During my high school years I was blessed to be amongst a group of people who, while not perfect, taught me so much about acceptance and integrity.
My graduating class (a paltry 23 people at my small Christian school in Bremerton Washington) was an interesting mixture of people. At a glance we looked like a typical youth group with people ranging all over in terms of church attendance, faith commitment, and “good Christian kid” status.
Thanks, in no small part, to some amazing teachers our class had gradually come to see ourselves in a more honest way. We numbered a few highly engaged student leaders, a solid group of committed Christians, and a few people who didn’t know what they believed. We even had one person who was brave enough to share his conviction that he was an atheist. His bravery allowed others in our class with doubts or other struggles to be more honest and real publicly. Even those of us who had strong convictions and tried hard to stay “pure” and “holy” came to be more upfront about our own struggles and times when we “fell short.”
As part of a very well meaning initiative our school leadership handed out small golden cross lapel pins at the start of our Senior year - challenging all of us to wear them at graduation if we were able to avoid falling into the bad behaviors typically associated with kids or age.
But at a class meeting shortly before graduation we all realized that wearing these pins created a problem for many people. People who had messed up, struggled during the year with bad choices, or who didn’t believe would be forced to either lie about it and wear the pin - or go without which would mark them with a very small “scarlet letter” which might cause them embarrassment or pain.
So our class decided, collectively, to go without the pin. This really frustrated our school leadership. Thankfully we had an amazing group of educators around us who, through their mentorship, had instilled in us a strong conviction of compassion, personal responsibility, and love for our “neighbor” - and they backed us up in this decision.
After school had ended we all attended a class retreat. One night we were all sitting around sharing stories and one of my friends stood up and wanted to share. He told us that when he had first come to realize he was an atheist at a Christian school he was afraid to be honest about it. But since sharing with our class his beliefs he had experienced only love, compassion, and a respect for his beliefs. He told us that because of this our prayers for him or conversations about God and faith and been welcome and good experiences. He felt free to be who he was without condemnation. And because of our collective goodwill - he had come to know God’s grace. Through us he had come to know and believe in God. It was with tears of Joy that we all welcomed our friend to the family of God that night. But, in truth, he had been a part of our family all along.
I tell you this story because I have seen a smaller version of this same thing happen over and over at camp. People with all kinds of struggles, hurts, and differing beliefs find their way to camp every summer. And each summer God orchestrates at camps all over the world a community of love, acceptance, openness, compassion, and grace that leads hurting people to Him.
Yes, we work really hard to find great speakers, to write up challenging small group discussions, to create meaningful solo times, and to have all kinds of fun. But it is the choices of everyone who attends to just be honest about where they are at in their relationship with Christ - and to accept everyone where they are - that makes the difference.
This is why I believe in camp and that belief is confirmed every summer. It is my prayer that this summer Pleasant Valley is a place where good community is formed, that God’s love is lived out, and that people carry His light back to their home, youth group, school, or sports team.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:20
Your Friend in the Wilderness,