Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Mack

Being the Youth Peace Advocate at Camp Alexander Mack was a very different experience than doing it anywhere else this summer. Camp Mack is my home camp, where I’ve been attending in some form for twenty-three years. Everywhere else I am Nolan, this year’s Youth Peace Advocate. At Camp Mack I am Nolan, the former camper/CIT/councilor/Ministry Summer Service intern who most people have known forever and is the Youth Peace Advocate this year. It was good to be home.

During the week I was primarily working with the Followers and Splash camps. Both were for campers of Jr. High age. The team leaders (the same role as deans at almost every other camp) for Splash camp were my parents, Rosalie and Ryan McBride, which combined with my brother and sister working summer staff meant my entire family was at Camp Mack last week. After about a month of traveling across the country it was good for us all to be together. Additionally, I knew several other staff members of both camps, so it was very different to begin the week knowing so many people.

My daily schedule and responsibilities as the Youth Peace Advocate were also different. While exactly what was expected of me was different at each new place, all the camps before this week had explicitly set aside time for me lead my own sessions with the campers during the week. At Camp Mack both sets of team leaders already had schedules set up, and I was invited to participate and bring what I’ve put together into their plans as much or as little as I wanted. The Splash Camp leaders did explicitly ask me to lead a tour of the Brethren history murals in Quinter-Miller auditorium. Painted in 1949, the murals tell this history of the Church of the Brethren up to then, and include the artist’s prediction up to the 300th anniversary in 2008. A newer mural of more recent Brethren history was created in 2000. The murals have long been one of my favorite parts of camp, and I was excited to get to share about them. Of course, me being a History and Religious Studies major whose era of emphasis is the early modern period, this was kind of a dangerous thing to ask of me. Having recently studied the origins of the Pietist movement which shaped the Brethren movement, I might have spent a little longer than intended on “historical context.” (Hey, to understand the Brethren’s break with the state churches you need to know about the relationship between church and state in the middle ages, which means you need to know about Constantine, and so on.)

I also went boating twice with Splash Camp: kayaking Tuesday in Goshen and sailing Thursday on Lake Michigan. It was a great time, even if I fell into the river kayaking and took at least ten minutes trying to get back in.

The word of the day for the fifth day of camp is “heiwa,” a Japanese word meaning “balance.” The scripture is Mark 12:28-31, the two greatest commandments. I usually start my session for this day by asking the kids to play a game where they stand in a circle with one person being “it.” That person chooses another in the circle whom they attempt to make laugh any way short of touching them. If the laugh, they are now “it.” Afterwards I ask the campers how it was to try and not laugh, what techniques they used, and if they think it would be easier if they practiced this game every day. We then discuss the importance of practice in peacemaking, using the Civil Rights movement as an example, and the Christian life more generally. I play a section from the first episode of the Episcopal Church’s Way of Love podcast (11:38-17:36).[1] It is an interview with the denomination’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who recently made headlines around the world for his sermon on love at last year’s royal wedding. Bishop Curry uses the metaphors of firefighter/first responder springing into action or an athlete training for their sport to talk about how practices such as prayer, Bible study, gathering for public worship, and others mold us to be more like Jesus, so we live out his call without having to think about it. It becomes our instinctual reaction. After discussing the main points of the interview, I ask the campers to list the practices we have been following at camp that mold us to be peacemakers and help us live more like Jesus. After we have a good list going, I challenge the campers to consider how they can incorporate these practices into their daily lives.

Redeeming God, We thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and accepted and loved by you not because of anything we have done, but because of your very nature. Grant that through our life we may be drawn closer to you and molded into the image of your son, our savior, Jesus.

In His name we pray,

Amen


[1] https://wayoflove.episcopalchurch.org/episodes/season/1/episode/1

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Ithiel

Camp Ithiel is by far the most diverse camp, ethnically and religiously, I have visited so far this summer. According to the program director, most of the kids who attend camp at Ithiel are not Brethren. (Not to say none of the campers were Brethren. (However, we did have a whole group from the Miami Haitian Church of the Brethren.) I really appreciated having the chance to work with campers and staff from a variety of different backgrounds and traditions.

The camp is located in the middle of a well-to-do neighborhood in Gotha, Florida (near Orlando). It felt kind of weird to see large mansions just across the lake from the camp!

This week I led stations, part of a daily rotation for family groups. There were four groups and only three stations, so one of the sessions I led each day was extra-large and made of two family groups. This week was their Jr. High camp, and junior higher are a tough crowd to read. Yet on the last day, several campers thanked me for what I’d taught and asked if I was coming back next year. Something must have resonated!

This week I incorporated part of what Camp Brethren Woods developed for Shalom time, and I expect to continue doing so for the rest of the summer. It has been an adventure learning the “ins and outs” of each camp and what makes them each unique. I hope I am able to share other good ideas and traditions between them as I move towards the second half of my summer.

We only had one campfire, but had Vespers in the camp’s chapel  – which is also where the New Covenant Church of the Brethren worships on Sundays. We didn’t sing any of the silly/secular camp songs I usually enjoy leading, but had an excellent team of worship leaders. Two of the staff were charged with leading Vespers, and a couple of the councilors helped as well. I learned on the last day that they are part of a band named “Civilization of Worship” and are working on their first album. Here is a cover they released last Christmas (https://youtu.be/WF02_8LaFl8).

The dean for the week led Morning Watch overlooking the lake every morning. I appreciated getting the word and theme for the day into the campers’ minds at the start of each day. In some of the previous camps, I have not had the chance to see how the campers are engaging with the scriptures outside my sessions. As I had the mornings free this week, I appreciated having that chance to here. The worship leaders were very in-tune with the feeling of worship (orthopathy or “right feeling” if you’re like me and like big, theological words) and often provided underscoring for the reflections and prayers at Vespers.

At the same time we were there, Camp Ithiel rented out one of its buildings to a local Jewish day camp. A couple of campers struggled with sharing our space, but I apricated their presence. Although we did not have any sort of cross-over between the camps, it was good to see and hear them around.

The fourth day of camp is “Agape” and the scripture is John 13:1-17, that gospel’s account of the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The intended theme is “God’s Reconciling Love.” This week, Camp Ithiel, I choose to use the “Little Red Riding Hood/Maligned Wolf and M&M game” portions of Brethren Wood’s Shalom session. I felt the mediation lesson was important to share.

Loving God,

In your son Jesus you modeled for us what it means to serve one another and work for peace and reconciliation in this broken world. Grant that we may follow his example to love our neighbors as ourselves and be peacemakers in our own communities.

            In your son’s name we pray,

                        Amen.

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Brethren Woods

To be honest, I was a bit on edge the first couple of days at Camp Brethren Woods. While I root all my sessions in scripture and avoid getting too political, I am cautious as I learn the context of each new camp. For the first couple of days, I am unsure of how what I say will be received. As I got to know the staff, campers, and camp and after some conversations with my mentor for the summer, Ben Bear, I realized I shouldn’t have worried.

Brethren Woods has a tradition of Shalom Time which they asked me to lead, and has a curriculum for this session they developed with the Fairfield Center, a local organization offering mediation services. Using two retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, one from her perspective and one from the wolf’s perspective, helps to get kids thinking about how people can experience the exact same event and yet interpret it very differently.

I also helped with several other activities around camp, including the water carnival and a geocaching session. One evening, the camp held a World Fair. The camp had three counselors from South Africa and one from the Netherlands. As an alumni for BCA’s Cheltenham program, I volunteered to represent the UK (as well as Japan and India) with teatime.

I was frustrated after the World Fair. One of my favorite parts of camp is campfires, and at Brethren Woods I looked forward to Vespers every evening. While we were cleaning up after teatime, one of the staff noticed the pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen and asked that while we were cleaning all the cups from the tea that we wash those as well. I was frustrated because washing dishes isn’t in my job description and having to clean meant I would likely miss Vespers. The camp lifeguard called me out on my complaining, challenging me to remember I am serving this summer for the Gospel. It’s not about me – it’s about the campers. I should strive to serve cheerfully, even if I’m not doing something I enjoy. I tried to change my mood, and we finished in time to catch the very end of Vespers. On the way there we caught an amazing view of the sunset, which we wouldn’t have seen if we had left earlier.

The third day of camp’s theme is Shalom, the focus in on responding to conflict, and the scripture is Genesis 27: 1-26, the story of Jacob tricking his father Isaac into giving him the blessing Isaac intended to give to his brother Esau. In my session I take the story further to explain the how they later make up, but I also note that Jacob told his brother he’d meet him in Seir, but then headed to Succoth. We usually end the story when Jacob and Esau make up, but generations later the book of Obadiah records that Edom (the nation descended from Esau) is fighting and oppressing the defendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau forgave each other but failed to solve their core conflict. Consequently, the conflict transferred to their children and later descendants. When I asked the Sr. High campers if they could think of any similar unresolved generational conflicts in the modern day, one brought up the Civil War. Regardless of individual perspectives about that conflict, it is still very relevant to our country’s conversations and struggles today. I’d suggest that the treatment of Native Americans and the legacy of slavery in the United States also reflects this Biblical narrative.

God of Jacob and Esau,

In the history of the decedents of Jacob and Esau, you show us the cost of failing to address conflict and passing it on to the next generation. Help us to see where these conflicts are present in our own lives, and to be discontent with thinking the past is none of our concern. May we strive to make your peace present in the world.

Amen

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Blue Diamond

Each of the camps I have visited so far this summer have felt at once familiar and new. Located in the midst of a state forest, I was there for Camp Blue Diamond’s first full week of camp. Working with junior (elementary age) and junior high camp was a definite change of pace from senior high the week before. I got to lead sessions with each cabin group or unit, which combined with the different age groups meant I needed to make some changes and revisions to the outlines I had drafted the previous week and the way I presented my material. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in Pennsylvania.

 This week I really began to feel settled in as the Youth Peace Advocate. While changes were made and plans improved, I had a solid foundation to work from with what I developed in Camp Colorado. Because there were two camps there while I was, I only had two individual sessions with each cabin group.

Because each cabin group scheduled their time with me based on what fit best with their larger schedule for the week, I did have some lopsided days. Wednesday was also hike day, and I joined the Jr. High group taking Tussey Trail. I was warned it was the hardest, but figured after last week’s hike through the Colorado mountains I would be fine. That was a mistake. On the other hand, the view was amazing, and I got a chance to share some of my favorite camp songs with campers on the way down. (Their counselors were so happy I taught the kids “Cheese” and “The Green Grass Grew All Around.”) Another highlight was homemade ice-cream with one of the Junior camp groups.

The Sunday before camp started, I attended Stone Church of the Brethren on Juniata College’s campus, and got to see Connor Ladd, a friend and fellow Ministry Summer Service intern. Connor and I attended Camp Mack together, and he is a current student at Manchester University, where I just graduated from. We were also both involved with ROBOT (Radically Obedient Brethren Outreach Team), a group of Brethren students at Manchester students who lead worship at local congregations. I had met Ben Lattimer, one of the congregation’s pastors and Connor’s mentors for the summer together with his wife Cindy, during Ministry Summer Service orientation. It was good to see Connor and Ben again! It was my first-time visiting Juniata’s campus, and I was glad to see another Brethren school.

The camp curriculum’s theme for the first full day of camp is “Ubuntu,” a South African word that Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines it as “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… [A] person is a person through other persons… It is not, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Rather, I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.”[1] The scripture passage of the day is 1 Corinthians 12:1–27, Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ made of many different members. In the camps we have been using this day to build our camp community for the week.

In the session I have run these first two weeks after meditating on a portion of the scripture passage, I ask the group to consider the pros and cons of four different metaphors for community. I ask them to think of community as: a melting pot, where those who enter in melt into and conform to the dominant group; a boiling gumbo, where each person keeps their own individuality and contributes to a greater whole although there is tension and conflict; a seven-layer salad, where the individuals keep their identity and contribute but there is a hierarchy where some are valued over others; and a kaleidoscope, a unified whole where differences are valued and no part is more important than any other. While each metaphor has limits, I have been intending to lead the conversation to the kaleidoscope as the best model but have been surprised by the number of times so far when the campers have suggested the gumbo or melting pot as the best. What do you think? The session ends the campers making a web of yarn, telling each other something they appreciate about and/or how they see God in each other.

Loving God,

            In the scriptures it says you gather your children under your wing like a hen gathers her chicks. Gather us together into one community that we may come to know, love, and serve each other following the example of Jesus, in whose name we pray,

Amen.


[1]  Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 196, 197.

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Colorado

The campfire circle (more than a mile high!) at Camp Colorado.

A friend of mine who was raised Catholic once compared attending an Anglican worship service to someone coming into your house and rearranging all the furniture. I think this is an appropriate metaphor for my week at Camp Colorado. The basic format was very familiar from my years as a camper and councilor at Camp Mack, but Camp Colorado also has its own distinct identity. I have the sense this will be a continuing pattern this summer.

As someone who enjoys ritual and liturgy, I appreciated that on Sunday night for the first campfire of the week we celebrated the ordinances of communion and anointing, though I’ve never used chocolate chip cookies for communion bread before. We also celebrated communion with fruit snacks later in the week. I was prepared to learn new camp songs and different variations on familiar ones, though as someone who loves leading campfires it was a little it felt weird to be the one who didn’t know the songs.

Camp Colorado has a beautiful campground located high up in the mountains in the midst of a national forest. It had been built up as one of the most beautiful Brethren camps and did not disappoint. On Tuesday we hiked to the to the top of Devil’s Head nearby. It was a long hike that I certainly wasn’t prepared for, but the view from the top was breathtaking. By making it to the lookout station I officially joined the “Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels.” (I would have thought that was headquartered at Manchester University, but apparently not.) Thursday, we had a chance to swim in a nearby river. The water was ice cold, unsurprising given the river starts with melted snow from the mountaintops. I did eventually submerse myself, though it took a while. One of the campers was kind enough to warn me against leaning my elbows on the table during meals unless I wanted to run around the main lodge.
           

Camp Colorado was a great place to start my journey as the Youth Peace Advocate. This week was their Sr. High camp, and we had set aside “Peace Time” every full day of camp. Highlights included making a web of yarn while sharing with each other what we appreciated about them/how we saw God in them, playing charades with the camper’s ideas of how they can work for peace in their communities, and making skits that adapted the parable of the Good Samaritan to the modern day. When things were drawing to a close they told me that despite only knowing me for a week, they felt like they had known me their whole life.

The word of the day for the first day of camp curriculum this summer is “Aloha.” The scripture is Luke 14:15-24 (The Parable of the Great Banquet), and the theme is hospitality. May we remember to never be too wrapped up in our own lives to ignore what God is calling us to, and to welcome and love everyone we meet just as he welcomes and loves us.

            Abundant God,

            Your kingdom subverts the powers and expectations of this world. You provide a place at the table for everyone, not because of what they have done but because of who you are. Help us to live out your example, especially among those we would rather not share the meal with.

            In your son Jesus’s name we pray,

            Amen

Meet 2019 Youth Peace Advocate: Nolan McBride

Hi! I’m Nolan McBride, and I will be the Youth Peace Advocate this summer! I am extremely excited, as I have wanted to be on the Youth Peace Travel Team since they visited Camp Mack when I was a camper. Having just graduated from Manchester University (with a double major in History and Religious Studies with a concentration on Social Justice and a minor in Peace Studies in case you were wondering), I am finally getting the chance to live that dream this summer!

I am from Elkhart, Indiana, and am a member of Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, where Frank Ramirez is the pastor. Just over a year ago I became bi-denominational and also worship at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Elkhart. Camp Alexander Mack is my home camp, and I’ve been going there all of my life – literally! I am a triplet, and my sister Jamie and brother Alex are both working at Camp Mack this summer. In college, I was active in the A Capella Choir, theater department, Simply Brethren (the Brethren student group on campus), and the Campus Interfaith Board. I also spent my Junior year studying abroad at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England. I also contribute to the Dunker Punks podcast. (My episodes are 39, 52, 65, and 79 if you want to hear my voice!)

As Youth Peace Advocate, I am being sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s offices of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Peacebuilding and Policy, Bethany Theological Seminary, On Earth Peace, and the Outdoor Ministries Association. I will first go to Camp Colorado, followed by Camp Blue Diamond, Camp Brethren Woods, Camp Ithiel, Camp Alexander Mack, Camp Brethren Heights, Camp Emmaus, and finally Camp Pine Lake.

Peacemaking and peacebuilding is central to my understanding of the teachings and example of Jesus. I hope to be able this summer to encourage campers engage with the scriptural foundations of the Brethren’s peace witness, and help them understand that peacebuilding is not simply the absence of violence, but actively pursuing nonviolent methods (which are statistically more effective and quicker than violence) to address and transform the injustices in our world. To that end it is convenient for me that the camp curriculum this year is “Peace Works,” which focuses specifically on the Biblical foundations of peacemaking, especially as practiced by Jesus.

Recently, I’ve be preparing for the summer – first with Youth Peace Advocate orientation, followed by Ministry Summer Service orientation. I hope you will enjoy following along this adventure with me!

Ready for Peace – Hammond Mills

My back stings from a sunburn. My arms creak, my eyes sting. I have scabs up and down my legs from itching my bug bites too much. My shoes are soaking wet and I have dirt in my hair.

And… my cheeks ache from smiling.

I am incredibly happy. Being the Youth Peace Advocate, this week and every week, has brought me so much joy! Sure, I feel the skin peeling off my back and I’ve had about 40 gnats fly into my eyes, but I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of it.

Yesterday, a boy asked me what my favorite color was. When I said “orange,” he smiled, took off his bracelet, and put it on my wrist.

The day before that, one of the campers made me a card and a peace wand. (How cool is that?!)

The day before that, I was initiated into “the order of the forks.”

Every day, I have 10 kids running up to hug me.

I have been on the receiving end of so much generosity and kindness this summer, it’s kind of hard to believe. The amount of love I have been shown could outshine the sun.

“Hi, I’m Laura Hay, the Youth Peace Advocate” have become my favorite words.

I’d like to say that I’ve grown up: that I’m super peaceful now and I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings ever…that I never get competitive and push people out of safety zones during capture the flag to tag them. But the people at the Missouri/Arkansas camp know that’s not true. This week I’ve struggled more than ever with the fact that I’m still human. I’m struggling to be more peaceful and to not let myself be overwhelmed by the little things. I wish I could just wave my “peace wand” and suddenly there would no longer be discord at camp.

But I can’t.

I still say the wrong things sometimes, but I’m getting better. I’m catching myself in times of harshness and trying to give people grace in theirs. I’m trying to be more honest and trusting of people. We like to think that keeping an idea in our heads or a hope in our heart, that things will change. But it’s a process and it takes action. I pray that I continue to practice peace in the days, weeks, months and years moving forward, and that I forgive myself when I’m not as peaceful as I wish I would be. I hope that in the future there will be more youth, eager to get sunburnt faces and sore muscles in the name of peace.

My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I’m ready for peace.

Peace and Prayers,
The Youth Peace Advocate (Laura Hay)

We wash feet

Former Youth Peace Travel Team members at National Youth Conference 2018

People who know me, really know me, know that when I’m truly touched by something, I go into what you could call a state of shock. I try to hide myself away and process. On Wednesday night of National Youth Conference, I did something I’ve never done before; I willingly walked into a room with a group of people after experiencing something important.

I cried. Now I don’t cry often. If I do, you know something is really important to me. I cried, trying to hide my tears as I’ve taught myself to do. But I sat in a room full of people and listened to others. When I walked in, Jarrod McKenna was introducing himself to everyone and asking everyone’s names. And I must have had a stance of trying to still be hidden because he came over and, in a whisper, asked my name. When I have been impacted, in the way I was tonight, I get very moved by people acknowledging me, with a slight touch or a word. It just makes the tears flow so much easier. So when Jarrod McKenna asked my name and shook my hand that’s when the tears started coming.

National Youth Conference is such a special place. I believe it is where the heart of the Church of the Brethren lives. It’s where people can truly begin to grasp what our mission is and who they are going to be within that mission. We are challenged together. We laugh together. We play together, and then we say goodbye. This is rare.

I have participated in Jarrod McKenna’s alter calls twice now, and each time, most of the worship participants come forward, eager to say they will be a rebel for Christ too. And every time, he warns against just following the crowd. He respects those who do not come forward and so do I; it shows that they are truly thinking about the choice they are making. They choose the harder stance in the moment, but perhaps not in the long run. Big active calls like that seem easy in the moment. They are exciting and rousing. They make you part of a team, a crowd, a revolution – if only for that moment. To walk from your seat to the crowd takes barely any effort at all, but I believe all the people who came to stand in the crowd believed in what they stood for.

Rebellion is hard work. It isn’t very glorious in most cases. We were literally called to be humble, to not seek the limelight – but to use a basin and towel. We were challenged to live as Jesus teaches through scripture. The Brethren way of understanding the Bible is often not how the rest of America understands the Bible, which can create an “us against them” mentality, which is counter to Jesus’ teachings. What if we truly acted as if we were on everyone’s team? We were challenged to live by the towel and the basin. When we are confronted by another and find ourselves feeling combative and vilifying each other, we must remember that “we wash feet.” That’s who we are.

After the service, like I said, I walked into a room with other people. Those were the people who were called to come talk more about their feeling of call. “Call” is a hard word to describe if you haven’t felt it, but I think most of us have in some way or another. What if we listened more intently for our call? In that room were 15 people who felt a call to have a discussion about what they were feeling. It wasn’t a big call but they followed it. What if we took even a small step towards our call? Many felt like their call was too big. It seemed like their whole world was changing…and hopefully it will. Perhaps this change happens by traveling somewhere else, by finding developing countries in which to wash feet. But maybe it is just as world changing to wash the feet of your classmate, or to love the man down the road who lives alone. It felt like some in the room wanted to be Superman. I get that. But what if we changed our personal world before trying to change the whole world? People in this discussion also expressed a longing for community. I get that. I’ve talked a lot about loneliness this summer. It’s not something I thought would relate to the subject of peace, yet I have found that it does. Finding the people in our communities who will help up on our journeys is tough work. I haven’t found a whole lot of them to be honest with you. Sometimes being a peacemaker can be lonely. But guess what?! We were just at a conference with at least 1,000 people who felt the same way. What if we gave other people the connections we long for?

We need YOU to hear what has happened to not let it fade! Let the stories from NYC be a spark which ignites the Christ light in you. Let Christ’s light propel you forward! Let Jesus’s Gospel train barrel down the tracks, until that train is packed full of the people who want to join God’s mission. Packed full of the feet that you and others have washed. Packed full of people who have become peacemakers. Packed with those who have learned about what it means to truly follow Jesus. Everyone can board our train! Let go of your fear of being seen, of seeming odd, of being misunderstood, of being the outcast, of being weird. You will be weird. Good. Jesus was weird.

All you have to do is remember that “we wash feet.”

Peace and Prayers,

Laura Hay

A place of safety

Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate, with a peace pole.

Camp Pine Lake! This week has been full of joys and sorrows. It was a camp which invited conversation, and with a mostly silent group, that conversation grew in interesting ways. The conversation was there and prevalent but presented itself in creative ways.

Camp Pine Lake has a program called “Human Body Image,” or HBI for short. It was something I have only encountered this week. This unique program divided females and males into two groups for the first session and talked about different ways that their gender was portrayed in the media and the effects it has on the people growing up in our society. The campers were able to talk in broad terms or about things being held more closely to their hearts. This is a challenging topic to take on in a week-long camp, but if nothing else, it made the campers more aware of the language being used around their gender and the ways in which they could have better self-talk. And that is a tremendous accomplishment.

Because this was such a unique experience, I decided to bring in an exercise I hadn’t used yet. On the last day I had the opportunity to lead a silent recognition activity. Since we didn’t have the most talkative group, I thought they might feel more comfortable to be in silence and anonymously recognize the people who had affected them positively this week. Many of the campers were moved to know how much they had affected others, and others were moved by having the courage to recognize those who really affected them. Recognition and building a community based on the needs of the people within it is one of the first things to work towards as a peace building community. May the camp remain a place of safety: a place to be vulnerable and a place to expand our views about ourselves and the world around us.

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

To be or not to be?

muddy people at Camp Emmaus

Mud at Camp Emmaus

To be or not to be? To answer the call, to take the challenge, or to choose a more simple, less intimidating path? A week before beginning my journey as Youth Peace Advocate, I was terrified. I was mortified at the prospect of traveling the country alone, talking about a subject I wasn’t sure I knew how to address, and feeling as if I wasn’t worthy of the task for which I was called. At “senior campfire night” at Camp Emmaus, every student stood up and said something very similar – about at first being afraid to come to camp, but as soon as they arrived, having those worries relieved.

When I was packing up my room I found a box of temporary tattoos. I had gotten them at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before my freshman year of college, and there was one tattoo left in the box: “To be or not to be?” It went on jet black and crisp; it almost looked like a real tattoo! The words were edged on my left shoulder blade and it felt right. I didn’t think of it at the time, but it was a question I had been asking myself 500 times a day since accepting the call to be the Youth Peace Advocate. To be or not to be? (I’m a little angsty, but you know what, so was Hamlet). These tattoos usually last between 1 and 2 weeks. Believe me, I’ve gone through a whole box of them. But this question seemed to linger, staying planted on my left shoulder blade and in the back of my mind. To be? Can I do this? Is this a call I can handle and will be valuable for others? Or not to be? Who would I be if I let my anxiety about it take over? In the first weeks, I had to learn that being the Youth Peace Advocate is different than being on the travel team, and I was going to bring different things to the camps. Maybe I haven’t brought the high energy skits and songs or the funny anecdotes that people might expect from the Youth Peace Travel Team. But I did bring other things, and I know that is different and valuable in itself.

This week, my temporary tattoo washed off and with it, the question. Camp Emmaus has felt loving, accepting and is a safe place to express vulnerability. Seeing the seniors be so vulnerable in their stories and seeing how much this place effects their lives was a moving and inspiring experience. Maybe that is a reason I feel brave enough to share this struggle with you. I feel safe. I may not have anything profound to say this week. I’m not going to try to tell you how to be Brethren or the importance of peace or even the sequence of events that happened at Camp Emmaus. Instead I’ll tell you: I know the answer to my question and it has taken me as long (or longer) than the magnificent seniors here at Camp Emmaus. And the answer is this: Be. Follow the call. These campers have found a safe place where they feel heard and honored, and they have learned how to gift that to others. They gifted it to me!

Follow the call. The senior highers have found an amazing home here at Camp Emmaus, and although I haven’t been here nearly as long, I feel like I’ve gained a permanent home outside of a little town named Oregon, Illinois. Even if I never get to come back, the mark that this place has made on my heart is far from temporary.

#AintNoMountainHighEnough
#Iloveyoubaby
#TheBeaverSong
#Supertrooper
#Thunderdome
#Peaceme

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate