Growing up, Summer Camp was always the highlight of my summer. Even from the age of 5, I tagged along with my Mom who taught Girl’s Bible Class at Midwest Bible Camp in Brighton, Iowa. People may say there’s nothing special about Southern Iowa, but to me, it was the first place I saw God. I saw Him in grassy hills and pretty sunsets, I heard Him in four part harmony and late night bunk bed whispers, and I felt him in sunburns and sweaty hugs. But most importantly, I experienced God living within the people, especially the camp counselors, who took the time to get to know me, encouraged me, and taught me about Jesus by loving me in a way only a gracious, relentless, and perfect God could inspire.
These people God placed so intentionally in my life, ultimately lead me to become a summer camp counselor, and later, lead me to York College. During my sophomore year, I decided to interview for a position as a traveling camp counselor for YC. I was in complete disbelief someone would pay me to travel across the country for the sole purpose of talking about Jesus and the College I love so much. When I was offered the job, I immediately began visualizing what my summer would be like. In my head, there were an abundance of images of me saying profound things about God all while sporting a nice tan. Fortunately, God had something a little different in store.
When I arrived on campus in June to embark on my summer journey, I was filled with a sense of urgency to embark, but was surprisingly anxious about traveling and working with my found recruiting teammates. While I was confident I had the capabilities to be in a camp counseling position, I was less than prepared to spend an entire summer with three of my peers who I had barely ever spoken to, and were, at least in my mind, painfully out of my social league.
On the first morning of our anticipated summer, my newfound teammates, Jolene, Dylan, and Asa, greeted me as I climbed into Dylan’s packed car, a car which later, I’d discover he lovingly calls Tamika, (this is where I would insert an eye roll emoticon if it was appropriate for a blog post). As I politely greeted them, I was preparing myself for conversations I could not participate in and awkward silences. I knew this was probably inevitable, since the three were already friends with each other and it seemed I had very little in common with any of them. I couldn’t picture us being friends, so I made up my mind to keep to myself and participate in conversation only when it was necessary. While this strategy was effective for approximately the first half hour or so of the trip, Dylan, Jolene, and Asa, absolutely refused to give into my seemingly shy exterior. Through too many trips to Raising Canes, a solid road trip playlist, and the several miniature adventures of finding ourselves completely lost while trying to locate every single camp, (this is not an exaggeration in the slightest, I promise) I developed three friendships I can’t imagine living without today.
While none of them had any obligation to be especially kind to me, I was overwhelmed by how welcome I felt in their presence, how genuine their words were, how graciously they included me in every conversation, and ultimately the genuine love I was shown despite knowing very little about me. It quickly became clear, God was going to show me something important about His people bringing His Kingdom to earth within these next few months. The second Dylan grabbed my hand and started belting, “Eye to Eye” from The Goofy Movie, I knew for certain I was about to experience a life-changing summer.
I knew when I accepted a position as a traveling camp counselor; I would have to deal with extreme heat, bug bites, and an insane lack of sleep. What I wasn’t prepared for was the pain in my heart every time I had to leave the people, campers, counselors, directors, and bible class teachers, after spending such a limited amount of time with them. I suppose I became aware of the fact that I might make a few new friends throughout the summer, but the idea I would become emotionally invested in the lives of so many people, some so beautifully different than myself, was completely unexpected, and ultimately why accepting this job became one of the best things to ever happen to me. Through meal times, bible classes, and random conversations sitting in the grass, God slowly taught me how important His people are. My faith was no longer about how I could acquire God’s love and approval. Instead, my faith became an overflow of His love, pouring into and out of the hearts of each person he placed so intentionally in my life. It became about stopping to truly listen to so many stories of heartache, sin, doubt, and injustices, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me and dwell in the midst of the hurt people I encountered, whether it was an encouraging word; or a reason to laugh.
Through all of theses stories and conversations with so many different people, I was inhospitably reminded how often I dismiss people with different perspectives, attitudes, upbringings, and beliefs than my own as being unworthy of love. I am incredibly and eternally grateful to all the individuals I encountered this past summer who allowed their vulnerability to contribute to my personal growth.
It was difficult to leave friends and be unsure of our next meeting, but I believe the precious and limited amount of time we have to spend together at any camp is what makes it camp such a special place to those of us who have experienced it. Often when I leave a camp, I am reminded of the lyrics of the old hymn, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”
Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers; our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts, and our cares. We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear. When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.
Several months later, I still find myself laughing at how many times I sang the devotional song, “Firm Foundation” or tearing up thinking about how loved each of my campers made me feel without even realizing it. As my faith continues to develop in new ways or in moments when I feel doubt begin to creep in, I will always have these memories to reflect upon and smile about. I am incredibly grateful to be part of a community at York College that believes in me and gives me opportunities such as this to lead and grow.