Camp is the event that my internship has been working towards this summer. The goal: relocate 1,200 kids to Panama City Beach, Florida for an encounter with the life changing God and bring them back again without any mortalities. (Only one guy in my group came back with stitches. So I think we did pretty well.) I was assigned to be a temp small group leader along with one of their two permanent small group leaders. As the substitute for the other small group leader I felt that I came in with a disadvantage. They knew, liked, and missed their other "real" small group leader. So I battled with feelings of inadequacy. We were to lead fifteen 10th graders and share two condos in a massive beach resort that the church rented out. I occupied the smaller condo with the seven more well behaved guys. Without revealing too much of the personal experiences that were shared, I will say that God came and moved amongst the guys in my group. It was dramatic. The first small group time that I was present for, several of my students shared parts of their story and tears. They shared about feeling like their parents or grand parents had neglected or not liked them, and what it was like the first time they felt affirmation. They shared about addictions they were choosing to fight against. I hadn’t known whether or not I was connecting with them, but after that group I knew we were brothers.
Let me share this hilarious story about the trip: All during the week the guys had been testing me to see what my boundaries were. I had told them I was in the army and so they kind of imagined that I was like an army ninja warrior. They were a little bit afraid of me I think. I liked that perception... there are advantages to being feared... you know what I mean? To continue with set-up, they had a game that they thought was hysterical. If one of their friends left their phone unattended, the someone in the group would hide it. The student whose phone it was would get frantic when they realized it was missing and they would retrace their steps to the beach or the conference center looking for it. This would result in a raucous laughter. That would enlighten the tortured student that his peers were guilty, but instead of telling him where it was, the other guys would play the hot or cold game until the student found it.
This particular night, the game turned sour. One student informed me that my cell phone had been stolen off the counter in the room where I had left it (Mom, I just want you to know that I did actually know where I had left it) it was about 1:30 am. I informed the guys I was headed to bed and that my phone had better be there when I arrived. I rose and walked very slowly towards my room. No one moved a muscle. As I entered the door frame of my room and observed that my phone had not been replaced I heard quick movements behind me. A door behind me slammed shut and the muffled sound of another slamming also. I wheeled around and ran to the first door. They locked it. Foolishly they didn’t realize it was the type with the hole in the middle that you could pick easily. The one student who had been the scapegoat that week assisted me and we were through that door in a matter of seconds. Entering the room I looked around and saw no one. But, I did notice the closet door was now shut. I swiftly moved towards it, twisted the doorknob, and heard five squeals. “He’s at the door!” I gave it a good shove but even me in my glorious might am no match for five squealing 10th graders. I managed to crack it open enough to see their wide-eyed terror beset 10 eye balls before they would slam it shut again. I looked for something I could jam into the door to keep it open, but couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t damage the frame so I searched for other options. Above me, I realized the ceiling tiles crossed the closet too. So I climbed up on the counter and pushed the tile out of the way. Sure enough, I had easy access to their space. I wasn’t big enough to crawl through, but from here I knew I could rain down terror. I yanked the tile off the closet side, growled and gave scary fingered grimace look! Five frightened squeals responded. I climbed down and shoved the door to make sure they would stay put and went to the kitchen to grab a few bottles ice cold water. I poked holes in the tops of the bottles, which made instant spray guns and climbed back on the counter. Grinning through the open tile leading into their tiny space, I drenched them. Four boys collapsed to the ground squealing like the Wicked Witch of the West, but one of my brighter students kept his head and continued to hold the door closed. I emptied a full bottle on their heads then jumped back down to the door. Thats when my co-conspirator jumped up on the counter and poured another bottle down on them. This solicited more screaming but no progress. It was time for a new approach. My assistant had a great idea and ran to get his spray deodorant. He climbed back on the counter and pumped our torture chamber full of odorous fumes. As I began to get a whiff of this scent, I knew they must be near death. As the coughing began, the door game suddenly switched. They wanted out, so I reverse my role in the game too. I held the door shut a few moments longer, laughed, then let go. One of the students fell backwards over his friend and I raced into the closet. seeing that it was 5 against 1, the same smart student grabbed me from behind and said “ I’ve got him, grab him!” while another student said, “he’s got him, run!” and four squealing boys bolted. I quickly turned the hold I was in into a headlock in my favor. I told him, “You don’t have very good friends..” He whimpered back, “ I know.” So I took him with me into the main room of the condo. The four 10th grade men ran to the corners of the room, but one of them quickly returned my phone and cried out “It wasn’t me..” in a trembling high pitched plea. We all became friends that night. For those of you who don't know: that is what male bonding is all about.
But on a more serious note, I was extremely impressed with the way that North Point does camp. Because they bring all of their own small group leaders down to substitute for camp counselors, that camp "high" is experienced by someone who will be there to follow-up when the students get home. This also gives the small group leaders a sense of value, because they get to see that their work is worth while. Every single one of the fifteen guys in my group admitted to me that this trip had been life changing. The talks had been about how when a person experienced Jesus, their lives are forever changed. They used the stories of people Jesus had met to relate this truth-- Zacheus, the Woman at the Well, the Rich Young Ruler-- to name a few. It was incredible. The speakers did an amazing job of making it easy for the small group leaders to ask good questions and leader their students into imagination-enthralling relationship with Jesus. It was awesome. The last night, 14 of my 15 guys told me and the other small group leaders specific actions they were going to do when they got home, from witnessing to relatives to respecting authority figures to breaking addictions. It was incredible. One guy gave his life to Jesus. The 15th member told us that he wasn't there yet. He was no longer an outside observer, but he wasn't ready to be all the way. But he's moving closer. It was unbelievable to me that he was comfortable telling us that, glad that he had come, and that he was committed to coming back and learning more. So... feel free to ask questions if you want me to fill in the blanks, but overall, it was better than I could have imagined.