Each week of summer camp, we are offering a chance for one of our Summer Staffers to write a post about their experiences. This week’s guest blogger is Tiffany Dowdy, a seventh year staffer who is working as a Program Intern.
This week was the first week marking my last summer. I have been at Lakeshore on staff for the past 6 summer, making this my 7th summer. I have worked many camps and played several different roles in this ministry. My job is a difficult one to pin down. I am trained in several things but not hired to counsel or run an activity. I am here to learn about camping ministry and to serve God. That is vague, but it’s my job. It changes daily, but sometimes God has a completely different plan from what I have, actually most of the time God has a different plan. Being here so much has allowed me to experience several different types of challenges. This week was one week that will stay with me for years to come. I have worked with several types of groups: sports groups, youth groups, children, youth, adults, urban and rural groups. One I have never worked with is youth with physical and mental disabilities. Lakeshore now offers a camp for children and youth with physical and mental disabilities. I happened to know the leadership very well and had decided I was goig to attempt to spend time with their camp. We have appropriately named the camp Agape. Agape is Greek for unconditional love. This definition had a huge impact on my week.
Camp Agape started, and I met this boy who was signing in for the week. He was new, very quiet, and shy. I introduced him to a few people, and he quietly said, “Hello,” back. Then, I introduced him to a friend of mine who was a Volunteer Counselor that week. I told him her name and told her his name, then all of a sudden, he gently laid down his stuffed animal (from the 80s TV Show ALF) on his luggage, making sure it did not fall onto the floor, then turned and ran across the room, out the door on the other side. I was stunned. None of us understood what had just happened. This encounter was one of many where I felt helpless and confused, but this was alos the start of a journey that God was about to push me down, so that I may learn what it means to really love someone.
Lakeshore’s mission is, “to offer ways for all to experience life, love, and the God of grace.” This is the official mission statement. It sums up who we are, what we do, and why we do it. This is why I am and have been at camp. Up until this week, I thought I understood what it said. It is such a simple statement, one sentence, but it speaks volumes if you open up to what it is truly saying. This boy was the camper I spent the majority of my time with. He was challenging. He hated cabin time and always wanted to run away. He was very sensitive to loud noises. He got nervous when introduced to too many people. Girls made him nervous. All these things gave him a panicked feeling where all he wanted to do was run away from everything. My job for the week was to stop him from running and getting hurt. I discovered that he thought he was very strong. So, we would hand wrestle, where you hold hands and try to push the other person back. That worked a lot. We would use it to get him to take his medication. We convinced him he was stronger after he took it. We would also use this technique to get im to stop focusing on the things that made him nervous. There are few campers that we ever feel like we cannot handle, but he was one of them. The very idea and mentioning of sending him home, though, broke my heart. I really started to think about what our mission statement meant.
Offering ways for all to experience, life, love, and the God of grace.
I have never felt so conflicted. How are we going to live this out? How are we to offer life, love, and the God of grace? After a meeting with counselors, I had a breakdown. I could not, and still can not, see how sending this boy home displayed any of our mission statement. He was not violent, he ran out of fear, and I didn’t want us to be just another place that gave up on him. I decided he was not going home, and that I would give anything I could. I didn’t realize how much that was or how tired I would be afterwards. The leadership also informed me that they did not want to send him home either. We decided that he was to stay with us. Once we all got past the fear of him running from us, we discovered this very unique, sweet, witty, sensitive boy who would do anything for any of us. He was polite and would help with any task asked of him. We spent several moments sitting in rocking chairs, pretending they were cars, making driving noises, and, eventually, ran out of gas, causing one of us to buy gas for what he called a fair price: one cent. We played Power Rangers–every single version they now have. We talked about Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, and baseball. We drew more pictures than I think I have ever drawn in my life. We spent so much time with this boy learning about him, his thoughts, and his fears. We were able to recognize the look on his face when he began to be afraid. We discovered that he had a huge heart for God and loved to pray. We would tell each other Bible stories, and he knew more details than most people. We got to the point that he would sit in the room with everyone else as long as he had his headphones on and his rocking chair. We were slowly connecting to this boy, not his disability, but the person God created. At one point, I started to get up to leave the room, and he grabbed my hand. I turned and looked at him, and he said, “God loves you.” My heart melted. All week, we had been trying to show love to this boy. Trying to give everything we could, so that he would see that he was loved, but instead he showed us that we were loved. Working at camp, you love all the kids, but this week I realized what it means to unconditionally love and be loved in return. I could probably write a book about this week. These words really don’t give it justice.
I have realized that our mission statement is not just words to make us look official, but it is who we are. It is what we do. It is the reason we do this ministry. At the beginning, I took it upon myself, this job of watching him. As the week went on, it became very obvious that it would take all of us: leadership, counselors, activity staff, and volunteer staff to ensure this boy felt trust, respect, and most of all, unconditional love. To truly be here and offer ways for ALL to encounter life, love, and the God of grace is not easy, but it is life-changing. This was the most difficult and most rewarding week of my entire camp experience. I am not sure if I have ever loved this hard in my life. It is exhausting and draining, but we all have been extremely blessed because of this young man.