Camp Barnabas: Days 1 and 2
(Update #1 – written at 11:30pm on Sunday, 7/17 – and posted late because Ginger is a dweeb who didn’t know how to post on the blog until today. Also, sorry no pictures! My internet connection here is hanging on by a thread and I can’t upload anything.)
Sunny, humid, scorching hot greetings from 20 Woodmont students and volunteers in Shell Knob, Missouri!
For those of you who don’t know anything about Camp Barnabas, it is a Christian camp with two locations in Missouri that teams up with volunteers like us to provide an amazing week of camp for students with all sorts of mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Camp Barnabas pairs each “camper” with special needs one-on-one with a “missionary” age 16-30, and they do camp together for 5 days.
This week, the campers we are serving are on the autism spectrum. Fourteen of the missionaries in our group are paired one-on-one with a camper; these are our Woodmont students that are 16 and older, and with the exception of two, hour-long breaks each day, they are responsible for their camper and all of his/her unique needs and challenges 24/7 from now until Friday morning. They will be side by side the entire week, doing everything from meals and devotionals to pool/lake activities, ropes courses, and dance parties with their camper! Simply put, they will spend an entire week putting someone else entirely before themselves, and it is going to be nothing short of life-changing.
Missionaries at Camp Barnabas who are 15 or younger are “Barnstormers” – we have three of these in our Woodmont group this week. These missionaries spend their days serving everyone at camp, doing everything from waiting tables and cleaning up after meals to cleaning bathrooms, and everything in between. While these students aren’t paired one-on-one with a camper, they stay in cabins with all of the other missionaries and campers and they work as hard (if not harder) than anyone else at Camp Barnabas.
Our group arrived at camp at 4:00pm on Saturday, and after a tour of the campground spent Saturday evening getting to know the other missionaries and bonding with our cabins. All of today (Sunday) until the campers arrived at 4:00pm was spent in training, learning everything we need to know in order to have a successful week with our campers. From what I witnessed, it was during this training time that the enormity of what they’re being asked to do this week really hit home with the missionaries. I spoke with several of our students this afternoon before the campers arrived, and each of them said that while the hours of training left them feeling much more prepared to serve their camper, it also left them feeling nervous and overwhelmed wondering if they would be up to the task.
All anxiety, however, melted away during what was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever been a part of: camper arrival. All 150 missionaries gathered in the “dome” (a covered outdoor gym) and stood in two long lines facing each other to create a runway for campers as they arrived. Each camper was introduced over the loudspeakers to thunderous applause and a collective roar of enthusiasm, and was met at the front of the lines by their individual missionary, who would run with them down the runway, meeting the camper’s parents at the other end for hugs, tears, and pictures.
The look on each camper’s face during these few moments was indescribable, but it was the closest thing to sheer joy that I have ever witnessed. We had been told over and over by camp staff that this is the best week of most of these campers’ lives, and that the returning campers count down the entire year to the day they get to come to camp each summer; but seeing their reactions firsthand as they arrived was unlike anything they could have prepared us for. It was a beautiful reminder of why we are here, and made me even more excited than I already was to watch our Woodmont students serve this week.
After camper arrival, dinner, cabin get-to-know-you, our nightly theme party (Olympics!), and a wrap up worship session/devo, our missionaries are now finishing up an hour of “family time” together while their campers sleep before they, too, head to bed. I’m sure I speak for our entire group when I say that after only 7 hours with them, we are already falling in love with these fantastic, beautiful, hilarious, special campers.
Please cover our group in prayer as our students live out one of the hardest, rewarding weeks of their lives. God is doing big things in and through us, and it is going to be well worth a challenging week of pure exhaustion to change the lives of these campers and have them change our lives even more so in return.