This is our third straight week of camp at church. I've had different counselors each week. Most of them are high school or college student volunteers with no special training in interacting with children so there's a lot of on-the-job training during camp. Still, the kids instantly adore these amateur leaders, regardless of their inexperience. And the counselors love them back.
Several times a day I will enter our fellowship hall to find a counselor looking like a monkey covered tree. "No climbing on the counselors", I say. "If you break the counselors we can't have camp." The campers dutifully let go and move on, only to do it again an hour later. When we head to Bible study they cluster around these heroes, touching, patting, snuggling, smiling. At the end of the day, they often give their counselor a quick hug before leaving with Mom or Dad.
Yesterday I encountered a child crying as though his heart would break. His biggest issue was probably that he hadn't eaten his breakfast, but in his distress he expressed his grief that his favorite counselor from last summer wasn't here this year. "I haven't seen Adam for two whole years!" I wanted to jump in my car and go retrieve Adam from the camp where he is a paid counselor this year, just to ease the little guy's pain. Another savvy adult suggested that we call Michael, his favorite counselor from last week and see if he could come. That suggestion, along with a bowl of Cheerios solved his problems. Michael did come and my dart prayer for the little camper was miraculously answered when his Grandpa appeared a full hour early to pick him up.
All of this has me thinking about the amazing ways of God. Most of my counselors aren't at camp because they love kids. They are there because they have fond memories of being campers themselves, or because their friends are there, or because their parents made them. Many of them need volunteer hours for school or scouts or NHS. Yet being loved so unabashedly by the campers gets to them. It's irresistible. It strengthens their ties to the family of God.
Campers and counselors soak in love all day long. That's the real power of it all. Bible study is good. Arts and crafts are fun. Sitting down together and eating lunch is a friendly event. Singing silly songs loud and fast helps us all mix it up together but love pours down over it all and that's the secret ingredient. Like family reunions with cousins, what you do isn't as important as the memories you make together. The common experiences and relationships bind you together and give you joy when you gather again.
There are whole theories of camping ministry. There are professionals in the field of summer camps who give us amazing ideas for games and community building activities that are rooted in Bible and early church interactions (or restyled from other genres and made to fit) but in the end, it is people, kids, teens, and adults coming together to soak in God's love that makes camp so special.
Thanks be to God for this fantastic gift!