Kayla August, Assistant Director of Evangelization
As he hobbled toward the obstacle course with certain confidence, I realized “why I minister.”
This camper was a boy about 10 years old. I had first met him a few days before, as his parents checked-in him, his bags, and his brother at the camp drop off location. The father carried his son’s crutches, wrapped in army duct tape, as this camper cautiously walked up to the camp check-in location.
“You want us to put these under the bus with his luggage?” I questioned, as his father handed us the crutches along with his suitcases. It seemed to me that if someone took the time to bring crutches, they must want to use them.
“He shouldn’t need them,” his father responded, “they are here just in case.”
At that point, I noticed this camper’s metal leg complete with tennis shoe as he strode away to join the other kids in the main lobby. His name was Dylan, and I later learned that he had lost his leg only a few months before and was in the transitional period of learning to walk in a new way.
This was not a jarring moment because this encounter is not unusual for the camps I work for in the summer. Camp Pelican, a camp for kids with pulmonary diseases, and Camp Challenge, a camp for kids with Cancer, Sickle cell, and other blood disorders, have become a regular part of my summers. For these campers, the result of these ailments is not only the loss of health but the loss of other things kids are not prepared for: hair, the ability to walk, and the general security of being a “normal” kid. The awkward innocence that is prevalent in most prepubescent’s is replaced with adult considerations like the reality that life may not only be different from that of their peers, but shorter as well.
When I first started working these camps 13 years ago, I realized that this week gives these kids what their hearts desire most. Not a cure, but that sense of normalcy that the disease takes away in their day-to-day life. The opportunity to not stand out in the crowd but to just “fit in.”
After an early morning preparing for a new day of camp, I set up an obstacle course for a Star Wars themed morning of physical activities. This course designed as “stormtrooper training” was compiled of tunnels to crawl through, crates to hop over, chairs to dart around, round tire-like objects to step through, and it ended with a Jenga block minefield that was only complete if you passed through it with all blocks standing unmoved.
The majority of male campers that came to the course that day rushed through the course with glee. In fact, it quickly became an intense competition for each one reaching the end asking, “what was my time,” in an attempt to be the best of the day! As each camper went through, I did my part to keep them pumped and excited using their competitive nature as a way to keep them motivated throughout the hour.
But, in my morning effort of creating a course brimming with kid intensity, I had not considered Dylan. When Dylan approached, we started the time as usual. Then, I quickly realized that this was an endeavor where the lowest time was not the prize but completion was the victory.
Accuracy was Dylan’s goal. Dylan started out slowly on the course placing his legs in each “tire” and the determinedly crawling through the tunnel ahead. He was determined but not hasty. As the goal of completion became the forefront, one of his counselors yelled “Go Dylan!” and the boys in his group turned to watch and cheer on their friend. The room was at a standstill, and all eyes were on Dylan as he made his way through the course. While it had previously been a competition, Dylan’s victory would be a win for everyone.
The slow rise of his name first crept in from the voices of the campers behind me…“Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dylan!” Then, his name echoed from the mouths of his group mates and his counselors as he steadily walked around the chairs meant for darting, walking over the crates meant for hopping and made his way through the “minefield’ without dropping a single Jenga block. As he crossed the finish line, there was no time called out as before. There was no need. He’d won more than a reduced time. He’d won a greater victory, and with this, he beamed as he noticed no difference between the friends that went before him and his completion of the course. His goal was accuracy and he achieved it with a room of fans cheering his name.
It was this moment that I realized this camp, which I’ve been a part of for almost half my life, was a ministry, and a beautiful one at that! While creating costumes, skits, and activities for the week long sleep over camp experience, I was also sharing with the kids the love of God, and that love is powerful.
For me, ministry has always been about that love. The Christian community contains a family that loves us for exactly who we are, a love that calls us to more than what we thought we could, and a faith that reminds us that we are capable of miracles if we let that love guide us.
This is why I minister. That love gives us courage. It gives us hope. It propels us. It gives us the power to complete the obstacle course of life with smiles on our faces and cheers in our hearts. Camp isn’t the only place people encounter the struggles of life. It’s all around us. Our society is filled with hardships, poverty, crime, illness, natural disasters, broken relationships, unhealthy attachments, and unearned struggles that people face which are far from fair but are actualities nonetheless. When a student comes before me in tears dealing with the hardships of life, I am the reminder of God’s love. A reminder that God hasn’t left them, but is instead holding their hand through the Jenga minefield of their day to day struggles. In ministry, Christ is the one screaming their name and I get to cheer them on along the way. I get to be there as they realize the beauty of what God made them to be.
That moment with Dylan reminded me that I’m not just a part of a camp community but a church family and that the power of love and support has been a motivating force in my life. Everyone is welcome to that family, and as Dylan made his way through the obstacle course, the kingdom of God manifested in a way that brought to life a clear vision of the world. One where a pure love was the ultimate unifying source. A world we all want to live in. A world that we were meant for.
Thirteen years ago, this view of the kingdom motivated me to make the whole world that small campsite in southern Louisiana. It showed me what the radical love of Christ can do. Everyone was invited to share in that love and receive the hope it brings.
As the Assistant Director of Evangelization, it’s my job to share that love. Evangelizing is being able to spread the good news. That this love is for everyone! In my ministerial life, my goal is that everyone comes to know the power of that love. I’m reminded of this as I read the gospels and see the revolutionary way in which Jesus’ love touched and changed the hearts of those he encountered. In fact, after his resurrection, Christians risked death to preach of this life-changing love. The love that not only made the blind see or the lame walk, but also called people to walk away from all they knew to follow a new path of hope.
With each student I encounter, I mirror that love of Christ, so that they may experience it as I have. That inner awakening that resounds in the soul. The love that affirms who we are now and have always been while still calling us to more. The love that unites us all. It is an open invitation that I have the privilege to share, and I watch as that transforming love changes the lives of the students before me. In ministry, I’m blessed to witness the miracles that come from that radical love and also to be the vessel to bring it to those in need.
That love is God. It’s why we’re here. It brings us to life. It keeps us moving forward. It gives us hope. It’s why I minister.