The Kitchen

Sharing a meal at the BVS house in Elgin

Friends share a meal at the BVS house in Elgin, Illinois

By Katie Cummings

In my house
When I want to be with
Someone
I come
To the kitchen
And I sit
At the kitchen table.
Organically people may
Emerge—
Stretching on the floor after a run,
Shuffling pots and pans for dinner,
Reading a book in the glorious sun.
It is the heartbeat of our home,
Thumping to daily rhythms.

In the midst of cooking,
The kitchen becomes—
A stage
Our impromptu dance parties
Filling the spaces between
Linguine and cheddar cheese

With a warm cup of tea
And a listening ear—
I’ve stepped into
A therapy session
The linoleum floor bouncing back
The sacred words of our hearts.

With a hefty bag of thrifted finds—
The fluorescent lights reflect
The dazzling uniqueness of
A fashion show that only cost
Ten dollars.

In the heart of our home—
The kitchen

Our dancing stage
Can easily deteriorate to
An arena.
With a warrior on either side
Poised
For a death match.

The vibrations of the floor
Reverberating
Angry words and weighty sighs—
Slammed doors and broken conversations.

The fluorescents illuminate
The cracking pieces—
Shining lights into the deepest,
Darkest,
Most selfish parts of
Ourselves.

And yet,
Those four walls
With open cabinets and an
Alphabetized spice rack—
Hold us—all.

As we come
To the kitchen table—
Angry with housemates.
Disappointed with work.
Fists clenched.
Jaw tightened.
Something—happens.
Our hands open,
Reaching across the table
To hold another.
Fingers unfurl—
White knuckles regain their color.
Jaws relax,
Exhaling prayers
And
Inhaling the love inside
Homecooked food.
Eating brown rice or white,
Coconut curries and
One-pot-wonders
We slowly find our way
Back
To each other
To self.

The kitchen holds us—
Maybe better than we hold
Each other
Because
The heartbeat of our home
The kitchen
Is that place that
Grace lives.

An Anabaptist Family Meeting

In the world of theological conversations it seems that everyone is talking about us. Brian McClaren named Anabaptists as part of the composition of his Generous Orthodoxy. Stuart Murray outlined the markers of a Naked Anabaptist. Greg Boyd and others continue to trumpet the peace testimony and challenge imperialist theologies, even to the point of losing members from their congregations in doing so. Funny thing is that in talking about us, these pastor theologians rarely get the opportunity to talk with us. Even more striking is the fact that those of us in the Anabaptist family rarely have the chance to talk together.

Thanks to Missio Alliance and a number of co-sponsors, including the Church of the Brethren, we finally got the chance to have a family meeting. On September 19 and 20 nearly 400 people met in Carlisle Pennsylvania to explore the intersections between Evangelicalism and Anabaptism. Historic Anabaptist groups such as the Brethren in Christ, Mennonite Church USA, and the Church of the Brethren all provided speakers. Emerging Anabaptist leaders such as Greg Boyd, Brian Zahnd, Bruxy Cavey, Kurt Willems also shared in the main sessions. Many noted from the stage and in the hallways that such a gathering of these groups is rare, and thus the opportunities are vast.

In a culture where Evangelicalism is increasingly identified with stripes of Calvinism and Reformed theology, the space opened by Missio Alliance and these Anabaptists revealed a depth to North American Evangelicalism. To be sure, Anabaptists and Evangelicals are not antithetical. Both strains of Free Church theology share the conviction that the Christian life is marked by conversion and adult baptism. We also have a high regard for the Bible as the church’s scriptures and a Christ centered vision of the Christian life. There are also significant markers of difference, but in this gathering one of the common points of conversation focused on a shared welcome of the end of Christendom thinking. That shared connection takes many forms, but the general idea that North American Christianity has been dominated by theologies that link empire building and the church was one that many rejected.

In the course of the gathering it was clear that we still needed to identify what we meant by “Anabaptist.” Some clearly understood it in a thick way, including communal interpretation of scripture and the desire to simply do what Jesus said we should be doing. Still others used Anabaptism as short hand for a non-violent ethic of discipleship. Yet, given the range of Anabaptist traditions and the many strains of influence in what is becoming called Neo-Anabaptist theology, we missed an opportunity to gain some understanding of this breadth and thus the possibilities for an engagement of Anabaptist thought in the wider theological conversations. Frank James of Biblical Seminary, while recounting the history of Anabaptism, also invited us to look at a larger dialog between Reformed and Anabaptist strains of Evangelicalism. The nature of this gathering, however, made it feel more like a family meeting than an opportunity to explore the range of Evangelicalism. To some, it felt like a gathering where many of us congratulated ourselves on being “Anabaptists.”

The format of the gathering also revealed an interesting contrast between historic Anabaptism and more culturally attuned Evangelicals. A number of noted Neo-Anabaptists were recruited as speakers, and it was clear that these were names intended to draw an audience. Many of us welcomed hearing and engaging these writers and pastors, yet for many historic Anabaptists, the celebrity culture of the North American Church was a clear hurdle. While Missio Alliance is framed as an organization that is trying to make space within the fissures of the North American church for important and integrative conversations, the conference still had an air of bringing in the celebrities to talk to a crowd. While several historic Anabaptists were part of the plenary schedule, it was quite clear that there was not much conversation to be had. Instead, the task of synthesizing the various ideas was placed on those in the audience.

Part of that reality was due to the schedule. In recruiting so many plenary speakers we crammed 3-4 presentations into a two hour sessions. When, as inevitably happens, speakers went over time the result was a question and answer time that was often limited to one question and a short response from (hopefully) each presenter. Rather than having a conversation, the end result was a collage of ideas that the leaders in the room had to assemble for themselves. This inundation of speakers also was a taxing schedule for all those who attended. There was simply too much to synthesize and keep track of, without much space created for processing the information. I wonder if the low attendance on the second day was in part due to exhaustion.

There certainly are, especially for those interested in Anabaptism, better ways of structuring a conference to reflect conversation and communal discernment than packing the sessions with so many speakers. I wonder if we could have had two or three short presentations from church and congregational leaders and had those celebrity pastors respond and be in conversation with those presenters.

The breakout sessions were clearly intended to be the space for conversation. Yet, we also leaned heavily on presenters who offered more content than on facilitators. I wonder if we could have tried not having set sessions and identified key concepts from the plenaries and offered space for those interested in talking together about critical topics that emerged from the presentations. This may still sound like what was intended by the planners, but we could have done this on a more ad hoc basis. Rather than ask people to prepare a session with more content and a little space for conversation, these sessions could have been more tactical and responsive to the issues arising in the large group sessions.

All that aside, this was surely a unique gathering. It offered a place for pastors and leaders who frequently feel alone and taxed to meet with others who are thinking in similar directions. As a staff person for the CoB who worked on the planning team, it was worth the effort seeing pastors engage a range of people talking about our tradition. It gave us the opportunity to network with other CoB pastors as well as connect to other leaders.

At the end, it was clear to me that this was just one conference that offers us future opportunities. In the plenaries a number of critical questions were raised that could easily bring us together again. Rather than try to narrate those questions, I will simply list a few that filled my own notes.

1) The mono-cultural problems with historic Anabaptists- Is our Germanic heritage an asset or a hurdle to sharing the unique emphases within our traditions?

2) Structural racism in our society and our churches- How can a tradition whose very beginnings were rooted in marginalization by the wider Christendom structures rethink our own complicity in the continued marginalization of others in our town and our churches?

3) The need for more women voices- The balance of presenters were men, yet the struggle seems that opening space for women isn’t the real issue. What changes in the Anabaptist conversations when the voices of the women who are clearly engaged are heard on their own terms, and not because they speak from the male dominated language and expectations?

“I can’t believe this was a real day”

Marie Schuster

Marie Schuster


By Marie Schuster

BVS volunteer Marie Schuster lives and works at the Brot und Rosen (Bread and Roses) Community in Hamburg, Germany, a house of hospitality for homeless refugees. She describes one of her days:

My alarm goes off: once, twice, three times und Aufstehen! Since days at my last BVS project at the L’Arche community in Tecklenburg, I very much enjoy living “above the shop” and getting the most out of every second I am in bed in the morning. I throw on some clothes just in time for the bell…yeah there’s a bell. A single ring indicates the beginning of our Andacht (morning prayer). Those who feel called, file downstairs to our basement chapel. We sing, pray, and reflect together.

After a quick breakfast I set out for Cafe Exil where I will meet up with other faithful vigilers to demonstrate outside of the immigration office across the street from the cafe. Today I have extra cargo: my backpack is full of medicine and bandages to drop off at Caritas’ medical center for homeless folks. (There is a good exchange between the “MediBüro” and this center. We both receive different donations and have different needs, but with the same goal: health care for the marginalized.) I also have two banners rolled up under my arm. We had taken them home from the Cafe last Thursday to use in our Good Friday Stations of the Cross for the rights of refugees procession. They have slogans painted on them saying “No One is Illegal” and “Stop Deportations.”

It’s about a half hour trip from my home in Barmbek to the central station and then a 7 minute walk to Cafe Exil. Cafe Exil is a free and independent counseling/advice center for refugees and migrants. We connect people to organizations or lawyers that can help their case, make phone calls, or accompany them to appointments at the job center or immigration office. We are also known as a warm place with free coffee and tea so we have some “regulars” (generally non-German, homeless folks who need a place to rest for a few hours) during the colder months.

I get there around 9:45 and greet the other volunteers in the Cafe. The other men who do the vigil join me and we fold pamphlets that we will pass out as part of our demonstration. Peter arrives and we all set out to hold our banners on the darkest corner in Hamburg. This isn’t an exaggeration. The corner outside the immigration office is always in the shadows. It blocks the sun that rises behind it and the buildings across the street block it as it goes down. I find it very symbolic. On top of that it is located on a very busy, wide street that leads to the harbor which brings the wind.

Towards the end our hour-long vigil, a security guard from the immigration office comes out asking us for help / advice. There is an English speaking woman who has to go to the “Sportallee” place to apply for asylum. She is very pregnant and won’t be able to handle the stress of the complicated journey to get there. (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, bus, etc)

Peter asks what we should do. He feels it is the job of the office to look after people when they clearly cannot go on their own, as is the case here…and the case of a blind woman two weeks before. She requires a taxi, but who will/should pay? No real solution is reached and we end the vigil with the song: “You Can’t Kill the Spirit.”

Back at the Cafe I say hello to a few “regulars” and put on my jacket. I want to drop off the Meds, get lunch, and walk to MediBüro – it’s a beautiful day. Well it wasn’t in the stars. Thursdays generally do not go according to plan. A kind stranger had walked the very pregnant woman over from the immigration office. I didn’t see them come in but I saw her sitting alone on the couch. I figured it must have been the woman the security guard asked us about. I offered her something to drink. She refused. She handed me the paper the office gave her with a crude map and description of how to get to Sportallee with public transport. “I want Asyl,” she said, “I need to go here.”

Sportallee isn’t for everyone. Applying for asylum isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have a good enough (in the eyes of the state) case, you can be rejected and then be refused any future application. There are ways around it, but one has to know beforehand what they are doing, why, and how. Not easy for most people who find themselves wanting asylum. They don’t often find out until it’s too late the “could’ve, should’ve would’ves” of the situation. And they can’t be blamed either. The system is intentionally confusing and difficult so as to discourage applicants. It’s unbelievably frustrating to me and I am not even in this situation.

I discuss options with Peter. It seems this woman is mostly concerned with where she is going to sleep tonight and not what applying for asylum means. We do our best to gently ask her about the baby’s father. If he’s German she will have an easy time getting assistance. He’s not. She keeps saying she is tired and wants to go to the Sportallee. Peter made some phone calls to different shelters to see if they could take her in for a few nights before she decides what to do. He can’t find anything. He calls around for more advice. In the mean time other guests come into the cafe and I fall into my familiar role. A man comes in wanting to fill out an apartment application. Someone needs directions to another counseling center.

Peter had successfully heard from the head boss-lady at “Flucht Punkt” that we should take her to Sportallee, not to apply for asylum but for official permission to stay for humanitarian reasons. German law forbids the deportation of a pregnant woman 6 weeks before and after the birth of the child. So at least for this time she is safe and will be cared for. What happens afterwards needs to be discussed with a lawyer. She comes from a country in Africa that the state has determined is “safe” to deport folks back too. This complicates her asylum claim. We were advised to go to Sportallee, get her settled, not to discuss her country of origin, and make sure she comes to “Flucht Punkt” on Wednesday. I called a taxi while Peter looked up directions from Sportallee to “Flucht Punkt” so she would not miss her appointment.

I accompanied the woman. The ride was maybe 20 minutes long. Most of that we sat in silence I could see she was exhausted. I went over the procedure with her one more time. That we were not going to give them too much information until she had her appointment. I assured her they wouldn’t send her away so close to the due date of her baby. I said it will be fine. As soon as I said this I felt guilty. I don’t know if it will be fine. Times like this I wish I was less American-optimist and more German-realist.

It was my first time going to Sportallee. One of the guys I live with previously lived here for around 3 months. He said it was awful. It’s located in what looks like a pretty normal German, residential neighborhood. There are kids everywhere sucking on juice boxes and playing, shouting in different languages. We walk slowly from the cab (which let us out around the corner) to the main entrance. The woman I am with does not have much. A purse, a shoulder bag which is just a bigger purse, and a plastic shopping bag. I can see sandals and toiletries sticking out of it. I hold her hand as we walk up the few steps to the door. There are about five men in blue sweater vests, ties, and black pants. They are smoking and joking around with some kids. These are the security guards. They ask how they can help.

We speak in German, the woman stands patiently next to me. She doesn’t say anything; she doesn’t seem to be fully present. She is just letting everything wash over her. I tell them she is pregnant and wanting to apply for a permit to stay for humanitarian reasons. I had rehearsed this in my head on the way over. I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t accidentally say “asylum.” The biggest guard said, “Not today.” I was confused, flustered, and angry; a full range of emotions in the half second it took for him to finish his sentence. “The office is closed, she can apply tomorrow.” They informed me she could stay the night and would get a food card and things would move forward in the morning. Then came the next question: “Where is she from?” I tried to change the subject. I said, she’s three weeks before her due date, tired, and cannot handle any more stress today. They had done this before and were not distracted. I am only talking to two men now. The younger one is smoking and asks more aggressively “Where is she from?” I hate him for smoking so close to this woman. I hate that he’s looking at me accusingly. I am scared and don’t know what to do. The other guard levels with me: “Look we can’t take her in if we don’t know where she’s from. We are not the office, but we have to know.” I level back and tell him I was advised not to disclose that until she has spoken to a lawyer.

I translate these goings on to the woman standing next to me. I realize in this moment I still don’t know her name. There is a bench and I walk her over to it. I try calling Peter for advice, he doesn’t answer his cell. I discuss it with the kinder guard a bit more and with the woman I am with and we agree to fill out the tiny form, including giving her country of origin. He tells me we want the same things for the folks here and I find myself trusting him. After a bit of a wait, they find her a key and bedding. She will not be in a normal room. She is in a container. There are about 10 containers stacked in two rows, two stories outside of the main building. They aren’t shipping containers, but more like the movable offices you see at construction sites. She’s on the second “floor.” An older guard with a gray beard shows us the way. The stairs are difficult and we go slowly together. In her room are two bunk-beds, a table, a few lockers and a single chair. There is only one other woman in this room. They do not speak the same language. She uses the toilets across the hall and I learn from the guard where the canteen is and at what time dinner is served. We settle her on the bottom bunk and I make up the bed for her. She still hasn’t said too much. She is hungry and tired. We’ve missed lunch time. I only have an apple and a banana with me. It’s hers. I help her put her things in an empty locker but put the flyer for “Flucht Punkt” on the table. I write out the German term for the permit she needs to apply for so the next day she can point to it during her interview. I also write down my cell number in case there are any problems. I hug her; remind her of her appointment on Wednesday, and leave. It feels very surreal.

I head to the bus stop and on the way call Hans who I would be working with in the MediBüro to tell him I may be late today. I also call a friend I meet through Cafe Exil. He’s a “regular” there and has been sick for over a week. I told him to go to MediBüro on Monday but he was applying for jobs and never came in. I told him I would be there today and he should come by. “Maybe.”

I change trains, get on a bus and arrive fifteen minutes before Hans. The MediBüro has just opened but there are already ten or more patients waiting in the hall. Already when I arrived, two other folks had opened the one classroom and were calling doctors. I collected some materials and began setting up the second room for when Hans would arrive. While I was waiting, I put out extra chairs in the hall for the patients. I had five minutes or so to have a cup of tea and listen to some Bob Dylan to calm down and help me transition my new roll. Its 15:30 and I have miles to go before I sleep.

What I like about working in the MediBüro is that it’s not as hectic as Cafe Exil. You get to sit down one on one (or two on one) with people and you are generally able to find a solution. They are sick, you find them the right doctor. It is relaxed and they leave happy (not always the case at the Cafe). I do a lot of the writing for Hans since his hands aren’t as steady as they once were. We only deal with the patient’s first name in order to protect their anonymity. We make an appointment, write out a letter, stamp it from MediBüro, and give them directions on how best to get there.

Even if MediBüro goes longer than expected, I leave feeling pretty good, not frazzled as is often the case when I leave the Cafe. Today we are done on time, 17:30. I am really famished and the sun is shining. I decide to walk through St. Pauli to the Caritas center to drop off the medicine and bandages that are bulging out of my back pack. There are plenty of Cafes and food stands along the way and the Drop-In Center is open 24 hours, so I don’t have to rush.

I arrived at the Caritas Drop-in around 18:30. The guy there was friendly, thanked me and I headed on towards the harbor. I sat there, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the ships, tourists, and Fischbrötchen. The sun was still out and I tried to soak up all the vitamin D I could. It was nice to be by myself, watching the crowds. But then I had enough and got on the train to go home.

The trip from Landungsbrücke to the Brot und Rosen door is about 45 minutes if the buses line up nicely. I was pretty exhausted when I got home but was happy to find group of folks in the living room watching TV. It was nice to unwind and laugh with three of my house mates before going to bed. It was a full, stressful, but ultimately good day.

Read more about Brot und Rosen

A Declaration of Love

Coffee Shop conversation

Katie Hampton (left) listening at Abrasevic.

By Katie Hampton

I spent three years and three months (2007-2010) as a BVS volunteer in OKC Abrasevic in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am still discovering all that those three years meant to me, but it is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life.

If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I freak out about the fact that I spent three years not earning/saving any money, or at the very least interning at some international organization which would look good on my resume. I spent a frantic year+ after BVS interning, working and not getting paid, job hunting, etc. During that time, Abrasevic, with its tiny budget, paid me TWICE! I was moved to tears by their solidarity.

But really, I would NEVER take it back. This is who I am. This is how I become who I want to be.

In Abrasevic, the most important thing is to show up and to be present. To talk to people. To make jokes. People are an end in themselves. When Arma stopped being a member of the management team, he spent even more time at Abrasevic than he had before (he had already been there ALL the TIME)—but now he was in the café talking to people, rather than up in his office working. (Nedzad, a longtime volunteer, took on his tasks.) Tina said, when we discussed it, “what’s important is being here; that’s more important than what you do here.”

[[I’m tearing up again thinking about all of them and longing to jump into a car right this minute and visit them!]]

Everyone in Abrasevic has their own artistic dream. Even the waiters are all DJs or musicians or doing street performances or graffiti. People are so supportive of dedication to artistic dreams. We’re always going to the concerts of Mostar bands to hear the same songs and going to the book promotions of Mostar (Abrasevic) poets. I also had a poem published in an Abrasevic literary journal (Kolaps) and showed my videos in the main hall.

One of the main things that I learned in Abrasevic is how important PLACES are for cities. It’s like “a room of one’s own” for urban spaces. It’s essential for Mostar to have an Abrasevic. It’s essential for every city to have neutral urban spaces that encourage people to come together. Like Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities” (which I studied in-depth in a video journalism course at Abrasevic), where Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan the stories of a hundred cities, only to reveal that “all cities are Venice”; now to me, “all cities are Mostar, and must contain an Abrasevic”. When I move to new places, I am always looking for an “Abrasevic”. Of course I can never find another Abrasevic, as it is irreplaceable and unique. But in my life I combine the elements which made Abras so dear to me (solidarity, creativity, espresso) to try to live an Abrasevicy life.

There’s nothing like putting a camera in the hands of a young person. So exciting to see what they come up with. I have to do this again! My life will not be complete unless I can make videos and help young people to make videos! About Roma, skaters, beautiful ramshackle monuments, artists, poets, musicians and activists.

I learned to film and edit video footage.

I also got some experience in grant writing.

I learned about challenges in project design and implementation.

I was so inspired.

I learned about the impact of political conflict on daily life.

I was filled with hope.

– Katie Hampton, BVSer at Abrasevic from October 2007 to December 2010 (currently blogging at www.pilgrimography.com)

Join the conversation on Palestine and Israel – What can U.S. Christians do?

Advocating for a just peace for Palestine and Israel – What can U.S. Christians do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

8-9 PM EDT

Dial:  1-866-740-1260

Brethren in Palestine and Israel

Brethren Delegation in Israel/Palestine in 2012

The aftermath of 50 days of fighting has left devastation in Gaza which still struggles under a suffocating blockade. More and more land continues to be confiscated for expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupation of Palestinian lands continues unchecked. Israelis and Palestinians both suffer from the lack of a peaceful resolution. Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers look to the international community for support in their efforts to change the status quo and work toward a just peace. With the breakdown in peace talks, what direction should U.S. policy take? How can persons of faith be part of the solution through their public policy advocacy? Join us as we take a look at these questions, hear perspectives from experienced advocates on what churches are doing and can do, and engage in conversation about directions for advocacy.

Presenters:

Catherine Gordon
Representative for International Issues
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Office of Public Witness

Mike Merryman-Lotze
Israel-Palestine Program Director
American Friends Service Committee 

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Director
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

There will be time for questions and answers, as together we seek a constructive way forward in advocacy for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

Sponsored by the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, a network of national Christian denominations and organizations working for a just peace in the Middle East with a primary focus Israel and Palestine.

If you have any questions please contact the Director of the Office of Public Witness, Nate Hosler, at nhosler@brethren.org

Speaking the language of Camp Koinonia

Youth Peace Travel Team at Camp Koinonia

Three quarters of the 2014 Youth Peace Travel Team at Camp Koinonia

“In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.”
-1 Corinthians 7:24

This verse has been an encouraging reminder in my life that God meets us wherever we are. Even in my lowest of low times, God is willing to walk (and struggle) with me back up the mountain. I don’t have to raise myself up to a heavenly ideal in order to follow Christ or receive God’s love. If I can find peace with myself and my current condition, then I can spread peace to others.

This is the verse that immediately came to mind when I thought about the YPTT’s week at Camp Koinonia August 10-16. As this was a camp more diverse and free-flowing than we had experienced all summer (by far), I found myself honestly frustrated at the beginning of the week. I didn’t know how to harness the campers’ energy (we’re talkin’ kids doing backflips at Sunday night’s campfire) or how our team would fit into the loose schedule of the week. From lax rules about technology usage to a propane-based campfire each night, there were many differences to our typical routine that sure proved to be a challenge for us as we thought about how to interact with and teach our new friends. As exhaustion wore on me, I let these differences overwhelm me at first.

But then this verse came to mind. I realized that if we were going to make an impact and have a relatively worry-free week, we would need to learn to speak the language of Camp Koinonia. So, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did just that. On Wednesday night before campfire, I spent about 15 extra minutes hanging out with the campers, where the informal activity of the night happened to be a dance party. I let them teach me their favorite moves and joined right in. At this point, I felt like I connected with the kids and earned some mutual respect (and had too much fun in the process). After that, I joined Melen and her iPhone, and together we laughed at satirical Instagram pictures of her favorite musician. While this definitely wasn’t a normal camp activity I was used to, it was a moment that we shared. I found that there was so much more power and joy in joining campers in their fun rather than trying to chastise them and make them fit a mold of what I saw as “good camp fun”. Once we joined the campers at their level, we were much better able to teach from a place of understanding and respect. From hikes through train tunnels to singing Smashmouth at campfire, the consistent unexpectedness of Camp Koinonia shenanigans turned out to be highly rewarding.

-Shelley

Child drawing the words "No violence" at Camp Koinonia

“Use words – No violence”: Activity at Camp Koinonia

As Shelley described, the diversity of Camp Koinonia was spectacular. From small town kids two miles down the road to those from inner-city Seattle, we got to experience campers from all ethnicities and walks of life. Venturing to a majestic waterfall and natural water slide was a highlight for me. Getting to talk extensively with campers on the hike to get there, swimming in that exhilarating glacier runoff, and soaking up the Washington state atmosphere were all entirely awesome. The last night, I was asked to counsel the older girls’ cabin because their counselor was leaving and I had created some strong bonds with them. We had a 300+ balloon late night water balloon free-for-all, got serenaded by the boys’ cabin, and stayed up until past 3am talking about our feelings, struggles, fears, desires, and lives. Although our sleep stores were depleted, our hearts were filled with care for one another and the peace of Christ was tangible in the bond of trust we created with each other. I know my relationship with these campers will live on and that both my impact on them as well as their impact on me will never dissipate. This week perfectly ended a summer that has pushed me insanely hard to better follow God’s call for my life and to journey with the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people I’ve come into contact with as they strive to follow theirs. Thanks be to God!

-Christy

Like many of the camps we visited this summer, Camp Koinonia was full of beautiful opportunities for pictures. The venue of Franklin Falls provided me with one of the most thought provoking sights I’ve had all summer. Off to the left of the main fall is a small trickle of water coming down onto a hillside covered in rocks. Mind you these rocks, while more closely resembling a backpack than a boulder, were placed in a way that didn’t make your footing entirely guaranteed (oh and did I mention that they were mostly wet with the fall runoff). Regardless of how stupid of an idea it was, Chris and I both found ourselves climbing this moderately steep potential rockslide about 5 minutes offset of each other. I had arrived to the other side of the falls via swimming, Chris through bouldering a rock face. Either way, we both climbed up to a bit of a cliff near the top of the rocks. We sat there for a moment looking down at the pool at the base of the falls and at all the people far below. At this moment I had the realization of A) just how far we had climbed and B) just how huge this waterfall was! The people down below were so much smaller from all the way up there. The only thought that my brain could then process was “How amazing is our God?” Throughout this summer I’ve had the chance to meet countless faces, both young and old. People have impacted my life in huge ways. Yet these people are so small, just like those below me at the waterfall. To think that God has created so many amazing people that can impact my life and to understand that I’m that person to some people too, was humbling to say the least. The impacts I’ve made this summer and that this summer has made on me amaze me – not because of their severity, but because they have been made by people so small yet so big. I’m thankful for this opportunity I’ve had. Blessings to all who read this. Just remember that from boulders to pebbles, all of us can make ripples.

-Jake

A quote that has quieted my mind during turbulent times was pertinent to Camp Koinonia. Norman Maclean writes in his novella A River Runs Through It, “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved on who is in need and ask the same question: we are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them- we can love completely without complete understanding”. The group of campers at Camp Koinonia were an eclectic rowdy bunch and so connecting with them for me, I expected to be something that needed to be worked at. I needed to ask them about their upbringing, struggles, and influences. I needed to put extra effort to get to know them. I needed to be more attentive to how I worded my statements. I needed, I needed, I needed. I never stopped to ask what the campers needed. What they needed was unconditional love and the place to explore themselves and at Camp Koinonia they found that. The camp allowed them to be themselves in a lot of ways we had not seen at previous camps: phones were used extensively, meals were left at whim, and attention was given sporadically. At times it was a struggle to know if they cared about what was happening around them and I struggled with fitting in. But the more I let go and allowed myself to go with the campers flow rather than fight the current, the more I was accepted and let in. Letting others take control, even campers, is not always a bad idea. Activities or camp may not happen the way we want it, but it will happen in the terms that matter to the larger audience: the campers. Camp Koinonia was about the campers, and I appreciated how they owned that. I loved them all without ever understanding.

-Chris

As this was the 2014 YP-double-T’s last week in action, we’d like to thank you all as we sign off. We have immense appreciation for all those who have faithfully supported our adventures throughout these 12 life changing weeks. Our peacemaking efforts will not cease, but will rather be transformed as we have gathered a new community of young earth-shakers to join us. As the invitation to peace is always extended to you, allow us to leave you with “A Franciscan Blessing”, which “Uncle” Josh Brockway left with us seven wonderful weeks ago:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

-Yours truly, the 2014 YP-double-T

Laughter and Freedom

Porch time at Camp Hammond Mill

Porch time at Camp Hammond Mill

Something that we have greatly enjoyed throughout our summer on the YPTT is getting to experience the different culture of each camp we visit. While each camp does indeed have unique and memorable traditions, the culture of Camp Hammond Mill was joyfully unlike any other. Christy had been talking up her home camp all summer, informing us that it was “different”, but incredibly special. We agree!

Laughter at Camp Hammond Mill

“Joyfully unlike any other”: laughter at Camp Hammond Mill


Two of the biggest components of Camp Hammond Mill’s culture that I noticed were laughter and freedom. The modest campground was alive with the sound of laughter at almost all hours of the day. The campers interacted enthusiastically during the our morning sessions, bringing their own life and spunk to small discussion groups and skit performances alike. Mealtimes were full of jolly banter, especially when the “Pretty Pants” made an appearance (a stylish Camp Hammond Mill tradition). We heard resounding chuckles in the water, from frigid early morning polar bear swims to a day-long youth float trip. My favorite instance of laughter came from late night games with the youth on Thursday. We played a few simple rounds of Telephone Pictionary, Psychiatrist, and Signs, but their bonds with one another were apparent as we were all doubled over and genuinely enjoying each others’ company.

Freedom came from the abundance of free time throughout the week. While some camps’ free time leads to campers retreating from one another, Camp Hammond Mill’s free time often encouraged creativity and deeper bonding. We enjoyed “porch time”, where whoever was free would gather on the mess hall’s porch and simply spend time together. Some of the younger campers took every ounce of freedom they were given to make dozens of dragons out of pipe cleaners – refreshing products of active imaginations. Campers and staff alike would take time to write each other goofy notes and notes of affirmation to place in each others’ envelopes throughout the week. Even organized volleyball and ping pong tournaments took up our free time, but each involved getting to know new opponents and sharing in victories or losses together.

Pipe cleaner dragons at Camp Hammond Mill

Pipe cleaner dragons at Camp Hammond Mill

Through laughter and freedom came peace, as the small but mighty group of Camp Hammond Mill campers became a family together. Despite many injuries and illnesses, late nights and early mornings, torrential rain and stifling heat, each person gave of themselves. We made new friends, looked out for the best interests of one another, and ultimately relished in the joy and learning that came from a relaxed but quirky camp culture.

-Shelley

One memory of Camp Hammond Mill that will stick with me is the first day we went down to the river to swim. A pair of trees had fallen down during a storm and washed up on a rock that the kids usually climbed onto and jumped off of into the river. We decided to try and move it as a group, so a few of the counselors, campers, and myself positioned ourselves around the trees to try and move them. After about ten minutes of slowly rolling the trees (largely helped by the use of a large branch as a lever, yay physics) we finally dislodged the trees from the rock and into the rest of the river. We then proceeded to pull the trees down river in an attempt to bring them away from the swimming area and up onto the bank. It wasn’t easy, and most of us got a few decent scrapes from the trees. But, it was definitely a fun and memorable way to get the
week kicked off and I’m sure that I will remember the time that I helped move a freaking tree!

-Jake

Comfort. Camp Hammond Mill brings me an overwhelming sense of comfort each time I arrive. Most likely ‘cause it’s home. This year was no different, besides the shift from camper to staff member that being on the YP double T brought. Reconnecting with some of my greatest friends there, meeting the new faces that come each year, and seeing the familiar, beyond beautiful gorgeousness of the crystal Blue Spring and cliffs at the White River all brought me great joy. My roommate Laura from college came on Tuesday of camp and counseled for the rest of the week. We took campers on runs and reeked havoc together on the river during the float trip. Getting to share my fellow YPTTers with her as well as the experience of my home camp was a huge highlight for me. Another wonderful moment occurred on Thursday night when the rain was pouring down. We relocated our campfire to under the pavilion and were singing songs. One of the young girl campers had to go to the restroom badly, but no one wanted to take her. So, I took her hand and we ventured into the rain together. We ended up having a ton of fun jumping around in puddles and running in the torrential downpour. Soaked to the bone and laughing, she made it to the restroom in time and all was well. Those moments of pure exhilaration and happiness are just priceless. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to share Camp Hammond Mill with the YPTT!

-Christy

I cannot stress how cool canoeing for nine hours is. I understand it seems like a long time to be doing anything but this was truly a unique experience (not just because I didn’t get sunburned although I was exposed to the sun for more than two consecutive hours). The experiences of the river were exhilarating, a bald eagle that perched twenty feet above the river’s surface on a branch, conversations on the water, and going out of one’s way to pick up trash. It was a touching experience as nature, man and the spirit all came together to form what we call beauty. I appreciated the majesty of the surroundings and the respect that the campers felt for the river and springs of the area. The campers collected an impressive amount of trash during the trip and this just further distinguishes the people of Camp Hammond Mill.

The canoe trip was not all. Ping pong managed to be more than a simple competitive outlet for me at this camp. Previously I enjoyed ping pong for its simplicity and good natured competition, but I bonded with an individual over the game. Having faced off in the tournament of the camp together, we had enjoyed each other’s company. One day in which I took time for myself to reflect on the journey I had been on this summer I was approached by Vanita. She quickly challenged me to a game of ping pong remarking that the previous game was a fluke (I am only teasing, Vanita, you were a pleasure to get to know). As the ball was hit back and forth and the rally became more heated we each opened up. Both of us spoke of experiences that were integral to who we are now. The importance of role models for children and how to grow into an individual you yourself respected. It was refreshing and new for me to open up so quickly to someone. I appreciated the honesty of my newfound friend and the moment meant a lot to me. Sometimes we try to do so much and impact everyone, but a moment need not be monumental. It need only help an individual, a single person, and that can mean the world.

-Chris

Camp Hammond Mill, August 3 – 9

More than just a place

Activities at Camp Pine Lake

Activities at Camp Pine Lake


Space. While the boundaries of Camp Pine Lake didn’t stretch far or wide, we fell in love with the large grassy field that it centered around. It gave the camp and its campers a feeling of refreshing openness and a space to be free. Standing from the back porch of the dining hall or the deck upstairs, one could look out over the expanse and see boys and girls cabins, the outdoor chapel, and far away fields. Looking closer, we could observe and remember fond memories of what occurred in this lush grass – playing new games with the spunky summer staff, soaking our feet in the dew each morning while traipsing to Morning Watch, holding hands in a closing circle filled with genuine affirmations and plentiful hugs. The transparency was inviting.

Throughout the week, we explored, used, and created open space beyond the physical. It would not have been possible without the exceptional group of campers at Camp Pine Lake, who immediately accepted all members of their family and vowed to look out for one another. Campers who had spent the previous week at NYC together and campers who were there for the first time interacted and bonded alike. I felt especially welcomed as a YPTTer, as I was constantly being asked questions about the team’s work and my views of peace. I even got myself a stylish hair wrap from Trevor, who selflessly offered his time and supplies all week to wrap anyone’s hair who asked. It was also invigorating to see the campers consistently give their full attention and energy to all activities, despite frequent complaints about being tired from all the late nights and early mornings. It was apparent that these youth highly value camp and the community it creates, and so the affirming space that defined our week was created almost entirely by them.

But, we like to think that maybe we had a part in some of this space, too. We were excited to finally be back with a senior high camp, so we aimed to provide space for deeper discussions during the sessions that we led. During our Just Peace activity, where small groups pick a “hot topic” sort of issue that interests them, two separate groups chose to discuss LGBTQ rights. We found this coincidence to be encouraging, as the youth (and counselors too) yearned to make change and create spaces of equality and acceptance for this oppressed population. Another highlight came when campers used conflicts that had actually occurred throughout the camp week during their skit demonstrations of how to use interpersonal conflict resolution strategies. It was clear that they truly wanted to put these skills to use. A unique part of our week came with the discussion surrounding Human Body Image on Wednesday, which Chris will discuss further.

As our week showed us many examples of the importance of space, we are called to look at where space needs to be created and utilized in our own lives. We can use our physical space creatively, just like the campers and staff who set up a makeshift slip-n-slide on a hot day. We can make space in our homes to be hospitable, just as the summer staff opened their doors to Christy and I when we realized at quite a late hour that we were locked out of our bedroom for the night. We can create space for open conversation with friends and strangers alike, just as the campers welcomed all into their family and built up their relationships together. And as we do all of these things, we can sit on the deck and enjoy the beautiful open spaces that God has already provided, from lush meadows to the loving arms of a friend.

-Shelley

Small group discussion at Camp Pine Lake

Small group discussion at Camp Pine Lake.

Camp Pine Lake was, for me, just another wonderful example of a loving community that I’ve seen this summer. It was clear from as soon as we started our journey with them back from NYC on the bus that these kids cared about each other. They were totally willing to talk to us and get to know us. I had an especially great time on our canoe trip we took during the week. I had some really good conversation with the two guys I was teamed up with. We spent the first part of the trip canoeing as hard as we could, passing other canoes and barreling down the river. But, the later part of the trip was spent drifting down the river playing 20 questions. During this time we connected over various issues that the three of us all face in our lives, and were able to give each other our various perspectives and advice on these issues. I greatly appreciated their willingness to open up and share about themselves with the group. That canoe trip will definitely stick with me.

-Jake

The youth at CPL were some of the most inclusive, fun campers we’ve been with this entire summer. Despite the shortened week of camp, the bonds of community created there were exceptional. We were asked as a team to emcee the talent show on the final night. This request thrilled us because it gave us the opportunity to be ridiculously silly as well as witness the variety of talent in the group. As the talent show got on its way, I was touched by how receptive the group was of each individual and how comfortable kids were to share. A girl who hadn’t said more than two words in front of the group all week got up and belted out one of her favorite rock songs. Another pair of campers reenacted the “we are siamese if you please” song from Lady and the Tramp. One hilarious camper even shared a Youtube video of her dancing with a blanket on her head and knocking over a large glass lamp. This got the whole camp rolling around laughing for an extended amount of time :). Meanwhile, the YP double T did improv skits between each act to introduce the next one using locations, actions, and characters that the campers wrote on slips of paper. I may or may not have acted as a shoe that Jake then pooped in. Needless to say, the nonjudgmental environment was key to the community built this week. I am so glad we were warmly welcomed in such a tight-knit camp environment!

-Christy

When one is working at several different locales, one must adapt to the varying demands of these locations. During the planning of Camp Pine Lake a mysterious acronym “HBI” appeared before us on the schedule. As we were told that this meant Human Body Image, an activity I had seen popped into my head. I quickly told the staff that we would like to lead an activity tackling this topic and this was the first time the members of the team had heard of an activity we would like to do. Entitled “Misrepresentation”, members of the team were to cast a negative light on activities they engaged in or to stereotype themselves. The activities chosen, though were to be positive for ourselves, but could be cast in a negative light. For example, I said that I was manipulative and intentionally put others in uncomfortable situations. This related to the fact that I was a wrestler and in wrestling one must control their opponent. Each member for the team talked about different aspects of themselves that were meaningful to them but could be perceived negatively. For the presentation of activity, we read one another’s and allowed them to guess which personality we read matched up with which member of the peace team. The campers struggled with determining who was who, but the message was that we and they are more. We are all more than the stereotypes, labels, and (hash)tags that people pile on us. Shelley is not the money hoarding college student, but someone who is looking to invest in her future. Jake is not the self invested power lifter, but someone striving for inner peace and bettering himself. Christy is not the ditzy politician concerned with power, but is a serious person looking at the issues of the world and attempting to come up with solutions. Camp Pine Lake was more than just a camp. It was a community of acceptance and love. Each member looked out for one another and made sure the others felt welcome. Camp Pine Lake is more than just a place for a lot of people.

-Chris

Camp Pine Lake, July 27 – Aug. 2

Pass the Peace, Please!

group at National Youth Conference 2014

Fun at National Youth Conference 2014


National Youth Conference 2014. Ever since we were called by Christ to join the Y P double T this summer and blessed for our journey together, we had been anticipating the mountaintop whirlwind that is NYC. Not only would we get to experience the powerful worship services that we had remembered so fondly from NYC 2010, but we would get to share our message of radical peace with a larger-than-usual audience and check back in with youth we had met in our travels throughout the summer. Our responsibilities at this Spirit-filled conference were far and wide, so I’d like to run you through our typical day and throw in some heartwarming highlights. My teammates will share their favorite moments as well, along with highlights from some of our bigger events of the week.

I arose bright and early each day for a breakfast meeting with all of the wonderful folks of On Earth Peace. We checked in about the day’s tasks and how previous events had gone. From there, we headed to Moby Arena to put on different displays and demonstrations for youth and advisors to view and participate in on their way into worship. This was one of my favorite responsibilities of the week. I got to hold a sign for the Stop Recruiting Kids campaign, which I delivered a speech about in my public speaking class last semester. I got to witness youth writing heartbreaking but very real things that keep them from claiming their identity, from fear to a mom with cancer. It is moments like these that remind me that we are all in this struggle of humanity together, regardless of age or background.

We then entered worship, where Christy and I often joined forces with YPTT alumni and friends to dance our way through the theme song. We soaked in the skits, scriptures, and sermons alongside the youth, carefully noting what stirred our hearts so that we could lead good discussion with our small groups after worship. In one of the rare moments that all members of our team were split up to provide leadership, we all had slightly different approaches to small group time. We would exchange stories about how our respective youth were interactive, honest, and brave, which was always encouraging. After lunch, we led workshops. Alternating between a general introduction to YPTT and leading games with a peace twist, it was a blast to share our message with a more intimate, interested crowd, learn new dance moves, and ultimately get excited about meeting the next generation of peacemakers. The evening led into helping once more with displays and activities outside of worship, and then experiencing the power of music and dynamic speakers. After worship came late night activities, where we either attended concerts, caught up with our youth worker friends, or went to bed for some much needed rest.

It is impossible to record all the life-giving moments that comprised NYC, but we came away from this time so grateful for the many lives that intersected ours. Perhaps above all, we are encouraged by the hordes of youth that we have to join us in the work of bringing heaven to earth.

-Shelley

Arm wrestling Alexander Mack at National Youth Conference 2014

Arm wrestling Alexander Mack at National Youth Conference 2014.


This summer we have run into the same people numerous times at varying places. From camps to Annual Conference to Song and Story Fest to NYC, multiple faces showed up again and again. Some of my favorite faces to see at these places were those that belonged to the band Mutual Kumquat. This Brethren soul-folk-pop band who plays songs focusing on social change and fun is a joy to listen to as well as hang out with. I’ve gotten to know each bandmate, especially since my brother Jacob Crouse had the opportunity to play with them this summer! Furthermore, in a late-night convo between some YPTTers and Kumquatians, we came up with the idea to collaborate on a song for NYC during their concert. Thus, we did so! Combining the wrap-up raps for a few of our peace sessions with a catchy hook & chorus by the band, we came up with a peace melody that we performed for the NYC body. I had a blast feeling like a rock star, performing with some of the coolest human beings I know, and spreading a message that I’m ridiculously passionate about. Pass the peace, pass the peace please! Pass the peace, yeah, pass the peace please!

-Christy

One of the many tasks we were given for NYC this year was to come up with a booth for the Brethren Block Party, carnival games sponsored by various organizations for the attendees to have fun partaking in. Having our only parameters be making an easily portable and cheap game was, at first, a pretty difficult task. The only idea that really came up was arm wrestling, but we still wanted something better. After weeks of failing to come up with anything new we settled on “Wrestling With Peace” as a title for our arm wrestling booth. We had hoped for moderate success and for a chance to talk to youth about the things in their lives that cause conflict. What we got was way more than we expected! Not 15 minutes into the block party we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of youth watching Chris tear through challengers left and right. With color commentary provided by any YPTTers not currently arm wrestling, the crowd continued to grow and cheer for challengers and YPTTers alike. By the end of the block party, the booth had evolved from just us versus them to youth asking to use the table to challenge their friends too. Building community and getting to know the struggles in these youths lives was so much more fun and rewarding than I had imagined.

-Jake

Each member of the Youth Peace Travel Team was given a small group to lead. My group was Small Group #117 (SHOUTOUT!!!). The entire team missed the introductory lesson as to how one should conduct small groups and so we were left to our own creative energy. The time allotted were four different 45 minute sessions. Somehow in a combined three hours spent together we were to meet and form a bond, reflect and grow together, and leave better than we came. How one individual could manage all of this with 12-14 other individuals baffled me, but I gave it my best effort. Get to know you games were a must, as names are not so easily remembered when you are meeting one hundred new people a day. This was followed by some feeling out of the group as far as how they wanted to go about talking. My group decided they did not enjoy large group discussion, so I had to work without one of the easiest activities to lead. But we managed to get to know each other, check. The next day we did some team building and then got into concentric circles so that individuals were paired up and could share their experience in more intimate manner. The group seemed to enjoy it and the room was buzzing with conversation. I asked them what they wanted to change about the small group and to my surprise very little was suggested, and they enjoyed the concentric circles. So I challenged them that the next day we would be sharing stories about a lesson we learned in our lives. The next day I opened with my own talk and a speech about how this is a safe space. Everyone shared and went deep into their own lives about very serious issues that each of them were facing. I was touched that they all trusted each other. Bonding reflecting and growing together, check. The next day we did an activity I have talked about in the Camp Colorado Blog, Taps. The game correctly expressed the feelings of the group. We all appreciated how far we had come in the four days we had together and we were all going home changed, but blessed for the journey together. It was a wonderful experience to lead a small group and I truly appreciate the youth that are willing to put themselves out their to learn more about themselves.

-Chris

National Youth Conference 2014, July 19 – 24, Fort Collins, Colorado

Camp Blue Diamond

As most parents, teachers, or camp staffs could tell you, one of the biggest differences when working with campers of different age groups is the amount of energy required. For example, I distinctly remember detesting rest time as a junior camper, but begged my counselors for more as a youth. In the Youth Peace Travel Team’s one and only week working with junior campers, we experienced these differences in energy output, and utilized it to the advantage of peacemaking.

polar bear swim at Camp Blue Diamond

Polar bear swim at Camp Blue Diamond


Camp Blue Diamond’s energy started right from Sunday night, where we learned the gem that is Gaga Ball, assigning chores became a lively game show, and our introduction rap got the loudest applause we’ve received all summer. Our favorite sleep-depriving tradition started bright and early on Monday morning with an all-camp Polar Bear Swim (accompanied by song, of course). Christy and I tapped into our creative energy as we helped campers make heaps of friendship bracelets, and we used our energy of patience as our hair was yanked and twisted by campers each day at the “salon” (fateful picnic table). At a camp with a full-time counseling staff and over 60 campers, the level (and volume) of all activities was kicked up a notch, which brought us great exhaustion but mostly great smiles.
crafts at Camp Blue Diamond

Crafts at Camp Blue Diamond


As we were given one hour with each unit, we decided to revamp our interpersonal conflict session to present something that would be most relevant to junior campers and most matched to their energy level. Complete with motions to help remember our three highlighted conflict resolution strategies and improvised role plays, we were able to harness some of the energy of the campers and staff and direct it to the task of peacebuilding. One of the most rewarding aspects of this week was that we frequently heard buzz about “detriangling” and “I feel statements” throughout the week, and two units even decided to share what we had taught with the whole camp during skit night. It was so exciting to see and hear that they had really internalized our strategies.

The rest of our time was spent hanging out with campers in their units, whether we were eating “darn goods” around the fire or taking a ride in the giant swing. I really enjoyed hiking to the Lost Lake with my new friend Skye, where we asked each other endless questions about our lives and understandings of peace. The team even had the chance to conquer the climbing tower with the junior high canoe camp and build fire with the senior high Outdoor Living Skills campers. No matter what we were doing, we were impressed by the constant enthusiasm of both campers and staff, and challenged ourselves to keep up. It was a joy to jump into the high energy culture of Camp Blue Diamond, and while they left us exhausted, they impressed us with their willingness to use their energy for earth-changing good.
-Shelley

One of the most meaningful aspects of my Camp Blue Diamond experience came with the impact that our team was able to have with the campers. On the third day of the camp, the older canoe group came to us saying they had been having some conflict while out on the river and were having a hard time resolving it in constructive ways. We had a quick session with them to teach some conflict resolution strategies and just get to know the youth a bit more. After doing so, we heard from both the campers and counselors of the improvement in communication and overall cohesiveness of their group! I got to make a couple solid connections with some of the canoe-ers, even to the point where they wanted me to come stay in THEIR cabin. This made me excited that the youth were looking up to me as a role model and hopefully becoming better peacemakers in the process.
-Christy

The biggest take away from Camp Blue Diamond for me was how great of an impact a counseling staff can make onto a group of kids without even necessarily realizing it. I had the opportunity talk to a lot of campers both during meals and while just hanging out with them while playing games. There was one common theme that really stood out to me, the phrase, “I just really like (insert any counselor’s name), he/she is awesome!” Some of these counselors got praise for being funny, others for being really nice, but the most notable one for me were how many of them were said to make their campers feel accepted and loved. I can’t blame the campers for having such high praise for their counselors. At no point during the week did I see a counselor unwilling to be there for their kids. I was especially touched on Friday when the camp closed and campers started going home. So many of the campers were hugging counselors over and over again, and a plethora of “Cinnamon Roll Hugs” coming from an all girls unit that had really bonded, it was clear to me how meaningful of a place Camp Blue Diamond is to both children and adults alike.

-Jake

hugs at Camp Blue Diamond

Hugs at Camp Blue Diamond


I experienced the most energy from Camp Blue Diamond with the Junior High Canoe Camp on the climbing tower. The tower was a rock climbing wooden structure that utilized a zip line as its method of dismount. There were six different ways to climb up to the top each with their own particular challenges. Climbing was amazing, the perseverance and strength required to do any of the six different paths certainly taught the campers a lesson (that it takes hard work to reach a goal and sometimes you have to really push yourself). But what really struck me was the community exemplified in this activity. Ryan, one of the Outdoor Living Skills instructors, explained the do’s and don’t’s of the Tower, while Nathan and Sara took care of belaying the campers. At the end of the zip line were Karly and Gabe who aided people in detaching themselves from the zip line and making sure the line was clear. Each person communicated clearly what was occurring at their specific station to ensure that the next person knew what to do. Nathan would yell that someone was climbing and Ryan would acknowledge. Ryan would motion to Karly that the zip line was ready and Karly would signal to go ahead. Each of the staff members worked together to build a happy and safe environment for the campers. The interesting aspect of all this work was that this sense of community carried to other actions of the campers. In the dining hall each table was its own community, bringing in dishes and dishing out food to every member. Campers needed no encouragement to help and engage in the process of cleaning or of retrieving food for their body’s members. It truly impressed me how far reaching this sense of community was at Camp Blue Diamond. From the Jungle Breakfast to “Darn Goods” to camp bonds that hold true, there was a tightly woven and loving community here at Camp Blue Diamond.

-Chris