Some people are criers. They have one emotion – tears. No matter the situation, the moment any feelings bring themselves to the surface, crying is inevitable. I happen to be one of those people, and this trip has not been very good for solving that problem.
It’s no secret that Sam and I think camp is pretty awesome. There are plenty of reasons we feel that way, but at the top of the list is definitely the freedom people can experience there. There’s nothing quite like watching a kid discover that, at camp, they can be their whole self – weirdness and all. It starts with a couple of silly songs, works its way up to giving the rock wall a try, and eventually you can give them the floor to share their story, judgement free. Something clicks and joy blooms on their face as they see that camp isn’t like anywhere else. From that moment, there is freedom, and then we have the extraordinary opportunity to share the truest freedom of all.
Something happens at camp that allows people to open themselves up, not just to each other, but to the love God has waiting for them. You get to just be. Just laugh. Just listen. Just dance. Just sing.
Recently, we got the chance to sit in on a camp worship session. We just went to get a little video footage and be on our way. But, standing in the back of the room, I had the perfect vantage point to watch the session unfold. (Here’s where the crying bit comes in.) It wasn’t serious or somber. It wasn’t a huge production. It didn’t have to be any of those things, because in that moment the kids felt safe and free enough to sing, dance, and praise God. The team leaders led motions to help the kids focus. As they started to catch on to the lyrics, they sang louder and louder. I sang along too and got caught up in the lyrics.
“I won't fear what tomorrow brings/With each morning I'll rise and sing/My God's love will lead me through/You are the peace in my troubled sea”
At that point, I was welling up. I couldn’t help it. I thought about how many kids fear tomorrow and my heart overflowed to hear them sing words of freedom. And then the bridge (and the waterworks) kicked in…
“Fire before us, You're the brightest/You will lead us through the storms”
God has promised and faithfully shown up to guide me through so many storms in my life. He provided a visual image of a pillar of fire to guide us through the desert; we wandered, and he provided a ridiculous sign. So many of the kids/youth/people we serve at camp are desperately seeking a guide through their own storm. Tomorrow brings fear, worry, doubt, loss, and more of the unknown. When we invite them into a safe place, into freedom, and into worship, we give campers the opportunity to throw their hands up and say, “I’m afraid!” so that God can step in and whisper, “It’s okay.”
One of the first things I had to learn in camping ministry is that we don’t get to fix people. It’s not our place to turn people’s lives around or make everything better. That might not even be possible. What we can do is provide a place where it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be your whole weird self. It’s okay to give up control, admit defeat, and just sing. Just laugh. Just cry. Excuse my “Christianese,” but I LOVE watching chains fall off in camp worship. If all we can do is invite people to experience the freedom and unconditional love of Jesus, I’m okay with that.
In fact, I’ll probably cry over it.