Alright guys - this blog is full of real-talk, just felt like I needed to share what’s been on my heart from this past summer.
As many of you know if you’ve been following my blog, I just recently finished my Master’s degree at the beginning of July (Woo!), and am heading back to YWAM (Youth With A Mission) at the end of September. What most of you may not know is what I’ve been doing in the time between. I knew I had about 2 ½ months between finishing my degree and heading off to England, and I didn’t have any plans for that time. After praying about it, I was approached by 2 people asking me if I wanted to volunteer at Intervarsity’s Ontario Pioneer Camp.
A bit about Pioneer: “Everything we do at Pioneer Camp is for the purpose of helping children and youth grow spiritually, mentally, socially and physically in a fun-filled and safe place of adventure and challenge. We invite campers to consider what the Bible has to say to them, about their relationship with God, and each other.”
I was fortunate to be a camper at Pioneer for 8 years. My Nana paid for me to go my first summer in 2002, and told me I could go every summer I wanted to! She unfortunately passed away that year, but my parents continued to send me for the rest of my childhood. I was able to be a camper for two years at Adventure Camp (ages 5-10), 4 years at Boy’s Camp (ages 11-15), and 2 years in 252 (a co-ed program for older teens that mixes work with being a camper).
Anyways, I said I’d pray about it, but inside was thinking I wouldn’t go. After all, I’m 25, I’m profoundly deaf, I just finished my Master’s degree, I never did the LIT (leaders in training) program, etc etc. However, God used my last placement for Audiology in strange ways. I spent 9 weeks in May-June up in Timmins on placement, and met a family at the church I was going to that had all grown up at Pioneer. The one guy was going on staff this summer as well, and he encouraged me to apply! I finally realized that I was resisting returning for a number of selfish reasons, and said “alright God, whatever you want, I’m ready”.
I applied and had a video interview with the Boy’s Camp Director (who was also my chalet/252 leader in 2008!) I voiced a few of my concerns, and I distinctly remember him bluntly (but kindly) telling me that those were silly, and that I shouldn’t be worried!
So, fast forward to finishing my placement, I was able to spend 3-4 days off to recover and catch my breath, then I was off to camp. I floated around a bit for a few days, covering for chalets whose leaders were on days off, etc, then it was time for me to co-lead. That was a hard first go, a number of my campers didn’t want to participate in activities, in discussions, etc. The co-leader and I also had a special-needs camper in our chalet who was amazing to work with. He was mostly nonverbal, but had many interests, one of them chiefly being swimming. I remember him fearlessly jumping off the high tower with pure joy on his face.
By the end of that week I was wiped, and was able to go home and spend some time with my family for 2 weeks. It was the first time I had had any significant break since Christmas holidays, and it was much needed! I returned to camp after that for another 4 weeks. My new campers were great, but I had a special-needs camper who was high maintenance and full-support required. I definitely didn’t think I would be changing diapers this summer! When I was asked at the beginning of the week if I was ok with having a special-needs camper with all these needs, I (somewhat reluctantly) said yes. Before you go thinking this was forced on me, it wasn’t! God was nudging me to say yes when I was asked, and He was telling me that this was the summer I was to be stretched. My co-leader and I were grateful for having such great campers in our chalet that week, I don’t think we could’ve managed if the other campers were rough! Full support isn’t easy, especially when the camper has no interests and doesn’t connect with you in meaningful ways. However, I was reminded time and time again that week that Jesus himself stooped to wash the disciples feet. After working a few days at a summer camp, you get an appreciation for how dirty and gross feet get! Jesus reminded me that we are called to be servants, and that includes metaphorically washing the feet of others. How beautiful it was to be a part of this camper’s life! He couldn’t perform basic hygienic care of himself, so I was called to help support and care for him in this way for the week. Sure, having him tickling your feet and pinching your toes in the middle of the night, or chasing after him when he decides to run out at 6 am wasn’t always fun in the moment, but now I can look back and laugh. These were what made him unique, and I will never forget his bouts of pure joy and happiness over some of the simplest things.
I had another special-needs camper my last two weeks of Boy’s Camp, however, he was more independent, which allowed for me to invest my time more into the other campers. I was able to have meaningful conversations and build memories with them.
My last week of the summer was helping to run a program called FUEL. It’s a co-ed program designed for 14-17 year olds (high school aged) to help “fuel” them for the upcoming school year. I was challenged in many ways this week by now counselling campers that I had worked with earlier in the summer, as well as the campers dealing with rougher stuff than my previous campers.
So, I could choose to look back at the summer, and think of all the negatives that happened. I broke my finger, and it was just over a week before it was discovered. I was left out of conversations both intentionally and unintentionally. Campfires were hopeless; I rarely knew what was being said. Conversations were also hopeless in the Dining Hall with all the background noise. I missed the staff pre-camp training week, and didn’t feel like I fit into the “boy’s club” for a while. It was hard, it was draining, and so many anxieties about being deaf came up.
But I choose to look at the positives. I choose to see the impact, however little, I was able to make on my special-needs campers’ lives. I see past the masks of my other campers and see who they truly are: children of God made in His image. I choose to remember the small moments of joy and laughter. I choose to remember stargazing with my chalet, and hearing the exclaims of wonder as some saw shooting stars for the first time ever. I choose to remember playing Dizzy sailors at night on the ballpark. I choose to remember deer walking right past us deep in conversation on the beach at night. I choose to remember coming face to face with a racoon in bed. I choose to remember the times my campers trusted me enough to confide in me. I choose to remember my campers stepping out in faith and trying new things. I choose to remember the kindness of the other staff when my broken finger was discovered. I choose to remember the friendships I made. I choose to remember how tight the staff team felt during FUEl, and how we all grew closer in relationship with one another. I choose to remember all that God reminded me of and taught me this summer.
And honestly, at the end of the day, God used this summer to remind me of so many things, who I am in his eyes, and what my purpose was.
Now, having been home for almost two weeks, and having two weeks before I head off to England, I can look back and say with certainty that this summer was not a waste. Sure, my classmates are mostly all working pretty decent jobs, but this was where I needed to be this summer. And it was a way for me to help prepare for going back to England.
In these last few days, there are a few things I need prayer for:
- Healing. I had my wisdom teeth out last Friday, so prayers for quick healing are appreciated! I also have a broken finger that’s mostly healed, however, I still can’t bend it at one joint.
- Visas. There are a few trainees that have visas that haven’t been approved yet for my SBS. Pray that they are approved quickly and that they can join us in England!
- Fees. I still need to raise about $4000 CAD for later fees in the school. Pray that they would be provided for in the upcoming months!
- Rest. I’ve been running around trying to get things done and meet up with friends before I leave, pray that I would be able to have a time of meaningful rest and recuperation before I head off to England!
If you’ve made it to the end, congrats! And thanks for bearing with me through all of this. As always, feel free to contact me if you want to chat!