We returned from Switzerland yesterday night after an exhausting, exhilarating pre-teen camp with our church. It was our third year as camp counsellors, and our first year leaving Juliet behind to attend next week’s teen camp without us there. The pre-teen camp is one of my favourite weeks of the year.
We are lucky, I know, that the camp is in the Swiss Alps. I mean, come on! It’s just too gorgeous for words.
Reason # One I love church camp : It’s gorgeous.
Driving to the town
Outside our chalet
The view from the swimming pool
A summer storm
At one of the lower summits (can you call it a lower summit)?
Reason # Two : It keeps me young.
Besides the gorgeousness of it all, one of the reasons I love the pre-teen camp is because I’m motivated to stay young. After our first year where I mostly escaped the physical exertion by doing kitchen duty (which was quite exhausting in and of itself), I knew I would need to start getting in shape to participate in the hike through the Alps, the capture-the-flag game, the dodgeball, and the olympics (where all adult participation is required)!
By the second year, I had been going to the gym for nearly a year and was ready for the hike – or nearly ready. I was still in so much pain at the end of it, however, I knew it was time to step up my game. By this third year, I had lost 25 pounds and had new hiking poles to go easy on my knees through the descent. Unfortunately for me, before the camp I wrenched my back and hip enough to know it would be stupid to try it, and my poles went to someone else. Fortunately for my friends who have a wheelchair-bound son, I was able to be the designated driver so he could participate.
We drove up the mountain and down the other side to catch the train with the rest of the group, took the special alpine train to the top of that mountain where we had lunch and a moment of praise and prayer with a view. Then we took the train back down the mountain together, along with some of the younger kids who thought the hike might be too much (like William here who chose to opt out …)
and got in the car and drove back up and down our home mountain to return to the chalet. It seems to go from town to town you can’t avoid going up and down mountains. However, despite the oldish body of mine, hanging out with all these young people gives me a playful heart and keeps me motivated to stay young and fresh so I can keep up.
Reason # Three : I get to see a new side to my husband. (And so does everyone else).
My husband is the strong and silent type. Most people don’t really get to see how playful and fun he is. And he works crazy hours so I don’t always get to see how playful and fun he is. But there’s something about being in the camp together. He’s great with kids and he loves them. He volunteered to close the hike so he could help the weakest kids have a victory by finishing it. (Another benefit of my being the designated driver is that I was later able to drive partway up the mountain and pick up a group of four kids who – despite the victory of hiking that far – would not have been able to hike the remaining 45 minutes).
I was happy to be on my husband’s team for dodgeball and catch the flag (a game which involves water guns and water balloon bombs) because he’s out to win. And I laughed until tears ran down my face when he volunteered to do the chubby bunny competition where you see how many marshmallows you can stuff in your cheeks and still say “chubby bunny”. He came a close second.
When he was challenged to karaoke – which he swore never to do – and the head counsellor put on Celine Dion’s Titanic song, he was a good sport and actually did it. Except he had everyone in stitches by rapping the words instead of singing them.
This is him teaching the first class of the week, and only class not taught by a teen.
Reason # Four : It brings me closer to my kids
Juliet was along for the ride this past week since she’s a teen now. She participated in everything like a pre-teen, but got special teen privileges like getting to work in the kitchen or being invited to their evening get-together after the younger kids are in bed. But she was paying attention during all the classes. Towards the end of the week, she leaned over to me before the class started and said, “Mom, I want to study the Bible with you.” Her words caught me by surprise, and I felt all the joy and honour of being asked.
I believe that children can have Christ-like qualities through osmosis by being around people who have faith. However, I also believe children need to make the decision on their own about whether they have enough faith in Jesus to make him Lord – and that it’s smarter to make this kind of decision no younger than the teen years when they have a better grasp on what the world has to offer. My firm belief with my own children is that it has to come entirely from them. That is why I never once asked her if she wanted to start studying the Bible or follow God or get baptised.
When she asked, I told her (with hugs and tears) that it would be my very great honour, but that she would do well to also study with teens — principally with teens, in fact, who could relate to her. Two of the eight camp counsellors were teen girls from the Paris church who happen to live close to us (and whom I have known since they were little and whose parents I adore and respect). So she’s going to start studying the Bible with them and learn to put it into practice with a view of getting baptised when she’s ready. All this in her time and God’s, not mine.
I also get to watch my boys having fun with the other kids, and – in a rare moment – actually playing with each other instead of biting and devouring one another. I guess it’s not hard to see why I love and look forward to this week so much when it brings our family so much closer to each other and God.
Reason # Five : It gives me hope for the future of our church
The teens are incredible. Our camp is mostly run by the teens and we adults are there to oversee safety, order, cleanliness, and give spiritual wisdom. But the teens do all the work. Another mom was following two of them in the hike and couldn’t help but overhear as they talked about their view of God. One said that he was discovering that God was not in the future, nor in the past, but was fully in the present. God dwells in the present. She found this so profound she wanted to keep following them to get further inspired.
The teens have the gift of making the youngest feel safe, the non-French speakers feel included, the wheelchair-bound feel normal, the homesick feel comforted, and the cocky feel humbled enough to get curious about God. In their class they spoke of peer-pressure and dating, serving, and loving family, and their friendships in and out of the church. They spoke with scriptures and illustrated it with sketches that brought the point home.
They were with the kids from morning until night, helping them to serve with dishes and cleaning when it was their team’s turn, instilling a sense of family and team spirit, helping the pre-teens to be open about their lives by being vulnerable themselves, showing by example that you can be completely cool and love God.
The pre-teens adored them.
These young men and women are our future evangelists, deacons, teachers, elders, mothers and fathers. Watching their faith and example, and seeing it grow year after year, inspires me. The teen counsellors of last year’s pre-teen camp (who have graduated) are this years college student counsellors for the teen camp. And some of them will one day choose ministry, although only after working for a few years because in French-speaking Europe you can’t easily enter the work-force if you’ve only ever held a job as a pastor. They need to be sure of their vocation and not potentially harm their ability to earn a living if they come out of the ministry.
Overall, it’s amazing to watch the teens grow and to relate to them as equals, and it’s incredible to contemplate the blessing our kids have, having them as examples.
But for this week it’s mostly fun and games for the teens, pre-teens, and adults alike. Basketball, mini golf, crafts, swimming, climbing, zip-lining, fear factor (the haunted house), karaoke night, talent night, Bible quiz, disco night,
The olympics …
They have to go bobbing for apples and then dip their face in flour then bring the apples back. Too bad I couldn’t participate on the adult team, huh? I didn’t escape being swiped across the neck with shaving cream at the end though.
It’s just fun! I think I love the camp because it reminds me each year that to love God is not a serious rule-bound religious sort of thing. It’s a light-hearted, spontaneous and fun thing.
It’s something that looks a lot like this :