Camp Talk

At Starbucks this morning, an older gentleman who sits and talks with me on a regular basis asked where I had been the last week. A few minutes before that Bill, the barista, had asked me the same question. I reiterated to the retired Air Force gentleman that I had been at middle school church camp since the previous Saturday.

He replied, “You’re an extraordinary person, working with kids that age!”, to which Barista Bill echoed, “I can’t talk to middle schoolers. They drive me crazy!”

“I love working with middle schoolers. Maybe that says something about my maturity level.”

Maybe it also says something about the hope I have for the younger generation. I focused my teachings on the first words that Jesus says to several people in the gospels, like Nicodemus and the woman at the well. I had enough Smarties and Dum-Dums close at hand to keep their attention. After the first day or so most of the campers saw me as something different than just an old guy with shorts on. They listened, were ready to ask questions I would throw out to them, and came to see the teaching times as unpredictable, diverse in presentation technique, and, for many, thought-provoking.

It’s about the umpteenth time I’ve been middle school camp pastor. At our camp, the middle school age group is for those who are entering 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. They are as different as types of fruit, and yet similar in so many ways.

The past two school years have seen me become a regular fixture in our middle school classrooms, teaching 7th graders from start to finish year-before-last, and probably half of this past year with 8th graders. They’ve taught me as I’ve tried to teach them. Church camp is simply an extension with open dialogue about Jesus, and middle school kids are unpredictable as my teaching styles.

For instance, the first night I was leading a prayer time. I asked them to be silent for a few moments and offer their personal prayers to the Lord. Ten seconds into the quiet one of the boys did a rat-a-tat-tat with unmistakable farts. There was no need to launch into a spoken prayer after that. I simply said, “The Lord speaks in different ways.”

The boy who couldn’t contain his “explosions” had one of the best weeks of his life. Flatulence aside, which resonated all through the night in his cabin room, he showed a love for Jesus, respect for the leaders, and a caring spirit toward his fellow campers. A couple of the teachings I gave were put almost immediately into action in how he lived out the camp days.

Another boy, whose youth pastor was one of our counselors, according to his pastor had the best week of his life. The young guy came from a dysfunctional family situation. Camp was a time of experiencing community, having fun, and not being minimized. He hugged me as he was about to leave and asked me to sign his camp t-shirt.

Talk was a dominant part of camp. Talking to kids as they rock climbed, encouraging them to keep going. Talking to kids at the meal tables. Talking to kids in the midst of our group games. Talking to kids on the basketball court. And talking to kids as we hiked to the top of Soldier’s Peak. As I told our staff at the beginning of the week, most kids need to see that the counselors care enough to get to know them before they come to the point of knowing that they care. Late night conversations would reveal fears, deeper questions about life and Jesus, and the importance of having peers walk beside them.

As one young lady said yesterday morning, “why can’t camp be two weeks?” It’d be great, although my body might really, really, really be screaming at me more than it already is. However, I am still getting a bit misty-eyed thinking of each one of these young people in the faith that I was privileged to walk with these past seven days.

I am more blessed now than I was a week ago…and more exhausted!

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One Comment on “Camp Talk”

  1. mbmankin Says:

    Blessings on you, Bill! You are truly living out your calling! I know the campers were blessed and God worked through you! Thanks be… Mary Beth


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