What I Learned as a Camp Counselor

The dust cleared and the brakes on the bus hissed as they ground to a stop. Everyone was cheering and waving but my mouth was dry despite the lingering taste of Mentos. My brain was racing through all the steps I needed to take to get through the next 8 hours (first was the dinning hall for intros,*remain calm*, then assignments, *don’t forget to smile*, then names… oh gosh new names how was I going to learn new names…) the creak of the bus doors broke my chain of thought and the squeals of children split the air. Suddenly, I was caught up in a wave of elementary school kids who had been sitting down for way too long and now were racing to the dinning hall. The other people in bright blue shirts running along side of me brought me comfort. We are in this together. A smile crept across my face, I was about to meet my first campers!

This was how I felt on the first Tuesday afternoon of the summer of 2013… and this is how a whole bunch of young adults are about to feel tomorrow. The summers I spent working as a YAP and as a counselor at Camp Barakel were life changing. It’s been three summers since I worked at camp, but it is still strange to not be in the north woods preparing for that first Tuesday. Remembering my experiences this year has led me to be in prayer for the staff as they get ready to care for the kids God is sending for them to care for. It is easy to get lost in the schedule or in the little things that take place in the YAPS program. I know that I wanted to make sure all my campers arrived at each game, chapel, meal, ambush and one-on-one exactly at the right time. I carried my lengthy planner everywhere and I often felt like a hen chasing her 8 chicks around a giant field, trying to get them all in the same little square. It isn’t very often that you get to have the responsibility of caring for the hearts, minds and stomachs of 5-9 girls 24/7 every week. I remember seeing some of the parents dropping of their kids and feeling the weight of the responsibility that they were handing over to me.

It was good to feel the weight of it, but I wish I would have been a little more relaxed at the beginning. I came to find out that winning the merit award isn’t everything and that sometimes, having fun and growing relationships is more important. I still get to write back and forth with some of the girls I had as campers, I still keep in touch with many of the summer staff that I worked along side and I last year I married a YAP who I met in 2012. But more than the earthly relationships that developed, my relationship with God was radically transformed over those summers. Not because I spent hours every morning on the lake praying and singing (because I didn’t), but because I realized how much I needed God’s grace and help. If I could tell the summer staff of 2016 anything, it would be to not fret as much over the schedules and doing it all “perfectly”… to not worry about the camper that holds their song book upside down cause they think it is funny… and to not look for every opportunity to have a teachable moment for the tribe, but to instead focus on thankfulness and the teachable moments that God brings about for your own learning. I am convinced that every different tribe taught me more than I taught them. My campers taught me to slow down and enjoy the walk as I had to learn to keep pace with them. They taught me that love is vulnerable and that crying together is just as okay as laughing together. They taught me how to ask more questions than “how are you?” and to give more responses than “I’m fine”. They taught me that life is hard and sometimes you just need a week to fully enjoy being a kid. They taught me that singing with your whole heart is better than singing on American Idol. They taught me how to shower and get ready in 7 minutes, how to make friends, and how valuable little notes can be. I sometimes wish that I could go back knowing what I know now and do it all over again, but God used it to teach me what I needed to be taught for that time… and now He has a whole set of lessons that He is preparing for each one of this year’s staff.

I was wearing my Camp Barakel sunglasses yesterday and it made me even more eager to hear the stories my siblings have to tell when they come home from camping next week. I’m also thrilled that Samantha gets to spend four weeks serving as a Tech, because that’s where I fell in love with serving behind the scenes at Barakel. But I am also thinking about who all of their counselors will be. I know they likely won’t feel prepared or ready, but I also know that God doesn’t always wait for us to feel ready. He will give them the strength they need to take it one day, one hour, one second at a time and He will remind them that what they need most of all is more of Christ and He will show them the wonder of childlike faith. Summer has almost reached northern Michigan!

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