Last week I had the privilege to serve as a counselor and chaperone for our church’s middle school camp/mission trip. We gathered together at Mercer College in Macon, Georgia with 18 other churches from as far away as Virginia, Texas and Florida for a week of camp and missions work at Passport. While Passport allows youth groups to bring kids from 6th grade through 12th grade, our church uses the trip as one for our younger youth, and our oldest camper had completed 9th grade. We were the largest of 19 churches, with 26 girls and 20 boys.
Having been to camp and having gone on mission trips during my time in youth group, Passport was a new experience for me in the fact that it combined the two aspects together into one week. Mornings and days were spent in bible study, worship and out in the mission fields while afternoons and evenings were spent playing, dancing and messing around. I understand our youth minister’s reasoning for using this week as one for younger youth, as Passport introduces middle school aged youth to missions work without completely overwhelming them with an eight-hour missions work day. It gave them a taste of missions work while incorporating the camp aspect into the week as well.
In the morning we’d eat breakfast then meet for morning worship and bible study. Around eleven we’d ship out around Macon to our individual worksites and take lunch sometime during the afternoon mission work. We headed back for the campus at two and the kids had free time during which they could go to the school store, work in a computer lab (check facebook), hit the gym or just hang out and catch up on some rest. After dinner we’d have evening worship and then some sort of organized party or event afterwards.
Monday was a 60s-themed dance and Tuesday was a Toe-Jam party in which the object of the evening was to get as dirty as humanly possible. I ran a slip n slide that coated campers in baby oil and shampoo. Wednesday had no organized activity and churches were allowed to entertain themselves. We took in a movie and then spent the evening at a local park by a lake. Thursday was the camper Variety Show in which kids showcased their talent of lack thereof. There were some pretty impressive acts, but mostly it was teenagers being teenagers.
My freshman year of college I chaperoned the high school summer camp at Awanita, but wasn’t quite a counselor of sorts as I accompanied a special needs boy to help him through the week. This year I was able to help lead the church devotional time for the younger aged boys, which was a true blessing.
Often times, I don’t see God in my life simply because I can’t be bothered to pay close enough attention. I’ve got other things going on that for some reason or another I’ve qualified as better or more important, when in reality they’re simply trivial. The week spent at Passport opened my eyes tremendously and allowed me to remind myself that God is everywhere you look. I saw it in the eyes of kids truly enjoying working in 100 degree heat for complete strangers. I saw it in the eyes of those who we were helping and were grateful for not only the assistance, but the fellowship we shared as well.
I saw it in myself, warming up to kids that I barely knew. Having spent four years mostly out of state at college, I had lost touch with the church youth group and the kids it comprised of. I went along on the trip initially because the youth minister needed another male chaperone, not because I felt any closeness to the kids going or a calling to help minister to youth. In fact, though people constantly tell me that I’m great with youth and kids, I’ve found myself not feeling the same way.
But I surprisingly found myself taking to the kids more quickly than I could have ever imagined. As I boarded the bus Sunday morning, I knew two of the kid’s names, one of which I had learned that morning. I felt weird ordering them around and herding them onto the bus. But by the end of the week, I could pick out each one and rattle off a laundry list of information about them. Who their parents were, where they went to school, what grade they were in, what part of me they had bumped or bruised during the week.
The week was good for developing relationships with the kids using several different settings. The mornings and afternoons were fun and exciting getting to know the kids socially, and then the evenings were quieter and more intimate, and the relationships developed on a more personal level.
Another wonderful aspect of Passport is that it enables youth from different churches to work together but also facilitates time for youth to grow as their own group. Youth are meeting new friends from different states throughout the day at meals, worship, in bible study and in the mission field. But they’re also spending time within their own church group at night, strengthening existing relationships or forging new ones.
Being a male, I spent a majority of my time with the boys from our church. And while they got up to the usual mischief that middle school aged boys will get up to—freezing someone’s shirt, pooping in a can—I was impressed with how well they all got along and how nice they treated each other. Some of the stories I heard coming from the girls side makes me glad my boys avoided such drama.
One example came during the camp volleyball tournament. I watched as team after team spent games snapping at each other and talking down to kids who might not be as good at volleyball as some of their fellow youth. But as our group moved through the tournament, I didn’t hear one word on the court that was negative or mean-spirited. Our kids were encouraging and uplifting throughout the whole tournament, regardless of whether a serve made it over the net or not. They worked together and enjoyed themselves, and it was extremely rewarding to be a part of. Our kids are genuinely good kids and that makes working with them all that more enjoyable and rewarding.
Leading up to the trip I was nervous and a little anxious, but as the week went by I became more comfortable and by the time the week drew to a close, I was already thinking ahead to next year and how I could make the trip even better for the kids. God used me in a way that week that I didn’t think he ever could—but I’m glad he did and I’m looking forward to him doing it again.