As part of our ECC University training week for camp staff, we have been looking at safety protocol and emergency planning. One of the things we’ve been working on perfecting is our missing person action plan. Hopefully, we will never have to use this plan, but it’s always better to be safe and have a plan that moves us calmly and efficiently. Of course, if we were going to see how well the plan worked, we needed someone to get lost. I volunteered.
After dinner, I packed my book satchel with a bottle of water, a good book, and some Off bug spray and headed down to the waterfront. It was such a beautiful evening, and the walk was peaceful and full of the sounds of nature. It was actually pretty hard to sneak across the road without anyone watching—a testament to how carefully we account for everyone at camp. As I walked through the winding paths of the woods toward the water, I reflected on what it means to be lost.
Growing up in an evangelical tradition, much emphasis was placed on finding those who were lost and bringing them to God. Think of the line from that old hymn Amazing Grace—“I was lost, but now I am found.” I remember in my Sunday school classes hearing about those who were lost and how it was our job as Christians to bring those lost souls to God. Like a search team we would seek out those wandering in the spiritual desert and save the lost. One frequently heard question in our Sunday school was asking when someone was “saved”. They could usually pinpoint a time and place. The implication was that we were all born “lost” and needed to be “found” before we could attain salvation.
My experience at camp has made me think that this model isn’t exactly right. All of us wander. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, but we weren’t born that way. I think each and every person always was, is, and will be a part of God’s family and loved by God. When the emergency bell began pealing, all the camp staff immediate gathered on the ball field to await orders. Even though they were told right away that it was a drill, everyone responded with the urgency and seriousness of a real lost person. Charles was lost. One of our own. A sheep had left the fold, and we as a community must find him.
Even though I was hiding pretty far from the main camp area in a rather secluded little grove by the water, I’m proud to say that it only took twelve minutes for a team to find me. With the proud and official voice of any rescue team, the teenagers radioed back to headquarters, “We’ve found Charles. Repeat. We have found Charles. Over.” It was simultaneously laughable and laudable. Even though they knew it was a drill and that I was in no harm at all, I got hugs, warm smiles, pats on the back, and assurances that I was a beloved member of the community.
I think that Jesus calls each of us to care for one another the way the councilors at ECC care for one another. All of us, every single human being, are members of the family of God, and when one of us goes missing or wanders from the path, we should seek them out. Just as the teenagers that ran through the woods looking for me met me with hugs and celebration, we should rejoice in finding our missing brothers and sisters. No one chastised me for running away or scolded me for not leaving a note. No one shamed me for causing panic and told me what a bad person I was for scaring them. They simply noticed I was gone, ran to find me, and warmly brought me back into the fold. Even when I was lost in the woods, I was still a part of the family. Being lost doesn’t mean being a bad person. It just means that we’ve strayed from the path and need some guidance. I am so grateful for the youth that warmly welcome not just me but everyone into their fold. As the rock outside camp says, “He who enters here is a stranger but once.” We’re all a member of the family. We’re all a part of the cool kids. We are all loved as Jesus loves—unconditionally.