The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

August 18, 2008

Boys' Camp Revisited - Know Christ; Know Your Child

St. Philip's Members at Boys' Summer Camp

Attending Boys' Summer Camp as an adult is a different experience than attending as a child. I have just spent five days at Boys' Camp with fifty pre-adolescent boys and their leaders. My role was labelled "staff support." I led a morning devotion each day in the leaders' meeting, prayed for the camp, supervised a few activities, hung out with leaders and boys, and read in my cabin. It's not a bad job if you can get it. But the most interesting part of my time at Boys' Camp this summer was just watching.

As I watched Boys' Camp two things struck me. First, I was overwhelmingly impressed with the adult leadership. Over the course of my five days at camp I saw adults interacting with children in a way that was respectful, kind, generous, and sensitive. I saw adults excercising extraodrinary patience and grace. I saw people who were willing to go to great lengths to create an environment in which children might thrive.

The adults I observed consistently showed Christ's presence and work in their lives. And, because of their commitment to Christ and their openness to God's Spirit, these leaders gave the boys an opportunity to experience the world as a safe and caring place, a place that is oriented towards their well-being and towards that fullness of life for which they were created. They were able to show these boys a world in which God is real and God's love might actually be known and experienced.

These leaders were able to demonstrate Christ-like qualities at Camp because each of them has a living relationship with God in Christ. They know that their lives are filled with the presence of the living God and they desire to live from that place of fullness and to be the image of God in the world.

Often we hear talk of strategies for healthy church life. The example of these leaders at Boys' Camp is the only strategy for healthy churches. Churches will be healthy and strong to the extent that those people who consider themselves a part of that church live, before anything else, in relationship to God and desire to treat one another as they believe Jesus would treat them. Any other church strategy is just a program, a package and will ultimatley end up doing violence to someone.

So Boys' Camp renewed in me my determination to know Christ in my own life and to be open to the presence, guidance and love of God's Spirit at work in and around me.

The second thing I observed at Boys' Camp was less happy. I observed over the five days I was at Camp some boys did not want to be there. The boys who did not want to be at Camp were certainly the minority and their reluctance to be at Camp in no way reflects upon the Camp or the leadership, both of which were superb. There are simply some children who should not be at Camp. There are some children for whom this kind of activity simply does not work. They don't know how to fit in. They cannot find their place in this environment. They do not have the levels of energy and extroversion required to make spending six days with fifty pre-adolescent peers a positive, life-enhancing experience.

So the success of a boy's experience at Camp depends upon what happens long before the Camp begins and it depends upon the parents or guardians who have care for the child throughout the year. Before sending a child to Camp, or any other activity, we need to listen carefully to the child. I believe that, for the most part, children should not be forced to do unnecessary things that they do not want to do. I believe there is an inner wisdom in a child and most children, if they are encouraged to listen deeply within themselves, will find the necessary wisdom for their lives and make good decisions for for their own well-being.

Children should not be sent to Camp simply for the convenience of their caregivers. It is not fair to the child, to the Camp leadership or to the other campers. Before sending a child to Camp, those resposnible for the child should ask, "Do you want to go to Camp?" "What do you think Camp will be like?" "Do you feel that you will fit in at Camp and that it will be a good experience for you?"

If a child decides against going to Camp, I believe we should honour that decision and try to find an activity/way of socializing that is more in keeping with the child's character. Raising a child invovles listening sensitively and carefully to that child. Children need to learn to listen to the inner voice of their own wisdom. There is a voice of truth in each child to which they need to be encouraged to pay attention.

Jesus promised his disciples "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) This "Spirit of truth" lives in our children. The greatest lesson they can ever learn is to pay attention to the "Spirit of truth" who desires to "guide" them "into all the truth." The truth to which the Spirit desires to guide them is not just correct doctrine and proper theology. The Spirit of Jesus desires to guide our children to the truth of life, the truth that will lead them to that abundant life Jesus offers. (John 10:10)

Thanks to the wisdom and grace of the leaders at Camp, most of the boys I observed were clearly enjoying an experience of abundant life and had the opportunity to connect that experience with the presence and work of God in their lives. For those few boys who were unable to receive the abundance of God's work at Camp, it might have been better for them to stay home, learning in their own more quiet and inner way to open to the fullness of God in their lives.


ps. My personal favourite moment at Camp was when a young boy came up to me with eyes of wonder and asked in a most serious tone, "Do you own this Camp?"


Kirsten said...

Great photo! Good to see it up here :)

Christopher said...

Thanks Kirsten,

They are an absolutely amazing group of people. I cannot think of a group of people with whom I would rather have children I know spend time. The people in this picture love Christ and show it in their desire to serve and love others. It was great to be with them at Camp.

Rob Holloway said...

I enjoyed the "Boy's Camp" comment (revelation) of asking Christopher if he owned the camp, kind of like when people start to call you Sir!.
Agree that you should not send your children to hava an experience if they are not ready.
The challenge is what is the difference for a parent between a Christ centred camp and one that is not , at least on the surface.

In my case I was placed in a Boy's Home at about eight years old until I went to work at sixteen.
In the summer though from end of school till start of school in the fall, we all went to Camp in the country side of Quebec.
About 200 of us where we had sports, campfires, swam, canoed, had overnight campouts, sailed, fired rifles and fought at times.
What would you expect with kids from eight to sixteen.
We also ate , got sunburned and developed into better humans.
Looking back , it was a miracle for a city boy to go away from a hot city for 2 - 3 months and be in the country during the summer.
The leadership worked hard in effort and love to ensure us lowlifes had a great summer and would learn values like respect, sharing , love one anoyther.
We did have a worship area in the camp that we all hiked to each Sunday and sang with the pump organ to God's creatures.
Who is to say though we had no choice in going that Christians did not live amoung us even thogh it was funded by secular organizations.
We also had boys who did not want to go, hopefully they grew also.