Turns out Winter Camp is totally great.
I figured it would be. Anytime you get ECC campers and counselors together fun ensues, and Winter Camp was no exception. Our group wasn’t huge, but where we lacked in number we made up in spirit, and 35 of us enjoyed a truly incredible week together.
Bethany Correia was our Visiting Staff director for the week and she developed a solid program. The theme for the week was Make Your Mark, and we spent every day talking about how we can have an impact in the world we live in. Each full day had it’s own daily theme. Tuesday we talked about baptism with “Marked as Christ’s Own forever”. Wednesday we talked about the importance of scripture and the words we use with “Mark my Words”. And Thursday we talked about going out in the world as disciples with “On your mark, get set, GO!” The young people there were totally engaged during our sessions and I think they left really having absorbed some of the topics we discussed over the course of the week.
The most significant part of the week happened on Tuesday when we talked about baptism, and I’m eager to share the story with you. But first a little background. One of the things that I think is SO COOL about our current ministry at ECC is the fact that we have a relationship with Adoption Rhode Island. Each summer Adoption RI provides scholarships for children and teenagers who live in foster homes or group homes. I love that they do this because I think everyone deserves to have the camp experience – especially kids who might not have had as many chances to be carefree. I have also loved getting to know the campers who have been sponsored through Adoption RI. Some of them have shared their stories with me. Some have applied to be CIT’s. Most have asked to come back for a second week either in the same summer or in the next. And luckily for us, some have come to be a part of our winter programs too.
We had two teenagers at Winter Camp last week who originally came to us through Adoption RI. One lives in a foster home, and one in a group home. They both brought so much to the week, and I was thrilled to have them and all of the other young people at Winter Camp. There was an energy to this camp that was electric. The day we talked about baptism there were lots of questions from everyone in the group. As I always do when I talk about baptism, I stressed how important it us for us to deeply know that we belong to God. I told them about my favorite words from the service and our theme of the day “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” I assured them that we all belong to God whether or not we’ve been baptized, but we discussed the significance of the rite taking place in Christian community.
It wasn’t long after our session that both of our Adoption RI teens approached me to talk. One reminded me of the conversation we had had over the summer about the possibility of his being baptized at camp this coming summer. The other was making a first request: he was turning 18 soon and would be out in the world alone. He thought he’d feel stronger if he were baptized.
Both requests took my breath away and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since. I talk a pretty good game about belonging to God. I stress the importance of finding our salvation in Christ alone and not in the other humans in our lives. And I believe what I say – I really do. But at the end of the day, I rely heavily on the human relationships that I have in my life. I count on my husband to be my partner and walk with me through life. I know that my mother and sisters are thinking of me and hoping for the best for me. Of course my relationship with God is first and foremost in my life, but I also take comfort in knowing that I am part of a family that has my back.
So I can’t imagine – I cannot imagine – what it must be like for the young people in this world who don’t have a supportive family. I can’t imagine having the deep desire for baptism – wanting to belong to God – because you might not feel like you belong to anyone else. Just the thought of it transforms the meaning of the words “Marked as Christ’s own forever”. Viewed through this lens those words couldn’t possibly be dismissed as trite or sentimental. Through this lens those words are life-changing: just as they are meant to be.
In the gospel last Sunday Jesus laments to Jerusalem “Oh I how I have desired to draw your children to me the way a hen draws her brood under her wings, but you would not let me.” I am struck by Christ’s deep longing to love us. And after Winter Camp, I am reminded again of our deep longing to be loved. It never ceases to amaze me that the love we so desire is offered to us all the time but we can’t accept it.
This past week however, I’ve held on to the image of Christ drawing the children under his wing. And I will hope and pray that all of the young people that are part of our camp community might know – deeply – that they belong to God. I suspect that my feelings towards baptism have changed forever (and I didn’t know I could appreciate or love baptism any more than I already do!). I’m truly inspired and humbled by these two campers and their desire to be baptized, and they will be in my prayers constantly. I ask that you keep them in your prayers too, so that our ECC community might be a family for them – lifting them up and supporting them. And then we can all – together – cling to the knowledge that we belong to God, sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.