Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stories of Royal Family Kids Camp 2012

Last week First Christian Church held its 20th Royal Family Kids Camp at Camp FarWesta in Stewartsville.  38 children who have experienced abuse and neglect from their families enjoyed a week where they could just be kids in a setting that was safe and where all attention was on them.  Unlike other camps which have “camp counselors” who take care of many children, at RFKC “special friends” (for these kids the word “counselor” has a particular and possibly negative connotation) have only two children a piece in their care.  At the end of the week, camp staff debriefed and told about their experiences with the children.  Here are a few of them.  (Names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the children.)
            John1 is a boy who stopped speaking, probably as a response to abuse.  He would communicate through gestures and sign language using simple words only occasionally when he felt safe.  By the end of the week, he was singing many of the words to camp songs.  Also, “Great-grandmother” Marion Kearnes, whom the children called “Gigi” reported that at the end of the week, John 1 came to her and clearly called her “Gigi.”
            Many of the children who come to RFKC have difficult falling asleep due to attachment disorders or fears being in a strange place.  Some wake crying from nightmares.  Others wet the beds.  A first-year special friend shared how Jane1 was afraid to fall asleep, so she sat by the girl’s bedside and patted her back until she fell asleep.  Jane1 asked her special friend to do that every night.
            Special friends and camp staff wrote encouraging notes to the children which were delivered each day at “mail” time.  A special friend wrote a note to a reserved and stoic girl, Jane2, which said the girl had a beautiful smile.  Jane2 read the note gave a big bright smile and exclaimed, “This is why I love this camp!”
            During the week the children have a Bible lesson each day.  During that time they learn a Bible verse.  This year’s verse was Romans 8:39: “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”  At various times children were seen reciting the verse and making the hand gestures taught to them that went along with the words.  On the last night of camp during devotions, the girls were asked what they would take away from the camp.  One of the girls, Jane3, said, “You know, I’m going to take with me from camp the idea that I’m not alone.  Maybe there is something to the idea that God is with me wherever I go.”
            On the last day of camp, the children form a circle and the special friends and camp staff go around the circle telling each child they are loved and sharing favorite memories of the week.  It is always an emotional time.  One of the boys, John2, who had taken pains to act tough all week wore sunglasses during circle time.  When he thought no one was looking at him, he would quickly lift his sunglasses and wipe away his tears.
            On the bus ride back to St. Joseph, the children grew quieter the closer they got to home.  Special friends on the bus shared how boys and girls who were fun-loving at camp seemed to change their facial expressions to look tough.  John3 began acting different as well by boasting about his rough neighborhood and how tough he was.
            John4 has an attachment disorder and was terrified of going to camp.  Several times during the week he threw fits wanting to go home.  When his mother called to check on him, he would plead for her to come and get him.  By the end of the week, however, things had changed.  He told camp director, Sandy Hamlin, camp was so great he never wanted to leave!
            John5 was always experimenting with toys or sports equipment trying to improve them.  He told a special friend that he wanted to be an inventor when he grew up.  The special friend wrote in John5’s keepsake book: “I hope I live long enough to see you change the world.”  John 5 read it, smiled and said, “You know, with proper diet and exercise you can live a long time.”  At the end of the week, he hugged the special friend goodbye and said, “I hope you get to see me change the world.”
  • More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse. 
  • Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4. 
  • Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. 
  • Over 60% of people in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused or neglected as a child. 
  • About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children. 
  • About 80% of 21 year olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
Please pray that the 38 children who attended RFKC this year escape the negative effects of abuse.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“And a Child Shall Lead Them. . . “

As I write this, we are two days in to First Christian’s largest outreach project of the year: Royal Family Kids Camp.  I travel back and forth between camp and St. Joseph throughout this week every year, because the rest of my church responsibilities do not stop.  Therefore, I only get snapshots of the great wonder that happens among children and camp staff who remain together all week long.  Those snapshots, however, are enough to make my heart burst because of how much these children reveal about the mysterious love of God.
            Monday morning the children arrived at the church to register, meet with Nurse Marilyn (McMillen) about any medications they are taking, get t-shirts and more.  The children who had been to camp before were bubbling with excitement, but around the room were children who were headed to camp for the first time and were terrified.  Anyone, especially when we are children, can be afraid of a situation, but these children have experienced some of the worst life has to offer—physical, sexual and emotional abuse—at the hands of their own families.  They already know that just because an adult says they will take care of you does not mean they will; on the contrary, such assurances may merely be a prelude to horrific acts.  I watched with pride as Grandma Carolyn (York) made her way around the room to comfort and soothe frightened children.  The (valid) fears of these children remind us that we were created by God to care for and protect our most vulnerable; we live, however, in a world where the vulnerable are often exploited and victimized.
            This morning it was my honor to teach the Bible lesson.  The Bible verse of the week is Romans 8:38: “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”  As we talked about what that means, I asked them questions, such as, “If your friends or family don’t love you, does that mean God doesn’t love you?”  One of the boys cried out, “No, because NOTHING can stop God from loving you!”  His “child-like” faith was so genuine that I felt my faith growing stronger.  If I in my brokenness could feel such love and affection for these children, how much more does God care for them—and for me—and for all of us?
            Later the same day, members of the Eastside Rotary came and served lunch.  Afterwards they presented each child with his or her own new pair of sneakers.  (Rotary members had measured their feet during registration.)  Some of these children had never had a new pair of shoes.  Others had only received a new pair of shoes at last year’s camp.  Because of the background of these children, we cannot take pictures of them, but I wish I could share the expressions on their faces with you.  The delight was palpable.  Adults around the room were moved to tears by how grateful they were.  In their joy, the children remind us that God created us to give to one another rather than horde treasures up for ourselves.  Jesus demonstrated with his life, death and resurrection that the Kingdom of God is found in giving and in sacrifice.  These children remind us of that truth.
            Each year at RFKC, I am in awe of the young people that come to serve as “special friends” for these children.  Some of them are students who sacrifice a week of their valuable summers to be at this camp.  Others are in the working world and give up a week of precious vacation to be here.  All of them declare such sacrifices are easily made in exchange for what they receive from serving these children.  It is no wonder that some of these young people have changed their majors or even their careers in order to dedicate themselves to helping children like the ones they meet at RFKC.  Children call out our best selves if we allow them to do so.
            The last few days I have heard in my mind the echo of the prophet Isaiah’s poetry: “and a child shall lead them.”  This line comes from a passage often described as the Peacable Kingdom, when the Messiah’s reign shall make possible peace among enemies.  The prophet declares that then the wolf and the lamb shall lie down beside each other, the calf and the lion shall also lie down together, and –get this!—the cow and the bear shall graze together!  What????  The impossible shall become possible with God’s help.  Abused children can find love and security.  Adults living in a selfish and materialistic world can practice grace and generosity.  All such things are possible God declares.  Perhaps Isaiah is right: when these things occur “a child will lead them.”
            Grace and Peace,