“Oh, you work at a summer camp that must be so much fun.”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
That is usually all we have time to say in quick conversations where there is no need to expound upon what our job actually is.
We don’t have the time to tell you, “I learned so much about myself and my strengths. I got closer to God because I convinced a 14 year old that he is loved by Christ and that killing himself will only hurt those around them.”
No need to say, “Yeah, it is great! I scrubbed a camper’s puke out of the carpet last week.”
Or “Yeah the games are fun, even though I skipped most of them to comfort a crying 7-year-old.” In short, yes, it is an amazing job. One that we love deeply. Also one which is not for the faint of heart.
I tell people everywhere I go, I learned more at camp than anywhere else I have ever been. I stick to that statement, not because I want college kids to sign their summer away to us, but because it is the truth. Including college, I have never learned more about life, God, myself, or others than I have at camp. The reason is Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” This verse comes to life when you work as a camp counselor.
You see, no where else in life, other than parenthood, do you fully experience denying the wants you have for yourself to bless someone else. It is why God paints himself as a loving father. It is the only true parallel he can use for us to possibly understand what an unconditional relationship looks like. Not every camper has a father like that. A camp counselor stands in that role as an expression of the father heart of God.
From childhood to adulthood you are working towards your future and the goals you have set for yourself…until you have children. Then your focus changes from yourself to these little people and how you can create the best life possible for them. The beautiful thing about camp is you get to experience a taste of this kind of selflessness before parenthood.
At camp we ask a lot of our employees. You are young college students, but to us you are Christ-like leaders who fill a role many campers are missing in their lives. You are role models who demonstrate to campers what a true relationship with God looks like. Children at camp think counselors are the coolest beings alive and they want to replicate everything you do. it is your job to make sure the things they copy are the character traits that God has instilled in you as your pursue your calling.
Working at camp means putting someone else before yourself, 24/7. While it is not always easy or fun, it is fulfilling to see the fruit of self sacrifice, both in yourself and in your campers. The gospel calls us to think less of ourselves and tells us that humility is the key to the understanding of our God. In order for us to see Christ and his free gift to us as the only thing of substance and importance, our sinful flesh must die daily. It isn’t until we experience what God has in store that we truly understand what it means for him to live his kingdom through us. Those who work for us every summer must confront their own expectations early on in their journey here. It happens the second you stare someone’s child in the eyes and realize you are responsible for that human being. All self centered ideas flee and maturity begins to grow.
Unconditional love is putting someone else’s wants above your own needs. We truly do love every child that comes through our gates and our counselors are asked to show that kind of love every day. Maybe it looks like sitting on the ground beside a child’s bed until 2 A.M. rubbing their back until they fall asleep because they are homesick and crying. Or possibly, it looks like skipping a meal to clean up a wet bed secretly, so the rest of the cabin doesn’t know. It could even be just staying up to talk, because one of your campers doesn’t have anywhere else in their life people will really listen to them. All of these are actual stories which happen at camp. Individuals who sacrifice and who make a difference by being humble.
C.S. Lewis says humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Camp forces you to do this. It is about the kids and what they get out of it, not about yourself. The impact you have on their lives may last forever because you sacrificed out of love. The second you stop thinking of what you can get out of camp, is the second you will truly get exactly what you need out of working at camp.
I paint this picture of nothing but sacrifice and hard work, which is true, but in that, there is joy. The more you serve your campers and put yourself second, the more lessons God shows you and the more fun you start having. The more reward and satisfaction you get in the work that is being done, not by you, but through you. You will have fun serving and you will enjoy every part of camp when you realize it isn’t about you but the campers. Every camper you make laugh is a reward, every teary-eyed argument that ends in forgiveness and love between campers is your joy, every crazy dance move and song lyric they repeat to you is a great victory that keeps you going day after day.
This lesson of self sacrifice is one I took with me into my post camp life. It now makes me a better person…a better person, and hopefully one day a better parent. This is a life skill you learn at camp that you will experience nowhere else. It is a spiritual truth which leads to maturity in the word and in ministry. The less you think of yourself the more you think of God and all that he has for those he sent you to serve.
“If more of him means less of me then take everything.”
This job will strip you down to nothing, so that the only thing that anyone can see is Christ. That is true ministry and that is true joy. It is the hardest job you will ever love.