It's been over twenty years since I last assumed the pseudonym of “Frostbite” for three months in the piney woods of East Texas. From 1991 through 1993, I summered at Pine Cove Ranch, a Christian camp for (at the time) 6th-through-12th graders near Tyler. Every week, a new batch of campers would arrive, and along with my colleagues Bushwacker, Backfire, Opee, Edelweiss, Fezzik and the rest, we’d herd them in for six days of water sports, horses, biking, Bible study, sermons, and silliness.
The experiences of those three collegiate summers left me with a plethora of lessons that stand the test of time. Some of those lessons were, how shall I put it, more... socially educational? Nevertheless, I was able to distill the wealth of spiritually-beneficial wisdom into the following seven categories:
1. God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called (2 Timothy 3:17).
This phrase was standard fare from the mouth of our camp director. The truth in the statement extends back to Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David… just about everyone used by God for big things who, on physical examination, didn’t have the degrees, stature, or qualification for the jobs that needed to be done. You’ve never spoken in public, acted in a skit, or led a Bible study? You may be right where the Lord wants you, so get ready for Him to bestow His qualification upon you.
It also works in reverse – you think you’re qualified for one thing, God has a different purpose. As a youth ministry major who loved water sports, I assumed surely His place for me was with the 12th-grade guys and the waterfront. So why was I assigned to 6th graders, tennis, and archery? Somebody messed up! Turns out it was me for getting insulted. I was in precisely the place where I could be of most use to the kingdom, and sixth graders were much better at buying into my off-the-wall behavior than the too-cool seniors.
Other counselor friends of mine came away remembering other mottos that continue to inform their lives. One friend tells me that to this day she subscribes to the disciplinary treatise, "A river without boundaries is a swamp," which our camp director was fond of reminding us. I'd wager each counselor came away with their own set of (at least) seven lessons. But onward with mine...
2. If you want to learn something, teach it (Exodus 18:20).
Surely there had been another mistake. I’d never handled a gun of any kind in my life. Were they actually assigning me to teach skeet shooting to junior high boys? I hoped the camp had good insurance. Turns out they had good assurance – the blessed kind. They knew I'd already proven myself on the archery range, and I became an expert in shotgun safety and numerous other activities largely through the faith and trust placed in me. The Lord gives you what you need via your willing heart.
Incidentally, teaching what you don’t know very well can potentially have great rewards: even before I'd ever executed my own successful roll in a kayak, when a camper I was assisting with the principles of the move popped back out of the water successfully, both of us beamed with bright confidence the rest of the day. Seeing how she managed it gave me the lesson I needed to accomplish the feat myself. (I need to remember this the next time I involve my son in a home fix-it project neither of us has tackled before...)
“Get with your kids.” That’s what you’d hear from a director if it was free time and you were caught chatting with your peers. “Love on those kids; don’t indoctrinate them.” That was the answer if a counselor had an issue with a controversial subject. “Put your arms around these kids, put their arms around the Word.” That was the goal. All of the above boiled down to time. Youth of any age watch how you spend your time. They learn quickly how important they are to you. They all have their issues but they all know when they’re being loved and they all respond to it… in time. So give them that. (Incidentally, this lesson has had huge implications upon my role as "Daddy").
4. Life and Christianity are so much more than Do's and Don’ts (Galatians 5:13).
I had come out of a fantastic youth group a few years earlier, but even I was bored with the tired, standard youth sermon that had also plagued the young people I counseled at camp: “Don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex.” Undoubtedly good advice, but why not? There were already plenty of them who weren’t practicing these “greater sins.” What, instead, could we show them about, say, rebellion, disobedience, covetousness, envy, and poor self-image? It seemed to me that when I did encounter those who were involved with alcohol, drugs, or sex, they were using the temporary gratification of those activities to fill holes caused by, well, rebellion, disobedience, covetousness, envy, and poor self-image.
Living out your faith without inhibitions in front of young people is about as bold, yet genuine, as you can be. Modeling the truth of the Word eliminates the need for do’s and don’ts, removes the need to ask, “Why live this way?” It’s obvious when your joy requires no illegal substances, and when your love is unattached from lust.
I made a mere $1,000 for an entire 11 weeks of hard work, got only 24 hours off each week, lived round the clock in sweltering heat (well, okay, the cabins did have AC) with a dozen boys, had hundreds of responsibilities, lost track of movies and the baseball standings, went three months without a soda… and I never felt better, was never more fulfilled. Life isn’t about building to a place where we can do what we want all the time – that goal ends in becoming our own little gods. Life happens outdoors, with other people, by God's strength, in God’s presence, for God’s purposes. It’s a gift, even when difficult.
It wasn’t difficult to understand the frustrations that our non-counseling staff often had about whether or not they were being used by God. After all, you interview to work at a youth camp because you have a heart for youth, only to find out you’re a cook, a nurse, a work crew director. These are the thankless jobs, out of the limelight. Away from the kids and the fun. But none of the great things that happened at Pine Cove would have been possible without every part of the body working together for the greater mission.
The body also has its imperfections, and there was no better illustration than Jiggs Gaffney, a mentally-handicapped man from Tyler who spent the whole summer with us, not as a camper, not as paid staff, but just as himself. Jiggs loved Pine Cove, loved playing basketball and Commando, loved everyone. The place would not have been the same without him. He helped us all not to fear disability. It truly takes all kinds.
7. There’s biblical application everywhere (Romans 1:20).
Mealtime brought opportunities for selflessness and politeness. The high ropes course illustrated trust and security. Activity classes bred the confidence of success for God's glory. The whole system was based on service, sharing, and community. But my favorite application was this one, which I penned for my girlfriend (now my wife) as she was moving away from me for graduate school:
I used to teach archery at camp in Texas. It’s the kind of sport where it’s not hard to find a few life metaphors: hitting the target, nailing the bull’s-eye, missing the mark... But in the arrow itself, I found a wealth of lessons. It’s such a simple, effective, and elegant weapon with its sleek shaft and colorful feathers, but it can’t function without help. It needs the bow in order to reach its potential, to drive it forward, or it is worthless.
The arrow also has been prevalent in my doodles for as long as I can remember, probably due to its symbolic significance in direction and guidance. But take a close look at the feathers – do you notice how one, the one facing outward, is a different color? That’s called the cock feather. It’s unique in that it must face away from the bow, or outward, in order to fly straight when shot.
As Christians, too often we cover up what’s different about ourselves, and we wind up missing the mark, or sinning. When our unique side faces outward for the world to see on the other hand, we fly straight and true, exploding towards the target in a glorious burst of color.
What is unique and different about you, Valerie? Your faith, poise, depth, and grace to name a few. Keep those true colors facing boldly outward; trust the Lord’s aim as He pulls back the string; fly straight. Choose the right targets, and you can’t miss.
Shawn McEvoy is the Managing Editor of Crosswalk.com... thanks in no small part to the three summers he spent as part of a tremendous staff at Pine Cove.
Original publication date: June 1, 2011