This week was a week of transitions at Lakeshore. Our week was standing in a doorway, one foot in one room and one in the other. It was part summer camp and part retreat. We welcomed Camp Open Heaven in for their second year with us, a spiritual camp for Romanians and others with primarily Eastern European heritage. They brought their own leaders and adults, so our staff was not responsible as counselors or leadership of devotions and worship, but we did run activities for this group. So, our staff remained in summer camp mode for part of the day, but slid into a service project atmosphere during the rest of the time.
Our summer staff, during their last week with us, does a lot of work projects throughout the week to camp the camp back into shape for retreat season and take care of some of the building projects that don’t require professional level skill. It is a great way for us to end our time together. You can work out your pent-up frustration from the summer by clearing out a trail, while bonding on a deeper level to those staff people who you just didn’t have time to get to know when you had 12 campers a week to keep up with. Some thrive in environments like this, because manual labor is a little like therapy. Others are not very well acquainted with work of this type, and we realize that their skill sets were much better served when 13 year olds were still here needing counselors and lifeguards.
Those of you who have been on mission trips probably have seen this dynamic. It’s not always predictable who take to the work most naturally, and who will be more mule-like when it comes to responsibilities. I think many work group leaders just want to give the projects out and expect the group to take it on with no problems, but my favorite part of these projects is teaching new skills. I love the times that I get to go out with a group and show them how to swing a pick-axe in a way that will not hurt your back. To see these guys take a tool like that that could potentially hurt them or someone else when used improperly—to see that look in their face that says “you want me to use that?”—and then see them get it right and take pride in their work—is so satisfying.
We had one particular project titled, Making signs and installing them, and I was surprised by who signed up for it. It was four girl staffers who, to my knowledge, had no experience using mechanized tools. They were to be taking planks of wood and using a router to carve the words into the signs, then dig post holes, drill deck screws to fix the sign to the post, and then sink the post into the ground. I later learned that this group thought that they would be painting signs. They met me at the maintenance building, and I could see by the expressions on their faces when I told them what they were doing that this was not what they expected. They said, “you’re really going to let us do that?” I assured them that I would help them until they felt comfortable, but there was still a pretty good bit of skepticism. We stenciled out the words for the sign, then it came time to rout them. They were very timid using the router at first (except for Elizabeth, who took autotech classes in high school and changes her brake pads on her own). They would push the trigger, and as soon as the router started, they would jump, let go of the trigger, then tell the next person, “you should do it.” But, by the end of our time, they were lining out words like a sign making pro (or maybe a sign making apprentice, but either way, still impressive). By the end of our time, Emma, Kelsey, Ellis, Elizabeth, and I were sinking posts and drilling deck screws as we talked about the summer—no big deal, just something else you gotta do, you know.
I love to pass along new skills to people. Who knows, someday there may be a huge need for someone to use a router or post-hole digger. One of these 4 will step up and say, “yeah, I got that,” and blow everyone’s mind.
We also began clearing for a nature playground just behind cabin 15. This will be a place for people to play that tries to use natural supplies to build the playground equipment. We hope to have stumps and fallen trunks for kids to climb on. We’ve began building a hut with branches and vines as the roof. There will be a sand box and all of this and more will incorporate the natural surroundings. Sure, it will be a playground, but it will also be a place where people can connect with the outdoors. Our staff was very excited about making this place a reality. When I asked Tiffany to help me design it, her eyes got big and she told me that one of her bucket list dreams was to design a playground. Who knew? I just thought I would get someone to help, so I wouldn’t have to do the project on my own. Instead, I made someone’s dreams come true.
On Wednesday night, the staff went to Corky’s house, an event that is quickly becoming an end of the summer tradition. Corky grills steaks, chicken, and vegetables with a sweet barbecue sauce that would probably even be good on ice cream. To top that off, he makes some of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. You’ll find Travis, Jim, and Gary hovering around the grill, bringing Corky the next round of meat, and spraying the grill with water from a spray bottle, to keep the flames at bay. Many from the staff get dressed up for this occasion. Some of us don’t really get this, because it is still 99 degrees outside, but this is probably the gathering that makes the most sense. Picture taking gets to ridiculous extremes during this time. It’s almost like a wedding, where you have to get every imaginable combination of people for pictures. The whole staff. Boys. Girls. All the UT Knoxville students. UT Chattanooga. Murray State. Chi Omegas. Collierville UMC. On and on. We want to document this. We want all these little families we’ve developed to be taken down for posterity.
On the last night of the week, some guys from the Open Heaven group asked us if we wanted to watch their music video that they had been producing all week. We said, of course, and we gathered around a lap top in the library to see what they had done. Though these guys definitely seem more European than us in dress, accent, and behavior, besides that, they seemed exactly like some of our 16 year old Senior High Camp campers. They had made a video to a popular song about “Bromances,” a term referring to how guys can be in completely plutonic, loving relationships. They cleaned up the language, dubbing their voices in on any potentially inappropriate parts of the song. They had filmed themselves during so many of their activities. They were on a pontoon boat, posing like they were on a yacht. They were on the basketball court. I was pretty impressed by the production value of the video. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see production credits from these kids for the video of whoever the next One Direction is.
One of the last work projects we completed was the prayer chapel. We’ve redone the flooring, added new baseboards, and stained the door. Last week, Tiffany, Sarah Jane, and I completed a candle rack made completely out of driftwood found at the camp. We finished the baseboards at about 6pm Thursday, long after the other work projects were done. It was frustrating trying to hammer baseboards into a concrete wall, but Allison proved to be the finisher of the job. After the baseboards were in place, we got the tools out of the room, turned on the lamps and lit the candles. It felt so much more to me like a holy place, maybe because of all the work we had poured in, maybe just because it looked prettier. Either way, I look forward to all the prayers that will come from that place. Who knows? It may prove to become one of the most holy places at camp.
As we said goodbye to our Easter European friends, did our closing worship for the summer, we took an afternoon off to eat at Pizza Hut as is the tradition. In the evening, Medina First UMC arrived to break in the retreat season as our first post-summer guests. Their weekend has been spent looking at Joshua’s famous line about his household serving the lord. And so, one chapter closes, but another begins. As always, we must move onto something, but we move on different. We move on changed. We have learned new skills. We have changed the look of this place slightly. We have changed our hearts slightly. We walk down this path a bit farther and step into a different country. We don’t always know what to expect, but we have seen greatness and we look to see more. How exactly will it come to us this time. Who knows?
Be in prayer for our summer staff as they return to the “real” world.