Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save What Was Lost

I think that I have the best job in the world! Each week that goes by completely drains me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, wondering how in the world I am going to be able to do this for the rest of the summer. We say here that each day at camp seems like the longest day in the world, but each week seems to fly by faster than we could ever expect. This week was spent with a group of about 28 kids from Phoenix, Arizona who came with a group called Mentor Kids, which is an organization that provides mentors for kids who have one or both parents in prison. I had been told that this was the most difficult camp all summer, but it was also the most heart-wrenching, the one that would make us all cry when they left. I definitely understand that now.

My cabin was comprised of four girls, each 9 or 10 years old. As I got the opportunity to spend time with each of them, I learned of their heartbreaking stories of severe abuse, mistreatment, and neglect. While some of their parents were trying everything they could to continue to raise their kids for the glory of the Lord, the circumstances they were coming from just broke my heart. After hearing the monologue of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son in which he described his intense love for both of his sons, it was incredible to hear the girls open up about the ways in which their fathers had let them down and simply not been there for them. It was so hard for them to really understand what a father should be like, because even the relationships that some had with their fathers were broken, centered around giving gifts to try and make up for a history of bad decisions. These girls knew that what they were being given was not love, and they desired it so much. Our cabin times were both encouraging and saddening as I could see some of them decide to pursue the love of their Father in heaven while others paid little attention, not used to being told that they were loved and still unable to understand what it would look like to be loved and not hurt because of it.

At one point during the week, I was completely down-trodden. I felt completely inadequate both in my job as a counselor and in my role as the crafts teacher for the week. In a matter of about two hours, I had dealt with a fight between two of my campers that left both of them crying and me helpless to find something to say to resolve the issue. I had also face-planted into a plot of gravel while trying to rush and grab my crafting supplies, cutting up my hand. The girls then had a hard time tying the knots needed to make their pillows, and I, with my bleeding fingers, was unable to help them. The last straw happened after our rest time in our cabins when I let my girls head downstairs to the bathroom only to find about a minute later that one of them was nowhere to be found. Not sure what had happened or what I would do, I brought my girls to another staff member and proceeded to search around camp. When I finally found her, she was near the horses and frightened because she had realized that she was all alone. I was less-than-gracious in leading her back up the hill, and needless to say, it was not one of my finer moments as a counselor.

The biggest growing experience for me this week happened the next morning when we were discussing during devotions the way in which, unlike the older brother in the parable, Jesus was an older brother who went out and lovingly sought us when we ran away. After a short pause, the girl who had gotten lost the day before said to me “So Jesus would have come and found me just like you did yesterday when I got lost.” I was taken aback. I realized once again just how incapable I am of doing this on my own. My own sinful nature allows me to get frustrated at the littlest things, and it keeps me from doing the job I have been sent to do: love. I am reminded of the character of Jesus and the grace he shows, even in some of the most frustrating situations, and without him, I am incapable of everything, let alone ministry.

As we took time to say goodbye to the kids yesterday morning, I was not expecting to experience the emotion that I did. However, when you are surrounded by a group of teary eyed children asking you to please come home with them, something in your heart melts. More than discipline and correction, these kids need to be loved, and I need to make sure that all of my actions are based off of that goal.

Pray for:
Health for staff, especially counselors
Wisdom in how to best serve and encourage while on support staff
Continued growth in Mentor Kids as they re-adjust to home life

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

As I wait for the next group of kids to get here, I figure I will take some time to share about this past week and the way God has been working.

I was in charge of a cabin of five girls, sweet, ten-year-old balls of energy ready to have as much fun as possible. In addition to camp activities, we spent time each day in a lesson portraying the parable of the two sons (a.k.a. The Prodigal Son, though as we discussed, the parable is about two sons and their father, not just one), which is our theme for the summer. On the first night, we host a feast for the campers with the father celebrating the return of his lost son to give them an overview of the story and place them right inside the action. Each of the following days was spent getting to know the characters of the younger son, the older son, and the father. The kids were excited to hear the characters portray their stories, and they really seemed to be able to understand where they were coming from. On the last day, we got to hear from the father, a man who deeply loved each of his sons and only wanted to spend time with them. On that last night, one of the little boys at camp asked to be baptized, so the entire camp went to support him as he made a public decision to follow Christ in our very own lake. That was the first experience many of the kids had ever had with baptism, so it was a good opportunity to explain its significance. After watching that, one of the girls in my own cabin asked to pray with me to see if Jesus could be in her heart as well. She told me that she knew that Jesus would be able to take care of her and her family, and she wanted to follow Him. It was so exciting to see her grow over the course of the week.

While my week was a lot of fun and very tiring, it was not exactly what I had expected. Unlike most of the other cabins, my campers were from fairly stable family backgrounds and had some experience with church and the gospel. I sometimes found myself feeling as though my job was simply that of a babysitter, and it was frustrating to be unable to minister in the ways that I wanted to. One of the biggest problems I noticed was the ways in which they liked to tear each other apart for things that they too struggled with. Each of them wanted to be in control of the others’ actions. When I expressed my frustration to one of the women on our support staff, she said “It always amazes me how working with kids gives us a small picture of the ways that God sees us.” I realized that even though I do not usually tell my friends to stop singing or convince them that what they are wearing is totally wrong, I am so often guilty of trying to be in charge and focusing on the shortcomings of others. I can be so intolerant of the mistakes people make, yet I am so quick to go to God for forgiveness for those very same struggles. I am reminded of Matthew 11:16-19 where Jesus says:
 But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. 
It amazes me that God looks down on our antics and somehow loves us in spite of all of our shortcomings.

However, I have also been able to see what Jesus means when he says in Mark 10:14-16:
‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
When Jesus deals with children, he loves them by spending time with them, taking them into his arms, and imparting a blessing to them. They come to him not as sick or demon possessed people looking for healing but as ones who need to be loved. Isn’t that also how we are? We have so many needs and desires, but behind it all is the need to be loved. And if you think about the ways in which little children reach up to their mom or dad when they need something, is that not the same way we worship our Father in heaven? Even in dealing with these “normal” kids, I am reminded of the ways in which God works in and through the youngest in His creation.

Please pray for:
Energy for counselors and support staff
Compassion to deal with these kids and wisdom to know what to say
God to work through the lesson and cabin times

Monday, June 14, 2010

Our Competence Comes from God

Well, I have officially been a resident of Durango, Colorado for two weeks, and already I have seen God doing amazing things! I am here for the summer working at a Christian summer camp for at-risk youth from low income families called Cross Bar X Youth Ranch. Each week, I will be either a counselor for a group of five girls or a part of the support team to help out around camp and serve the other counselors and campers. My weeks are going to be super busy, but I want to make it a point to post after each camp so that I can take time to reflect on what has happened and so that I can share some of the great things God is doing and some things to pray for.

For the past two weeks, I have been training for the summer and some of the challenges it may hold. When I first arrived in Colorado, I was in a pretty rough spot. The reality of being away from home and out of contact with friends for two and a half months really hit me, and I was incredibly discouraged, to the point that I even convinced my parents to hold off on buying me a plane ticket home in case I needed to come home early. I am not used to being such an emotional person, so crying on the plane ride the whole way here was not my ideal way to start out the trip. I had to pray that God would get me through even the next few hours, because I couldn’t see how I would be able to do anything useful, let alone counsel needy kids in the state I was in.
Thankfully, God came to my rescue as soon as I arrived. Something that has really struck my heart over the past two weeks is the fact that I can do nothing without Him. I think that I am so used to being in situations where I can rely on my own strength and get by relatively unharmed. However, God is making it incredibly clear to me that this summer is going to be about Him, not me, and the way He is going to speak to these kids. It is such a relief to know that not one minute of this summer is going to take place without his guidance, and even though I am utterly incapable of doing anything right, with Him all things are possible!

I came into this summer desperately needing to hear from God and to understand His heart. He has really been faithful to me thus far, even in my unfaithfulness. I am thirsting for His word more than I ever have before, and I find comfort in relying on Him and coming to Him in prayer. I am learning what it means to have my heart broken for the things that break His heart, and I am so excited to continue to grow in love with Him and to be the aroma of Christ to these kids!

Please pray for:
Health for our counselors
Cabin time and 1-on-1 time with the campers
Growth as a staff community

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
-2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6