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,