Younger Children's Camp

Whew! That’s the word for Younger Children’s Camp. Even though this camp runs fewer days than the other camps this summer, I am beyond exhausted. I have aches in places I didn’t even know I had. Turns out that supervising, teaching, playing with, and keeping track of dozens of younger children wipes me out. If you’re reading this blog I’m assuming you might know one or more of the children who came to last week’s camp, so let me assure you that my exhaustion comes not from any one child, but from the collective. While certain young personalities proved challenging, I can honestly say I never encountered any “problem child.” As a matter of fact, I was really touched at how the children interpreted the Bible lessons for each day and how they seemed to really strive to live into the lessons learned. Their enthusiasm, exhausting though it may be, is something I hope to emulate in my own ministry.

Along with The Rev. Peter and The Rev. Veronica Tierney, I spent my days in the Tower of Silence doing not-so-silent chapel. We began every chapel time by asking the kids to remember the Bible lessons from that morning’s church service. I was surprised and pleased that the kids always remembered the stories. The best part, though, was the ways in which they remembered the stories. I grew up having the Bible read to me by my mother, so I know my Bible pretty well. I go to church regularly, and am taking Bible classes in seminary. I like to think I have these stories down. Amazingly, the kids were always able to point out things about the lessons I had never really thought about, or their focus would be on some detail I had only glanced over. Taking this idea to heart, Peter and Veronica thought it would be fun to split each chapel group into three sections. Peter, Veronica, and I would tell a familiar gospel story to each group and then have them act it out for the other two groups. This ended up being my favorite day of chapel.

My group got The Good Samaritan. In an effort not to put my own spin on the story, I simply read it straight out of Luke. The kids had some great questions for me: What’s a Samaritan? What’s a Levite? Why are the religious people in the story being mean? How much money is two denarii? After answering all their questions, I asked them what characters we needed for the story. After casting a traveler, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and a band of thieves, I said, “Well, that’s it.” For the first group of the day, I honestly thought that was it, but the kids shouted out in protest, “No! What about Jesus?” I explained that Jesus wasn’t really in the story, but they insisted that there be a Jesus on the stage. Not one to squash creativity, I agreed. With very little prompting, the boy playing Jesus stepped up next to me and began telling the story. Every now and then he would whisper to me, “What comes next?” or “What’s that person called again?” Otherwise, he told the story flawlessly. I was amazed at the enthusiasm with which the kids performed the well-known tale. They even modernized it with the robbery and robbers resembling something more like a mugging by a city gang. Their ability to make Jesus’ story their own was powerful. I’ll admit that watching them perform made the parable I’ve heard a million times seem much more real—much more understandable.

The other two groups in chapel had similar experiences as they told the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and The Good Shepherd. Even more amazingly, each of the three sessions of chapel that day insisted, without prompting from me, that there be someone to play Jesus and tell the story. Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but the kids’ desire to literally embody the person of Jesus seems to be the complete understanding of our Christian faith.

Do you remember the WWJD plague of the mid 90s? I do. As a kid growing up in the Bible Belt, everyone I knew had WWJD plastered all over their lunchboxes, notebooks, clothing, accessories, you name it. What would Jesus do? Buy all this stuff to sell his cause? Probably not. I think the kids at Younger Children’s Camp actually answered this question. Jesus would teach. Jesus would tell stories, and he would tell those stories in a way that was fun, funny, memorable, and transformative. Jesus would live a life in accordance with God’s will that we love God and love one another. Watching these kids show genuine compassion in helping the beaten Samaritan, sharing their few loaves and fishes, and leaving the flock to find the one lost sheep, I saw Jesus at work.

Once again (sorry I keep beating this drum—it’s my favorite one right now) the kids taught me something. This is the model for evangelism. By living into the life of Jesus, we share Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and hope with the world. Over the course of the week, we explored the theme that “It’s a Small World.” If all of us truly approach one another with the love of Jesus, the world indeed becomes quite small as the one Kingdom of God. I’m not advocating for a universal theocracy here, but I do think there’s a simple and profound truth in finding the commonality amongst our differences. Campers at ECC come from all kinds of backgrounds, yet within our beautiful and exciting diversity there is a beautiful and exciting love modeled on the love of Jesus that pervades our camp.

I started out by saying, “Whew!” The exhaustion of Younger Children’s Camp still sits with me, but so does the love. Those of you who have kids of your own or teach or babysit, or just happen to get annoyed at those kids at the Stop and Shop being little terrors: Look closely at them. Watch how they love. Look into their eyes, and see the love of Jesus looking right back at you.

written by: Charles Lane Cowen