Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Camp Post

Last night, I noticed that I haven't posted in five weeks. Oops.

So, here is the long-expected English camp post that you've been waiting for, and waiting for, and waiting for. (About the last five weeks: I went home to photograph a dear friend's wedding, and my parents replaced the upstairs carpet while I slept in the basement below. And so, as Hamlet said, let "the rest be silence"!)


Generally I don't enjoy summer camp. I like having regular time alone during the day; I like to get to sleep at a decent hour, in my own quiet room; I dislike silly songs and games; I eat a lot of salads. Camp is not kind to people with these preferences. Like something my mother would say, though, these preferences meant that camp was good for me.

And it was. I did in fact eat a lot of meat and potatoes (and no salad) for a full week; I played (and watched) a bunch of silly games; instead of going to bed in a quiet room, I lay there and listened to the floor above me creak and squeak (and read Harry Potter by flashlight while I waited for it to quiet down). And it was good for me.

In chemistry, a catalyst must be actually dropped into the solution and disappear in the chemical reaction. (I think; chemists, please correct me if I'm wrong!). A chemist cannot hope to simply set a catalyst on a shelf and preserve it, and still complete the reaction. Either the reaction goes, or the catalyst does, and when the reaction is complete, the catalyst is gone.

Thanks to a language barrier, my role at camp was again that of a catalyst, like the week I spent at Hradec Kralove. My Czech extended to the useful phrase, "I am cold" (used a lot that week!); my students' English, to the less-useful phrase, "Do you have pets?". So we talked about animals, and we talked about the weather, but it was much more difficult to talk about Christ in any meaningful way. I left the direct work to those who shared a language with the students and spent my time dropping myself into the solution of people at camp, so to speak, helping Czech believers forge relationships with Czech campers.


Here are a few stories:

Early in the week, we scheduled an evening dance and constructed paper masks to wear to the dance. If I am not a camp lover, I am also not a crafts lover. My decorating skills are limited to hanging pictures on the wall. Nevertheless, I took my camera and snapped some photos of the campers spread out across the floor, decorating masks; then I set the camera aside and made a few masks myself, spreading glue and glitter liberally across the masks. Come dance time, I discreetly left my mask in my room (it had little strands of glue hanging from it, and it was difficult to hold up to my face), and I discreetly left my dignity there as well. We "danced" (in other words, swayed and bounced and bobbed our heads) to everything from "We Are Young", the unofficial camp song of the week, to the "Macarena" more than 90 minutes later. I ended that evening sprawled out on my bed in extreme exhaustion.

Making masks
Crafts were a daily event that week, and so several days later I joined a clothespin-decorating workshop (Yes, you read that right)! Again, I snapped a few photos, then picked up a few clothespins myself and started daubing bright oil paints liberally across the pins. I took my clothespins out into the sun and sat there with a few Czech girls, just painting and talking a little bit as we could. I painted four or five clothespins while we sat there, in order to spend more time with people instead of sitting indoors pasting paper on the clothespins. Incidentally, the pins themselves turned out quite prettily and are on display at home now.

My entire week was like this: I joined Frisbee game after Frisbee game, sat next to Czech campers at all the meals, hiked with them, and told elephant jokes the last night of camp. My goal in telling you these stories is not to exhibit myself as an exceptional camp staffer (I'm not) but something far different: At camp, I (re)learned the value of sacrificing in order to spend time with people.

Painting clothespins
Americans are caught up in a culture of consumerism and entertainment, far more than many other places in the world (including the Czech Republic). The Olympics were punctuated with ads presumably supporting the athletes but in fact using the athletes and their performance to sell a product (Hello, Visa). Even FM radio stops programming every ten minutes or so for a series of ads. And everything seems to come packaged as "fun", including ministry opportunities for believers. Prior to my trip to the Czech Republic, I stumbled across freerice.com, a website in which you "win" rice to donate to hungry people by answering knowledge questions correctly. Yesterday, a Christian organization sent me an invitation to a supper in the area as a way to support the needy around the world.

I don't want to suggest that organizations like "Freerice" or suppers to support the needy are themselves bad: If a website or the promise of food helps drum up support for the poor, then so be it. It's good to feed the poor. But something is wrong with us Americans if the only way we can be coaxed into helping the needy is through entertainment.

Christ did not mean for ministry to be done from a distance, whether from our supper table or through the chill impersonal quality of a computer game about rice. He meant us to sacrifice our personal bubble and our time in order to get "down and dirty" with the people around us; certainly He did so.

Yes, camp was difficult for me. But it was also rewarding as I developed relationships with the campers and had hope that the Czech staffers would continue these relationships long after camp ended; it was challenging as I realized how rarely in the States I bothered to crawl out of my comfort zone and how rusty some of my people skills were.

It is not necessary to go to the Czech Republic, or Africa, or Haiti, to sacrifice ourselves for other people; it is not even necessary to move to a large city. I live in a small Midwestern city, and still there is a significant underclass living here which needs people to reach out to them with supplies and with love. My goal this year is to find some way to reach out to such people. I challenge you to stop playing Freerice and do the same.