Camp Barnabas: Day 7 (Final Update)
I am completely overwhelmed as I sit down to write about last night and today. So many tears, so much love.
Two sacred events happen on the last night of every week at Camp Barnabas. The first is called “Cross Carry”: everyone at camp lined up in groups on a long stretch of road – first camp leadership staff, then campers and missionaries by cabin, ending with the barnstormers. Beginning with the camp staff, a large wooden cross representing all past Camp Barnabas campers who have passed away since attending camp was carried down the road to be prayed over by each group. Everyone gathered in tight circles around the cross with their group, and heartfelt, tearful prayers were lifted up for the families of those who have been lost. Many of the campers this week have lost family members and friends represented by that cross, and agonizing cries of mourning could be heard from many of the groups that were praying. As I followed the cross down the road, dry eyes were few and far between, and all around me missionaries were embracing their campers as they wept in their arms. This was a holy time of grief and sorrow, wrapped in abounding love. It was truly a heartbreaking honor to witness.
Directly following Cross Carry was a more lighthearted (but just as sacred) time in the dome called “Say So”, in which any camper who wanted to say a few words about the week was welcomed to come up and speak to everyone. Two long lines began to form very quickly, as anxious and excited campers awaited their turn with their missionaries. I wish I could have recorded the entire Say So time to remember all of the precious, earnest things the campers said! They were overflowing with thanksgiving and SO MUCH LOVE for their missionaries and cabins and the time they shared this week. They talked about every activity they had done, all the new friends they had made, how pumped they already are to come back next year, and on and on and on. It was such a beautiful time of reflection on the week, and listening to our students’ campers brag about how wonderful they are left me bursting with pride!
The evening ended in fine fashion when Brad Fisher’s and Jax Nicholson’s cabin won the JEFF award for the boys for the whole week, and Bethany Cox’s and Brooke Birdwell’s cabin won for the girls! Their two cabins got a private party while everyone else headed to bed, complete with ice cream sundaes, dancing, and a “Honey Roast” in which everyone poured compliments on each camper about how they exemplified the qualities of JEFF throughout the week. But they weren’t the only ones who attended a VIP private party; our barnstormers were thanked and celebrated with an amazing pool party after lights out as well! For the first time this week the trapeze was opened up for their use, so I got some cool pictures of barnstormers flying through the air and landing in the pool! What an unbelievably special night it was.
Just when our group thought we were all cried out, camper goodbyes slapped us right in the face this morning. Many campers started getting upset as early as breakfast, several hours before we all departed, and the emotions only continued to heighten as we drew closer to closing ceremonies and final goodbyes. After everyone was packed up and cabins were cleaned out, we all greeted camper parents and headed to the gym for a time of worship and reflection on the week. All of the missionaries sat snuggly together with their camper and their camper’s family and we all watched a 10 minute video of clips from the week put together by the Barnabas staff. Everyone’s faces as we watched this video were priceless; campers and missionaries reliving the memories they’d made together, and camper parents experiencing a tiny piece of the love that was poured lavishly into their children this week.
After the video, the announcement was made that Hannah Armistead’s camper Charlotte won Honor Camper for the week! This is a huge deal at camp, and everyone screamed and cheered like crazy as she gleefully ran up to the stage to receive the award. Hannah looked like a proud mom, just beaming next to Charlotte and cheering louder than anyone else.
Following closing ceremonies was the sweetest time of mass hugging and tear-filled goodbyes you can imagine. To help represent the emotion of camp departure, I will share a story about one of our students without revealing his name (so as to keep his manly man image in tact): this particular student had an unbelievably difficult week. Many times he opened up and shared that this was the longest week he’s ever experienced, and how his camper was making his life miserable around the clock. His camper was particularly challenging, and made it nearly impossible for this student to really even experience camp. But this morning after departure I saw him standing off to the side by himself, so I approached him and asked how he was doing. He immediately threw his arms around me, laid his head on my shoulder and cried, and through his tears, said, “I miss my boy… I miss my boy.” Even this student – who we all thought would be dancing to the vans singing “Free at last!” as we left – was devastated saying goodbye to his camper.
It was during the events of camp departure this morning that I began to digest the full capacity of this mission trip and how it has changed us. Camp Barnabas provides its campers the opportunity to experience all of the acceptance, love, and affirmation they lack from the world 51 weeks of the year, and provides its missionaries the opportunity to live pure, others-first servanthood that we lack in the world 51 weeks of the year. We have learned to look for and appreciate the good in everyone we encounter, and that when we step out of our comfort zones and allow God to use us in ways that might scare us, the rewards far outweigh the discomfort. We have learned true gratitude for what we have been given, and how blessed we really are even though we don’t see it that way so much of the time. We have learned to notice and be thankful for the tedious tasks that others do for us, like washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms, and have learned to verbalize that appreciation and to make those loads lighter whenever we can. We have learned that even when we are at our wit’s end – sleep-deprived, blazing hot, and far past the point of exhaustion in every physical and emotional way – if we trust the Lord fully and rely on him for our strength, he will come through for us in powerful ways.
Finally, we have gotten a small taste of what it must be like for God to continuously love and care for us in spite of our foolishness and affliction. All of the camper behaviors that made this week frustrating and challenging are all behaviors that God experiences with us as his children: talking too much and refusing to listen, being ignored, moving too slowly, running away, refusing to cooperate, being mistreated, requiring endless repetition of instructions before understanding and obeying… Sound familiar? God allowed us to live a part of his reality this week – unconditional patience and love. We are praying that these lessons will stay close to our hearts and affect the way we live in a real way in the coming months.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the abundance of prayers and encouragement we have received this week. After a fun, relaxing afternoon and night spending time together in a beautiful setting, we are ready to get some much needed rest and head home first thing in the morning. See you soon, Nashville!
P.S. Update on Isaac – he is home resting and doing much better! God is good!