Schools are getting out.
The weather is warming up.
My internal clock is telling me that my favorite time of year is coming.
Summer, you ask?
Well, kind of. But let's get more specific.
It's getting to be time for CAMP
The four summers I spent at camp have been four of the greatest times of my life. Such amazing and life altering things have happened at camp, I've met some of the greatest people at camp, people who continue to be wonderful friends and mentors and examples. It has become such an integral part of who I am and my call to ministry.
See this place in my heart? Yeah, that's the place in my heart for camp.
I can still remember my first (and only) week as a camper. I drove in the church van with four giggly junior high girls from my confirmation class. I was the only boy who had signed up to go, and I was wondering if I would regret this. My pastor drove us up, and we got out of the van and were greeted by some of the loudest most excited and genuinely happy people I had ever met. They gushed all over us, offered to carry our bags, and led us to the table where we would be able to pick our cabins and our villages for the week [editor's note: at this particular camp, the group of campers that you participated in activities with throughout the week, and the counselor(s) who were assigned as your group leaders, were called villages]. I remember walking up to the table where we checked in. The names of the cabins and the names of the villages were all hanging on nails on a board. The number of tags for each cabin and village was equal to the number of campers it could contain. There was one counselor, in particular, who caught my attention. He was a large black guy, extremely outgoing and constantly cracking jokes. I checked his name tag to see which cabin he was the counselor of and made sure to pick that one. He told me later when he saw me looking at his nametag that he thought I was making sure not to end up in his cabin. When it came time to pick my village, I didn't know what to do. The girls had gone before me, they had split into pairs and each pair had chosen a different village, but I didn't know which villages they had picked. Luckily, my pastor was there and he pointed to one and said that a couple of the girls had picked that one. So I grabbed that tag as well, and then moved into my cabin. That week was amazing. My village was a pretty cohesive unit, we got along really well, the two counselors were amazing (Daryl, the guy who was my cabin counselor also happened to be my village counselor), and I felt extremely welcome and accepted at camp. It was then that I decided that when I was old enough, I would come and be a counselor at that camp.
Fast forward a number of years. I am once again riding out to camp, this time in my parents' car. After my freshman year of college I had remembered the promise I had made, that I would come back and be a counselor, and I made good on it. I remember pulling up to the lodge at camp, and two of the loudest, most excited people I had ever met burst out of the doors to help me figure out where I needed to go. My parents felt relieved, leaving me in that place. I had arrived the night before most of the other staff would be arriving for training, because I lived a distance away, and so there were about five of us there that night. Once again I was the only guy (until the next day) and we sat around the table and talked and joked and laughed. Immediately, I felt that I was where I needed to be.
That summer, camp affirmed, for me, that I was called to be in the ministry. That youth ministry was indeed something I had gifts in and that I was supposed to do. Camp became a second home for me, and a place that I returned to throughout the year to help with retreats and youth events and as a place to meet up with friends.
I've already shared how, several years later, camp was there again after things didn't work out at my first job as a youth director. Camp was kind of like the safety net that caught me when I slipped off of the trapeze, and saved me from plummeting all the way down, and helped me to get back on my feet. Camp was there to remind me that I did, indeed, have a calling to ministry. There were people there to cheer and support me to get back on the ladder and start making my way back up.
So, you see, I think camp is a wonderful place. I still get a little pang every summer when camp time rolls around, and I realize that I have other obligations or responsibilities and I can't drop everything, pack all of my belongings into my large rubbermaid containers, stick them in my car and head out to camp for the summer. There'll be times throughout the summer, where I'll stop, look at the clock and think, "If I were at camp, I'd be doing [this] right now," or "I wonder how bad my tan line from all of my friendship bracelets would be by now," or "Wow, I'm glad I'm not sleeping in a tent in the middle of this storm!" (all the while secretly wishing I was sitting in a bunk bed, enjoying the light show with a group of rambunctious, goofy, sweaty kids).
Maybe someday I'll be back out at camp. Maybe someday I'll be the camp director who gets to lead worship around the campfire. Maybe I'll get to be the guy who interviews enthusiastic college students who all want to come out and experience a great summer as a camp counselor. Maybe I'll get to be the person who invites campers and staff into a time and a place that could change their lives forever.
I hope so!