Monday, July 7, 2008

Reflections on Royal Family Kids Camp 2008 (Dialogue Column 7.1.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

This marks only my second year being a part of our church’s Royal Family Kids Camp. I say “only” because for a number of FCC folks this marks their fifth, tenth or sixteenth year of being involved in this important ministry. RFKC was one of the things that attracted me to First Christian, and I continue to be deeply impacted by this ministry to abused and neglected children.

My experiences with the children of the camp are what seem to be sticking with me. These kids who have been through trauma that no one should have to experience had the opportunity at RFKC to simply be kids again. It was amazing to see the facades they presented on the first day of camp quickly fade as the week went on. Soon after arriving at camp the smiles and laughter appeared. The genius of RFKC is that a “special friend” (a caring adult) is assigned two children. That special friend remains with those children all week long giving them immediate attention and encouragement—something all of them desperately need. With this kind of care, there were many moments when the beauty inside of these children shined for all to see, just as there were moments that would break even the most jaded cynic’s heart.

Here are a few of my memories from RFKC this year:
the 12 year-old girl encouraging younger girls during game time who has bounced from one foster home to another and who should be shut off from everyone,
the 11 year-old girl who just found out that she was up for adoption, because her neglectful parents finally decided they did not want her,
the 19 year-old boy who appeared to want nothing to do with camp singing beautifully in the talent show on the last night,
the 8 year-old boy who was greeted in the church parking lot at the end of the week by a foster parent’s harsh criticism rather than a warm hug,
the two 11 year-old boys who refused to participate most of the week shedding tears as they said goodbye to the camp staff at the end of the week,
the 7 year-old boy who told me that he knew God loved him and that “we are all a part of one big family.”

I have many other memories as well, such as Bernard McMillen and Marion Kearnes as “Grandpa” and “Grandma” handing out hugs, Marilyn McMillen tending to scraped knees and stomach aches, Nancy Nichols, Dave and Lynn Tushaus, Bill Byous and Dale Slifer serving meals, Mike Edwards and Keith Evans leading crafts, as well as Ken and Sandy Hamlin keeping the whole show running. The young adults who served as special friends were amazing. In addition to all of the other credit Sandy deserves, her recrutiment of these folks every year is a substantial feat. These young adults, many of them college students, give up a week of work or leisure to spend an exhausting time with children who desperately need them. I am proud to report that our own Wil Tushaus was one of them, and he served in an admirable fashion.

We may never know what will bloom from the seeds planted at this year’s RFKC. We will have to trust God to nurture and care for whatever we were able to give these children. No matter what happens to each of them, at the very least they experienced a week where they were the center of attention in all the right ways. First Christian Church of St. Joseph, MO can be very proud of this vital ministry.

Grace and Peace,

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