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,