I’ve just finished my eighth summer working at Camp Wyoming, which for those of you who don’t know, is a Christian summer camp located in Wyoming, Iowa. Summer camp is ministry like no other. You are immersed in a specific location, set apart from the rest of the world. Each summer brings new campers, new staff, new traditions and relationships and conversations. Your day begins when the sun rises, but it does not end when the sun sets. You are always on-call, always working, always laboring and pressing onward, and when you are completely exhausted and can do no more, someone calls and needs you to take one more step. It can be lonely, though you are constantly surrounded by people. It can be heartbreaking and inspiring and uplifting and frustrating, sometimes all in the same hour. You would think, after eight years, that there could be little that would surprise me, but I know better. There is never a dull day at summer camp. There is no such thing as typical or ordinary or average.
I love so many things about summer camp ministry. Just looking back at this past summer, there were so many moments that filled me with elating joy and wonder. As someone who loves the outdoors and adventure, teaching canoe-tipping in the swimming pool, sliding down the mud slide in the creek, and getting soaked with paint during Paint Wars are some of my favorite parts of my job. I love using the camera to capture that moment a camper scores their first goal in Human Foosball or holds up the giant frog they finally managed to catch or wiggles through a tight passage in a cave. I love laying on my back in the Meadow and admiring the starry display in the night sky as the fireflies fill the fields and woods with blinking lights and the words of Psalm 19 echo in my mind. “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” God’s presence almost feels tangible in these moments, and I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
There are some things about summer camp ministry that are less than ideal, however. Everyone always seems surprised when they find out it’s a full-time job, and I know, in their minds, they are questioning the legitimacy of my position. When the summer starts, I bid good-bye to any semblance of a normal life. I tell my friends and family good-bye as I move to camp and live in isolation and seclusion, only reappearing again in August once the campers and staff have all left and the days are growing shorter and cooler. I give all of myself to a ministry that is unforgiving and tirelessly demanding. By the time summer ends, I am beaten and bruised and just longing for my own bed. It takes weeks to recover from the long hours and constant demands and pressure and stress. It is not a ministry for the faint-hearted.
Each year, at the end of the summer, I start to ask myself, ask God, if this is where I should be. Somehow, I don’t feel like summer camp ministry is a place I will be forever. Eventually, I think, I will run out of the stamina and endurance it takes to survive a summer. I will miss it horribly, though. I will miss the summer staff and the way they amaze me with their talents and creativity and personalities. I will miss the kids and their curiosity and love. I will miss the chance to worship Jesus daily, immersed in the world that He created, with all of creation joining in the song. I’m asking that question again this year, but I don’t have an answer yet. This past summer was hard, harder than I wanted it to be. There were so many moments where I wanted to just give up, where sleep seemed elusive and answers so out of reach. I was pushed to and past my breaking point. But there were also so many moments of elation and love and laughter. The song below carried me through some of the low moments and reminded me to fall back on my Savior and Redeemer when I couldn’t see a way through.
I wrote the following piece at a moment of exhaustion this summer, and I share it with all of you only with the hope that maybe you can catch a little glimpse of how wonderful and amazing this place called Camp Wyoming is. For my fellow friends in ministry, all I can say is, keep holding on. Cry out when your strength is gone. Savor the moments where God whispers in your ear and reminds you of why you labor. Look for the helpers, those who will lift you up and carry you, who will fight for you and pray for you when the work of ministry beats you down. Remember that all that you do is for His glory, and He will work all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
“If all the world was before me, I don’t think I’d choose to be here. But it’s astounding how these acres of woods nestled among the corn fields hold me fiercely in their grasp. Every summer, twenty or so young people show up to work and I am amazed at the chance to know them, at the personalities and stories and strength that they bring, and I wonder how it is that all of these stunning people chose to be here at a summer camp named after a distant, unrelated state. How is it that this summer and these people came together, and something beautiful and wonderful and inspired was created? They think I am the conductor of the symphony, but I only stand in awe as the music swells and soars. I wave my arms and tap my feet and the result is bigger than me, bigger than any one of us. The cicadas sing along and the birds chirp a melody. Fireflies light up the dance hall and bull frogs call out the beat. It’s the kind of show that keeps you on the edge of your seat, barely daring to breathe. The Milky Way fills the night sky and as you gaze upward you can’t comprehend its vastness, can’t conceive its beauty. How is it that this place with its stinking pond and wobbly bunk beds and crumbling structures can produce something so profound, so holy, so filled with meaning? I’m lost in it. And it’s so terribly difficult. Every day is a struggle, a leech of my energy and time and strength, but there are these perfect, tiny moments where the stars shine brilliantly after the storm has passed, where the laughter drifts across the meadow, where a hundred voices echo higher and higher in song and I can’t tear myself away. Every year I think will be my last. But it’s not so easy to leave, not so easy to forsake the gravel roads and wooden crosses and sense of adventure that lingers in the air. My chest hurts when I think about staying. My chest hurts when I think about leaving.
“I don’t know how much I have left to give to this place. I don’t know what I will do without it. Who would I be if it weren’t for these woods and these people? If all the world were before me, I can’t imagine going somewhere with more meaning and challenge and possibility. There is a power in these acres that is unexplainable and incomprehensible. For now, it’s mine to possess and to hold. For now. But not forever.”