Camping in the slow lane

The girls' team winning the tug of warThere’s something about young people that fills me with optimism.  Perhaps it’s their all-encompassing world view.  Maybe it’s their insatiable love for life.  Or possibly even just because I remember being a young person myself and how crucial it was in my development.  Whatever the reason, I’ve discovered I all to easily agree to help kids in all sorts of ways, keen to teach them something new, point them in the right direction, prod them into thinking about things in a new way, and then shove them off a cliff to see how far they fly.

I guess it’s partly with that in mind that I and my wife are leaders each year on a Christian youth camp.  I say ‘partly’ because the other half of the reason I go is that Ellie asked me to, and since we were engaged at the time (the first year we went) I felt I ought to say yes.  Since that first year we’ve both made ourselves quite indispensible, doing lots of stuff, leading lots of things, running hither and thither to help out wherever we can.

This year was slightly different for both of us, for different reasons.  The main difference for me, as you may have read, is that I’ve had a hernia.  I was under doctor’s orders not to lift anything heavier than a kettle, and not to do too much walking around either.  Ellie’s time was also eaten into by the attention of our baby Samuel, who had his first experience of exuberant teenagers this year.  Camp this year was tough on all of us – physically and mentally.

My main responsibility at camp is leading and co-ordinating the music and worship during the week.  I’m the front man for the band, which plays for the morning and evening meetings each day, helping the kids worship God in music.  I choose the songs, co-ordinate the rehearsals, lead worship and provide musical interludes where appropriate.  This year we had a music session on each day as well, and for the most part I led those single-handed too.  There was a worship workshop on band dynamics, two practices for the members’ band (who provided the music for one of the evening meetings), and a jam session where the young people could come and play.  I was also on hand to help out with the DJ session, and usually help with ‘Junk Funk’ too (which is a percussion session using bits of junk we find around the site).  And that’s all in addition to co-leading a Bible study group and being a dorm leader, and all the other responsibilities of camp in general.  Oh, and I was the official photographer as well.

Normally I would have thrown myself into all those activities, and doubtless worn myself out by the third day as usual.  But, with my hernia hampering my ability to take part in anything even remotely physical, I had to take things a lot slower than usual.  I had to leave extra time to get between locations, because I could only walk at a very leisurely pace if I wanted to avoid a lot of pain later in the day.  I had to get people to carry things for me.  I had to ask other people to run around and find the theatre keys while I sat outside in the sunshine.  I had to push in the queue at meal times s that I wouldn’t be standing for longer than I needed to.  It may sound like a cushy life, but in reality it was really hard work – not physically, but mentally.

Life wasn’t easy for Ellie, either.  While it was a godsend having her mum with us to look after Samuel during the day, Ellie still needed to be with him for some of the time, and of course she was still getting up during the night to feed him.  How she had the energy to do camp at all I really don’t know.  And of course because I wasn’t able to physically do much with Samuel, I then felt guilty for sitting and watching.

And yet, despite this backdrop of difficulty and inconvenience, camp was still undeniably awesome.  The worship band, which consists of only three people – me playing guitar and keyboard (not at the same time), Greg on bass, Sarah on drums – gelled together almost instantly, and I was once again amazed and inspired by how rich and full a sound the three of us could make.  Leading worship from a sitting position didn’t appear to have a major impact on the effectiveness, and many of the young people said how wonderful the worship had been during the week.  I even taught them a few of my own songs, which seemed to go down well.

Everyone looked after me, everyone understood why I wasn’t able to do as much, no one was offended at my inaction or blamed me for lateness.  Being temporarily disabled gave me an insight into other areas of camp, those chilled out times in Stanbucks (our on-site equivalent of a Starbucks cafe), the spectators at the sidelines of sport activities, the conversations and relationships taking place in the breaks and free time.  It was beautiful.  I got to listen, to hang out, to gain insights into people’s lives that I’d never found time to explore in previous years.  Yes, this year’s camp was lived in the slow lane, but ultimately I found it to be a very positive experience.

And then there were the kids.  Or ‘members’, as we officially call them.  A lot of them are repeat offenders – by which I mean they come back to camp year after year.  Sometimes they bring their friends, too.  And it’s been so inspiring to see how they’ve all grown and matured in the last few years.  I remember leading the members’ band a few years ago, and recall how hard work it was getting them to work together and wanting the show off their musical talents.  This year, in stark contrast, I was blown away by their spiritual maturity, their willingness to serve, their ability to work together for a common goal, and their musical skill.  That Thursday evening when the members’ band were on stage was such a rewarding experience – its rare that you get to see those seeds grow and mature over the years, and I’m so thrilled with the way God has been at work in their lives in those 51 weeks of the year they’re not at camp.

I’ve put photos up on Facebook, as usual, and most of the members are now ‘friends’ with me.  I find it interesting watching them go through life the rest of the year, seeing what’s going on in their lives, how God’s working in them.  And I guess that’s the key.  Nothing we do at camp would be worth a penny if God were not at the centre of it all.  There’s no way such a small group of leaders should have the energy or resources to do what we do each year and still be able to drive home at the end of it.  There’s no way we would have any impact on young people’s lives if it weren’t for God being there to inspire them and help them grow.  It’s God who attracts them, God who challenges them, God who changes them, God who equips them, God who supports them when they go back home.

I’m looking forward to next year’s camp already.  Ellie and I have a list of things we’d like to improve or add.  But most importantly I’m looking forward to meeting with the young people again, seeing where God has led them in the last 51 weeks, seeing how they’ve grown and matured, catching a glimpse of the people God is making of them.  I’m also hoping I won’t need a desk chair on stage next year.

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