If you’ve never been to a camp with Jr. High students, you’re missing out. No where else on earth (save every middle school in America) can a group like this invade, alter, and demolish the landscape quite like a camp filled with pubescent, miniature humans.
Like a squeaky-voiced swarm of locusts they do their damage. Grass is trampled, styrofoam cups scattered, bathrooms demolished, and wet towels hung from every place you can hang something. The result is a musty scent that threatens to annihilate the nasal cavities of every adult within a three mile radius. Seriously — have you ever inhaled B.O. and Axe and wet towels in one whiff?
In our first 24 hours at camp this year, there have been some noteworthy moments. While preaching last night in our opening session I must’ve said something particularly offensive, because some poor kid in about the fourth row lost his lunch all over the floor. This sent a handful of his peers scattering for the exits. Somehow we minimized the distraction in pretty short order and kept on trucking, though I’m not sure how. I’ve had people tell me I had bad sermons before, but none have demonstrated it so clearly with a physical response such as that.
We’ve got a crew of about 30 out here from my church, and they’re great kids. Some adults reported this morning that the students in their dorm slept until 8 a.m., much to their approval. Last night was a little different story, though, when they stayed up late sneaking around putting shampoo on people’s heads. A few boys woke up this morning to the mysterious sensation with a trace of bruised ego and slightly cleaner hair.
Sadly for some, it will be the last time this week shampoo meets their scalp.
In the midst of the goofiness and stench, God is moving. This morning I sat in on a discussion where students were instructed to ask any question they had about the Bible. From the same group of kids that steal each other’s hats came questions about redemption, the doctrine of the Trinity, and why the Gospel authors differed in some of their narratives. Yes, one kid’s question was when he would get his snack bracelet and t-shirt. They are twelve, after all. Still, there are deep longings and real questions and emerging faith in each of these undeveloped hearts.
This truth was cemented for me when one girl stayed after to ask me this question:
“My mom is a Christian and my dad is Muslim. They have been divorced for a while now. Every time I’m at my mom’s house I feel like she wants me to be a Christian and every time I’m at my dad’s house I feel pressure to be Muslim. How did you come to choose Christianity?”
I’m not ashamed to tell you that tears welled up in my eyes. Here’s a kid who feels split right down the middle, torn apart by the people she loves the most. The stakes are high, she knows that what she believes and how she lives it out are important. What’s the truth? How can she know for sure? Why do I believe in Jesus? I told her why I am persuaded that Jesus is the real deal, that the Bible is true, and how Christianity is unique. Then I had the privilege to introduce her to a young lady on our staff here this week who has lived out the same exact tension–one parent who is a Christian and one who is a Muslim. They ate lunch together and talked about all that they had worked through, discovering more common ground. It was a beautiful thing.
Some people wonder how youth ministers do it. Sleeping on a camp mattress and staying up late and waking up early and the screams and the smells and the sweat and the awkwardness. Admittedly, there are parts of this gig that I tire of. Then a kid with a life-sized struggle walks up to me and asks me a question, and I’m reminded.
Lives are at stake. Souls are aching. Real problems exist. Jesus is the answer, and kids need to know him. So I plug my nose, chug some coffee, and wade into the messiness that is Jr. High ministry.
It’s all in a day’s work.