather hear your story than your “knowledge.” Even though the theme for the week was “Finding Your Place in God’s Epic Story,” I resisted letting it be as simple as telling my story. I felt compelled to give it more structure and more instruction than they needed. Looking back I realize it would have been easier and also more meaningful if I had stuck simply to my own story with God.
Another thing I realized is that I’m a lot less wordy than I expected myself to be. I prepared super basic things and if the campers had really taken advantage of the questions I asked and offered to be asked, it would have all taken much longer. As it was, they also just shared briefly and were not full of questions.
I’m okay with this, actually- 9pm after a long day of fun and sun is not the time to give long sermons to 12 and 13 yr olds.
So. There is it. Now that I have truly begun to do this big thing I felt called to do, I am feeling a lot like The New Kid but also really free. I’m on the road I know I’m supposed to be on and I know that I’m loved. It’s hard, but I’m happy.