Streamside Camp game time
By: Craig Vincent, Director Camp Streamside
BCM’s Streamside Camp & Conference Center recently finished its 2019 summer season with almost three hundred campers over a period of five weeks. Camp is usually filled with joy, smiling faces, and laughter as the children and teens have fun, learn new skills, make new friends, and experience God’s love lived out in their counselors’ lives. But not always. We also see tears, sadness, and anger.
Tears come when our campers begin pouring out their life experiences. Many have already experienced at a young age great hurt and disappointment in their lives. Camp may be the first time they have been in a safe environment where they felt comfortable enough to share and to cry without ridicule and judgment.
And to vent anger as well. “I hate my father!” was a sad phrase heard far too many times this summer. What would cause a child to say this? While many of our campers have wonderful fathers with whom they have great relationships, this is sadly not the case for others. Many have been abandoned by their father at an early age. Others have been victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Some are struggling with the reality that their father is in jail or prison.
Campers having fun
How do we respond to a child’s tears and anger? First, our counseling staff does a great job at listening. Even if we can’t change a camper’s difficult circumstances, we can communicate understanding, care, and concern.
Next, even if a parent is less than ideal, we emphasize the importance of honoring and, if the parent is still in the home, obeying. We can’t control what others do, but we can make sure we live our own lives in obedience to God even when the path is difficult. In a case where a child is currently at risk of abuse, we fulfill our obligation as mandatory reporters.
We can also help campers see their parents in a new light by focusing on what they are doing well or other redeeming characteristics. For example, when an incarcerated father seeks after Jesus while in prison, his children may have become eligible for Christmas gifts or a camp scholarship, including to Streamside.
We also do all we can to model biblical principles and godly adult interactions while our campers are with us, including gentleness, kindness, attention, encouragement, the setting of appropriate boundaries, honesty, reliability, and discipline. Just one example from this summer illustrates why the Christian camp experience is so powerful. A specific teen camper was struggling with both participation and behavior. We found out he didn’t really want to be at camp, but was only there because his mother wanted him to come.
Then a single incident drastically changed the trajectory of his week. We’d been teaching the campers to play wiffleball. This teen carelessly threw his bat, hitting his counselor in the mouth. The counselor walked away, clearly upset, in pain, and with a swollen lip. Fearful of what would happen next, the camper apologized over and over. But the harsh reaction he expected never came. Instead, he was caught off-guard by his counselor’s calm, forgiving response. From that point on, we saw a very different camper in both attitude and behavior.
Why the change? This camper was brought face to face with the character of God being lived out in his fat-lipped counselor. It was one thing to be told that God is gracious and forgiving but a far more powerful thing to see another person being gracious and forgiving because they are following after God.
Which brings up the most important response to our campers’ tears, pain, and anger—introducing them to their heavenly Father who loves them unconditionally and can be everything for them a human parent may not have been. Not all tears are tears of sadness. We also see tears of relief, hope, even joy as campers come to understand how much God loves them and wants to forgive them.
We are thankful for the tears that come along with the joys of camp. We are thankful too for all the people God brought through Streamside this summer. Each number represents a person of value and worth to God. Here are a few of the numbers from Streamside’s Summer 2019:
Kids and Teen Campers: 296
Spiritual decisions: 120
Learned a new skill: 212
Made a new friend: 268
- Teens completing service and leadership training: 11
- Camp Restoration Day Camp average daily attendance: 65
- End of summer camp and retreat guests: 730
- Collaborating ministries: 12
- Summer staff: 41
- Volunteers: 11
- Family camp: 90
- Labor Day alumni camp: 26
Each person represented came with needs to be met and a unique personality to be loved and accepted. Many came with service to offer and spiritual gifts to be exercised. We trust that all experienced God’s power and were given a taste of God’s character. Our prayer is that no one left the same person as they came.
Campers roasting marshmallows