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.
“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!
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.
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.
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