By Laura Erlanson
NASHVILLE (BP) – During June, I did what many said could not be done. I pulled off the exhaustion hat trick, the triathlon of tired, the white whale of weariness – the SBC annual meeting, Vacation Bible School and CentriKid in back-to-back weeks. It was the Baptist Ironman of sleep deprivation.
The first week of the month, I flew to Anaheim, where I worked eight 17-hour days in a row in a small, windowless room, though I did emerge for a few minutes to check out the Cooperative Program stage and the Lifeway store in the exhibit hall.Two days after I returned home, my church started VBS.
At night. That meant five days of working all day before heading to church to teach music (and choreography!) to sugared-up grade schoolers who hadn’t seen the inside of a school in over a month and acted like it.Then two days after that, I left in a rented van with one other adult and 11 of those same grade schoolers to head to Campbellsville, Ky., for a week of CentriKid. Basically, we took the volume and activity levels achieved throughout our whole church building over five days of VBS and crammed them into a two-hour ride in a 15-passenger van. The results were what one would expect.But don’t get the wrong idea. I loved it! In fact, I think everyone should do it.
The camp pastor for the week we were at CentriKid was Mark Satterfield, senior pastor of the Glade Church here in the Nashville area. He did an amazing job and had the kids listening intently as he broke down some pretty complex concepts about our infinite God.But he said something to the adult leaders on the last day that has stuck with me. He said we all had something now with our kids that no one else at our church has – camp cred.
Taking time away from home, job and family to spend a week with your church’s campers is not lost on them. They appreciate it. And they reward you – with inside jokes, big hugs and great conversations.
The conversations had over five days of shared meals, late bedtimes, walks around campus and yes, even 100-decibel van rides go far deeper than anything that happens on Sunday morning or Wednesday night.
Take Justin, for example (not his real name). Justin is one of those kids who takes 10 steps to my one. Not because his legs are short, but because he’s zig zagging or running forward and then backward and then forward again. Or maybe he’s jumping up on the flowerbed wall and back down over and over as we go along. Many times over our week at CentriKid, Justin was far ahead of the group or lagging way behind and we would have to call him back to us.
But something happened on our last night there. We had all been noticing a change in Justin. He’d been really listening during the worship times. And he’d been taking notes in a notebook he brought – pages and pages of notes. Some of his notes were pretty big questions.
On that last night, Justin’s questions and answers during our church small-group time were poignant. Then afterward, one of the male leaders from our church had the best conversation with Justin any of us has ever had. The leader asked him what God had been showing him. He took him through the plan of salvation, and Justin prayed, confessing his need for Christ.
The leader shared with a few of us later that Justin made a point to delineate between the Bible and other stories he’s learned in school or from movies.
“This is real,” Justin said of the gospel. “Mythology and super heroes are not real. But this is real.”
Our church leaders rejoiced that night hearing about what God had done in Justin’s life. But that’s just one example. I didn’t even tell you about some of the great conversations I was able to have with two of the girls in our group – girls I’ve been trying to get to know better for a while.
All of those little moments were made possible by one thing – being at camp. Taking time away from screens, sports, siblings and all sorts of other distractions and spending one-on-one, intentional time with each other and with God is life-changing for kids. And being there to help them, laugh with them and talk with them is pretty cool for adults too.
At the moment, I’m still recovering. But my camp cred (and thus my respectability and approachability) is sky-high with my kiddos at church. How’s yours?
Laura Erlanson is managing editor of Baptist Press.