For someone who spends their days inside an office staring at a computer, it can be deeply satisfying to get outside and do some physical work; especially when that work helps serve something with great purpose. My 7-year-old and I spent half a day this weekend at a nearby summer camp for volunteer day, helping to set up the site as summer and the arrival of hundreds of staff and kids fast approaches.
This particular camp holds a special place in my heart. It is a church camp, supported by the Nebraska ELCA church. I first was forced to attend years ago as part of confirmation camp through my church – and I’ve been hooked every since! My husband and I met there, spending our summers during college outside, sleeping in tents, swimming, boating, worshiping and singing silly songs.
Camp allowed me to be a leader and role model for kids, but changed my life in the process! Not everyone has the same life-changing experience at church camp that I had. And that’s OK. The funny thing is, you never know which kid needs camp. I needed camp. (I still need camp!) I learned how to show and share faith, be a leader when that word is outside my comfort zone, and begin to build that personal relationship with God that has been critical as I maneuver through my adult life.
So this Saturday – on the first day of summer break – I woke my son up before 7:00 am, we jumped in the car, and drove to camp. The weather was amazing – bright blue sky, warm sunshine, light breeze. I was grateful for one-on-one time with my son, and proud of how hard he worked. He didn’t complain about being bored or tired, and he never asked “Why do I have to do this??” He just seemed to know that it was good to help. Though we worked hard, our morning at camp was truly wonderful!
We were tasked with cleaning mattresses. A small group of us scrubbed 112 mattresses – 8 beds in 14 tents. This was not just a quick wipe and rinse of a plastic mattress, but a deep scrub with some serious germ-killing chemicals. We stood in the sun for 4 hours – scrubbing mattresses. My son would carry them and help spray the hose. The rest of our small crew – all adults – were incredibly encouraging and supportive, helping my son be involved in the project.
Through the morning, I flipped between two thoughts. Occasionally – when my arms (which are more accustomed to typing than scrubbing) started to get sore, the pile of mattresses seemed never-ending, and my hands felt a slight burn from whatever combination of chemicals we were using – I just felt tired and bored.
But mostly I prayed. I prayed for the person that would sleep on this mattress. I wondered who would sleep here. Where would this child be from and what is their life like? Do they know God, and what will camp mean to them? Under the blue sky, my son nearby working hard, in a place set apart, I was filled with peace and my mundane work felt very meaningful!
After the mattresses were washed, we helped load them into the tents. Although light, they were flimsy and awkward for my son to carry. So, while others would haul 3 or 4 mattresses at a time, my son and I would grab 1 on each side and walk together down the trail, under the canopy of bright green trees, and into each tent, placing the mattress on the old bunk-beds.
The tents are set back into the woods, with the main building up on a hill. They are first used for staff training, so the beds will be filled by summer staff; college-aged adults learning how to keep kids safe, teach them about Jesus and clean toilets (amongst many other things). During the summer months, the beds will be used by mostly 1st – 6th graders. My son just finished 1st grade and will attend camp this summer for the first time! (Expect more pondering on this as that July drop-off date approaches…)
So my son and I wondered aloud all morning – which mattress will you sleep on? Which tent will you be in? How fun for him to be a part of this world – to see just a small piece of the effort to set up camp!
At the end of work day, my son and I were tired and dirty. But it was incredibly rewarding. Helping others is often more rewarding for the person who gives than the person who receives! Maybe summer camp was not an important part of your life. But know that camp does change lives! Support ministry for youth; volunteer, work outside, provide financial support. But most importantly – pray! Pray for staff, leaders and counselors. Pray for each and every kid that comes to camp and can collapse, exhausted from their day, onto a very clean mattress!
Visit Carol Joy Holling Camp HERE.