This past week I was blessed with a doozy of a “do-over.” I spent a week at camp, serving as chaplain for a group of 97 beautiful kids, ranging in age from middle-school through high-school. It wasn’t until the last night that I confided in them: I have never been a part of a youth group, never even went to camp as a kid, and never ran a youth group as a minister. My primary qualification for being with them was that I had, at one time, been a “youth.”
But, if what I was teaching them at this “Mission camp” was at all true, then we can stand on this: we are all created to be leaders of one sort or another. As brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are all called to feed and heal and lift up the downtrodden. In our day-to-day lives, we are called to seek justice and show mercy. First and foremost, we simply must report for duty. And if we feel like we have drifted way out of our comfort zone, we are probably right where God wants us.
The second full day at camp, I took time out for a phone call to one of the best leaders I know (clay feet and all) – my father. He was scheduled for a medical evaluation that morning, and I was eager to hear what the doctor had to say. Dad spent no more than a minute, giving a rapid fire report on his health. Quickly, he demanded to know: “Tell me about the kids. What’s going on with the kids.” “Oh, they are awesome,” I reported. “You wouldn’t believe how hard they are working, how well they are working together.” “Good,” he said. “Be sure and do everything you can to impress upon them how important this is.” He wanted them to know that they are made for a life rooted in community and service. He wanted them to know this secret to a happy and contented life.
I shared this with the kids during our evening devotion; it may have meant more to the adults present but it was hard to tell. We carried on with the week, working, playing and praying together. Several groups insisted on working past the appointed time because they wanted to finish. This applied to projects taking care of folks in the community as well as cleaning up our camp. Then the last evening, just before our final devotion, Dad called. He sounded like a little kid at Christmas (if enthusiasm is a charism, he has it in spades). “Tell me about the kids. How are they doing? What have they learned?” He couldn’t get enough of my camp stories.
When we gathered that evening, I told the kids about the phone call, which spoke to something bigger than one man’s heart. “It is important for you to know that there is a huge group of people throughout our diocese who love you and care about you. They want you to understand how incredibly precious and valuable you are. You are the future of the church.”
Each of these beautiful kids is wonderfully made, and I so wanted to transmit this to them. As a community, it is our job to transmit this to them. The gifts of these precious ones vary widely – some are more obvious than others – but all are needed. In closing our time together, I read to them from Sara Miles’s Jesus Freak:
“It doesn’t take a special kind of person (to lead) – the selfish and obtuse are welcome, too. It doesn’t take a lot of equipment, or training – little kids can lead. Jesus is still with us, which means we can say yes to God’s call, without knowing what the outcome will be. We can jump right in, instead of waiting for a committee to authorize our work.
We can come and see what God is doing, all over the place, instead of worrying that we’re not good enough. We can get over our fear of strangers, free ourselves from superstition, and find sweet streams of mercy in the middle of the world’s driest places. We’re not alone.”
I think they got it. I hope I did.