I told my cabin-mates that I didn’t really bring kids to camp, the kids brought me.
We all shared a laugh over this comment because that truly is the testimony of ‘Kids Across America.’ The impact KAA makes means that the teasing phrase “what happens at camp stays at camp” could not be less true of students leaving the campus of this Christian sports camp outside Branson, Missouri. My first experience at KAA left a powerful impression, and I would love to share a glimpse of the heart of this place with you. It’s incredible what can take place in one week!
I would be heading way off-track if I didn’t first acknowledge some of what allowed HFO to participate in this experience. Community generosity was a big help this year—local businesses and community members offered donations and sponsorships. Good friends threw a delicious crawfish boil fundraiser a few weeks ago to help our travel expenses. As a result, HFO brought thirty kids ranging from 3rd graders saying goodbye to their parents for the first time to recent high school graduates getting fired up before heading off to college. We are so grateful for each of these contributions and sacrifices.
The graveled hills of KAA pull walkways in and out of wooded grounds, and cheers and chants are almost always echoing over the next rise. Students and leaders alike cling to determination before screaming into the foamy wind, flying off of towed inner-tubes in the wake of a speeding boat.
I have bruises on the backs of my arms from my first ropes-course, exercising communication and trust, sweating thirty feet above the ground while linked to a three-day-old-friend. We look at each other; she watches my feet to forget vertigo and I talk quietly to keep the wire from shaking.
Early mornings are spent praying on a porch merging with the evergreens, praying loudly while tears run down the cheeks of fifteen women because we are praying over words we all understand—weariness, students, troubled and unsure hearts, readiness to be opened and seen and reassured.
There are opportunities every day to find unexpected tears filling your eyes; when we sing together in the morning, when I walk alone on dark and rocky trails, and when we get to watch students respond with vulnerability to the truth. That truth I still struggle to know in my own heart.
New vocabulary words begin to sound familiar as they roll off my tongue—
Kaleo: Leaders who are called and will continue to call others.
Harambee: Swahili for ‘all pull together’ and the name of meetings to process with our students.
Crosstalk: A weekly presentation of the crucifixion of Christ, followed by prayer time and an alter call for campers. Easily one of the most moving and precious moments.
Tree tops: A high-ropes course suspended thirty feet above ground. Once you start the course you must complete it in order to get down—a lesson in perseverance.
Bumblebees: Awards handed out to campers and Kaleos alike who demonstrate determination in a trying moment.
‘I am third’: The most prestigious award for campers, named after a pilot who sacrificed his life in order to protect civilian bystanders. Given in response to consistent behavior putting God first, others second, and ourselves third. (This award was given to Wilbert Rosette, one of our K-3 campers and a 2012 ‘Agent of Hope’ intern.)
It’s true that camp is about swimming and basketball and dance practice and crafts. It’s true we sweat during the day, hiking and playing and swinging between trees and lake-side. It’s also true that we get to experience servant hood and celebrate every piece of effort as a testament of willingness.
It is difficult to describe the atmosphere developed at KAA—the leadership plan and landscape an ethos of intentionality, challenge, and interactive relationships to help bring people to a place of restoration. That sounds wrong somehow, doesn’t it? But one of the most exceptional elements of camp is that rest merges seamlessly with challenge. We seem ready to face obstacles for one week in the summer, but eager to avoid them the rest of the year. Things that seem so inconvenient in October become a test of our hearts at camp, and we are eager to learn lessons. As one of our speakers noted, it is so easy to be a Christian at camp. It is so easy to care and to worship and to feel supported. We experience instant fellowship standing next to new friends from Mississippi and Tennessee. But how do we bring this back to our home towns? How do we capture that willingness, that want, in our hearts and use it every day?
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”