The first story happened this past weekend at the Apple Festival, which turned out to be more than just a day to pick apples and make jam. We knew ‘Susan’ from this summer. She is a 12 year-old with a ton of energy who likes to be the boss and get everything she wants. I confess that when I saw her on Saturday I simultaneously thought, “Good that she is coming, and Oh-no, she is coming.” She came with her sister and a friend from their apartment complex – which is the Soviet-bloc style housing in an ‘under-privileged’ area.
The three of them met up with some of the other youth and spent little time picking apples 🙂 They chased the boys around camp, swung on the rope swing in the barn, and tried to put frogs in each others’ hair. Around 2 o’clock they asked Courtney if they could stay the night. Courtney thought another group of youth was staying so she said, “Sure.” Turns out the other groups would soon be leaving (even so, I think Courtney would have still said, “Yes,” …). They ran up to me and asked, “Can we sleep in the barn, can we sleep in the attic, can we sleep in the big building, can we…” I told them that I wasn’t quite sure what they were asking me. “Courtney said we could spend the night – isn’t that great?”
As I drove a group to the bus station in town I tried not to be frustrated as this unexpected plan. I really didn’t feel like being a baby-sitter for three 12 year-old girls. I phoned Courtney and discussed the entire situation logically, yet the entire time I knew in my heart that I needed to let the girls stay. Courtney asked the girls if maybe they could stay on a different night just not this night. “Well, where are we going to sleep tonight? Mom has already left for work, locked the apartment, and she won’t be home until 6am. We can’t go to our dad’s apartment because he drinks and, well, it is not safe for us there.”
For these sisters and their friend, Camp Wesley offers a place to live as kids and experience a haven – if even for only an evening – from the storms in their lives.
The second and third stories happened during children’s camp this summer:
‘Sally’ comes from one of the most economically- and resource- deprived towns (if you can call it that) in Latvia. This beautiful child has a ton of behavioral and socializing issues – some resulting from alcohol and drug use during pregnancy and some stem from poor (or lack of) nurture at home. Her life displays obvious signs of neglect and abuse. At moments this summer all 60-pounds of her would go into a screaming rage and only her pastor’s strong, patient arms of love could enfold her and calm her down.
Swinging on the rope swing in the barn became one of her favorite things this summer. While swinging, a smile would grow on her face and a life-light would fill her eyes. The swinging did not fix the behavioral issues or problems at home, yet those 60-second periods allowed her a tangible experience of freedom, joy and God’s love.
‘Sam’, his older sister, and younger brother came to camp because someone from a local congregation invited them. Their family deals with the many issues associated with unemployment, alcoholism, and abuse. The two weeks before camp were especially difficult – so much so that the sister chose to leave camp early because emotionally things were much too raw to stay.
‘Sam’ came to camp with a shirt, shorts, and a pair of shoes too small because the family budget cannot keep up with his 13 year-old growth spurt. By the third day of living, playing, and sleeping at camp his and his brother’s clothes became an object of scorn of other children. “Sam” and his brother also had a number of infected scrapes because they had received no proper care for them at home.
Over the course of the week, the camp nurse cleaned and freshly bandaged their scrapes daily, and we washed their clothes and gave them a fresh change of clothes. The thing I remember best about “Sam” is the smile that cracks open when someone takes the time to stop and truly see him and not push him away.
We saw “Sam” a couple of weeks ago – seeing that smile again brought a flash of joy to my heart.
Camp Wesley offers a haven where kids can receive healing and hope in things I often take for granted – like clean clothes, simple medical care, a safe place to sleep – and it also offers a place where they can experience God’s kingdom –love, hope, joy and peace – in tangible and practical ways.