Summer camps exhaust me. I love teens, and I love spending quality time with them. But by the last day of a full week at summer camp I just want to take my sore muscles, raspy voice, and weary eyes home from some much needed rest.
This last week has been different. By the end, I was still sore, raspy, and tired. But I could easily have stayed longer.
And I can’t quite figure out why. The language barrier made it difficult to capitalize on those spontaneous conversations that usually provide the best opportunities for meaningful interaction. So I’ve been at camps where I felt like I’ve had more of an impact. The camp facilities were smaller than I’m used to, which means there was also less to do. So I’ve been at camps that were more fun. And trust me, it wasn’t not the food! So why did I feel like I could have stayed longer?
Some of it may just be novelty of doing ministry in a new place with a new group of people. Maybe the novelty would wear off after a few more days and I’d be ready to go. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t been at a summer camp for quite a few years, so I’m not as burned out on them as I used to be. And maybe it’s just because I’m here with my family, so there’s no need to rush home and see them.
Maybe. I’m sure each of those has some part in it. But I suspect there’s more.
At this point, the best answer I can come up with is that the language difference slowed down the process of getting to know the students. I didn’t start to feel like I was really connecting with some of them until the last day or two. So maybe I felt like staying longer because the real ministry was just getting started.
I’ll keep thinking about it. But in the meantime, here are some of the highlights from my week at a Slovakian summer camp. I’m sure each of these contributes in its own way to the fact that I’m not ready to go. But, to be honest, many of these have also been true of other camps. So they don’t answer the question entirely.
1. The Students
Could there be any doubt? The students are the highlight of any summer camp. And this one is no different. There are always students that leave a mark. The exhausting and exasperating boy from the orphanage who is also the most gracious and helpful kid at the camp. The two older boys in my small group that I seem to have connected with despite the fact that they hardly ever say anything. The older girls who took my youngest daughter under their wing, playing games with her and helping her at lunch. The boy who always wants to sit and talk even though he only knows about ten English words. And I could go on. At a smaller camp like this, every student makes an impression. And it’s one that you carry with you for a long time.
2. The Leaders
When some people think about camp, they focus on the games and activities. The rest of us know better. Camps are all about people. And it’s often the other leaders who impact you the most.
The leaders here have been outstanding. There was some question about how well the American and Slovak halves of the team would mesh. We didn’t even meet most of them until the first day of camp! But the two groups quickly bonded, and it soon became apparent that we were going to be an effective team. And we were. They each had a role at camp, and they carried it out well. They’ve been quick to see needs and meet them. And, most importantly, they’ve stayed focused on the students. It’s always a temptation for camp leaders to spend most of their time with each other, and that hasn’t happened here. And the Slovak leaders have been great, the perfect mix of crazy and quiet, thoughtful and energetic, responsible and spontaneous. Most of all, their love for God and these students is clear.
3. The Family
If you’ve been following this story, you know that I’m here with my wife and two daughters (6 and 10). That’s a first for me. I’ve done weekend retreats with the family before, but never a summer camp. Add time changes, foreign languages, and strange food, and I wasn’t at all sure how this was going to go. It’s been great (though the other leaders may have a different opinion!). Mary and the girls were amazing all week, and I think just being here as a family opened doors with the students that might have been closed otherwise. But I hope the main benefit is that the girls had the opportunity to catch a vision for ministry and for reaching out to people across cultural lines.
4. Not Being in Charge
I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that we weren’t in charge of this camp. We had various responsibilities, but the Slovak leaders did most of the planning. And they were the ones who really led the camp. And not being in charge of a camp was a new experience for me.
This did get rather frustrating at times when I just wanted to step in and do something myself. And I’m not used to being at a camp and not doing at least some of the teaching. But mostly it was really nice. Because I wasn’t responsible for everything, I could do more observing and hanging out with the students. It also made the camp less mentally/emotionally demanding since I didn’t have to keep a constant eye on whether we were ready for the next part of the program.
5. A Little Bit of Crazy
Every camp needs a little crazy, those unexpected and unplanned times that make each camp experience unique. And this was no different. Whether we were launching water balloons at (and over) the lodge, putting together one of the stranger talent shows I’ve ever seen, sending two people to the hospital (one student and one leader), or just dancing wildly to some very silly songs, this camp definitely had its moments of crazy.
I could go on for a while. A week at a Slovakian summer camp left more highlights than I could possibly summarize in a short blog post. But you get the point. It was a good week. Good enough that, for whatever reason, I wasn’t ready for it to be over.
Now we’re on to the last leg of our trip. We left Slovakia yesterday morning and spent the afternoon in Vienna. The rest of the team headed back to America this morning, and the four of us are now on a train headed for Prague. After a few days there, we head back to Vienna for a couple of days. So we still have a lot of fun ahead of us.