Word of the Week

image copyYou are never too old it seems to go to youth camp.

. . . even when you are not a youth minister bringing kids to camp.

. . . even if you're not a pastor of a particular church.

. . . even if you haven't sung a praise song on a screen in years.

. . . even when your cabin for the week is nowhere near the bathhouse and you aren't sure you are going to find it with ease in the middle of the night.

If you are a friend of Son Servants, the mission wing of Youth Conference Ministries, you are always welcomed. You are never too old to serve alongside them as I did in Chattanooga last week.

I came without a defined role-- other than the unofficial camp pastor. Soon I began to call myself captain of all things miscellaneous.

In this, I led a few devotions for the adult leaders and taught a group Bible Study at one of the mission sites last Tuesday. But other than this, I moved coolers. I washed tables. I went on errands. I supervised middle school kids cleaning bathrooms.

I struggled at first-- saying to myself, "I'm too old for this" and "What am I doing here? I could be doing something that uses some of my better skills..."

But the more I got into the daily rhythms of last week, the more I realized youth camp for this pastor in transition was a wonderful place to be.

image copy 2I began to marvel at the joy and enthusiasm of the 19-year-old summer staff for their work (thinking, wow, I'm old! I used to be them!)-- their presence reminded me to not take life so seriously as I naturally do.

I got to learn new worship songs-- songs that I'd never sung before all part of a particular culture of church ministry I'd maybe long written off, but still has much to teach the Church as a whole.

I got to live the Son Servants mentality: "To love is to serve" as there was never a task too dirty that ANY of us would not be asked to do (cleaning toilets was a daily part of my job)-- and I loved it strangely. Work of the hands is good for the soul!

I got to spend quality time with a dear friend, entering into the deep waters of life that only experiences like going to Sam's and Sam's again and again can provide you.

After a couple of days, my frustrations of "What am I doing here?" were turned into exclamations of thanksgiving for being in such a place of love and acceptance-- something I've really missed in our family's transitional life for the past six months.

I'm so glad my life schedule allowed me to say "Yes!" to this opportunity to go back to youth camp last week.

image copy 3I'm so glad I received the challenge of being pushed in my life toward new patterns of eating, work and prayer.

I'm so glad to have been wrapped up in the blanket of Christian community that only a camp setting like this can provide-- if even for only 8 short days.

I AM SO GLAD that in my life that God's gracious leading is often about circles. Circles that take me back to physical places and emotional spaces where I still have more to learn-- even if I could boast saying "I'd been there and done that. . . " Nope (not true!) in fact, I still have so much to learn!

You're never too old for youth camp if you are a part of the Son Servants family and I'm very proud to have been welcomed by them again last week.

It's that time of year for college students-- what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It's hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I'm so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children's minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn't revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don't even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I'm a fan. You'll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn't exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called "Pastor Elizabeth" by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted-- prepare to do something amazing!