This year’s Care Camp ran from July 30 through August 3. Most of the kids who come to camp are part of our after school programs and summer programs, but coming into camp, I was prepared for the possibility that I wouldn’t know all of the kids in my cabin, that there would be girls who I would see for the week, pour into, and not see again. While there were some girls in my cabin who I didn’t know, what I was less prepared for was how God allowed me to see the growth of counselors, junior counselors, and kids from various sites who have been part of the Care Fresno community beyond the single week of camp. I got to witness counselors and junior counselors who were baptized at camp that week or a previous year baptize kids they are close with, and it was a beautiful image of spiritual growth and discipleship. Two of our high school junior counselors were girls who I met while living at Summer Park and had in my cabin a few years ago. It was a delight to watch them lead, take care of the girls in their cabins, and talk about their desire to be role models for their girls. I got to see kids who I’ve known in varying degrees from different sites grow and become more familiar with the Bible, as well as make faith decisions. I feel like I have a front-row seat to the transforming work God is doing in the lives of kids and young adults through Care Fresno.
The kids had a blast being in nature. We had a counselor hunt that was like a massive game of hide-and-seek across camp, and we played games that involved getting muddy and dirty, along with a night on the meadow where we watched the stars begin to come out. Some boys caught a frog during the team game time and other kids chased butterflies. The girls in my cabin begged to go exploring and they enjoyed rolling down one of the hills. In the urban areas where these kids live, they’re surrounded by concrete instead of green space. Some of them have never been out of the city and one of my girls told me it was her first time going to the mountains or being on a hike. This perspective helped me be more encouraging of them exploring the murky pond and rolling through dust as they experienced the beauty of nature with all of their senses and were pointed to God as the Creator of it all.
The theme for camp this year was Mask Off: I See You. We encouraged kids to be themselves as we talked about how God looks at what’s on the inside, truly sees us, and loves us. One of the counselors at our final counselor meeting pointed out how when we as counselors encourage the kids to take off their masks and be real with us, we have to be willing to really see them, who they are as well as their hurts and brokenness. When kids feel safe and protected, they trust us and open up to us. At Care Camp, away from their homes, some of the things our kids tell us require us to make reports of suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services, some of the things require us stepping in immediately, and some of the things they share are reports of things that are painful but for which there are no actions for us to take. My heart was broken in new ways and I found myself reminded of problems that seem too big, reminded that sitting and sharing in moments of pain and brokenness is sometimes all we can do and can be more important than having the right answers.
Sometimes I want to rush to the happy ending, to tell myself, others, and the kids themselves, how strong they are, how good God is, and how God is doing amazing things in their lives and in the midst of their pain. I want to focus on the transformation rather than the pain. I cling to small stories of hope because the underlying systemic problems are overwhelming and enough negative narrative exists about people like the kids we serve. But I need to instead see and embrace the entirety of their stories, the full victory that Christ claims over their lives. As our group of counselors took some time to pray for our kids, one of our staff members encouraged us to sit in the brokenness of their stories and realities and allow that pain to spur us to action. The counselors were encouraged to stay involved with Care Fresno and the kids they met at camp, to not let this be something that was just a cool experience but something that changes their life decisions. In response, some of the counselors decided to join the Mission Care Residency Program and move into a Care Fresno site this month, saying yes to continuing to be a part of the lives of these kids and investing in their neighborhoods, much to the excitement of our current team.
Through Care Fresno, I have met incredible, strong, beautiful, and resilient kids and young adults. It is a privilege to provide a safe space where they can feel protected and play like the kids they are at camp. I want to see people the way God sees people, and be part of the reconciling work He does. He wants us to take our masks off to be real with Him, yet He also sees us with our masks on when we think no one could see or love us. God made Adam out of dust, He gives life to dead people, He brings healing out of brokenness, and purpose out of despair. He can do this because He sees us when we are dust, dead, broken, and hopeless. At the same time, He sees us as His children, His masterpiece, His beloved. He sees us and He loves us. Masks off: He sees you, and I’m learning to see.
1 Samuel 16:7b "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."