During the 30 days leading up to my 30th birthday, I am posting a letter a day expressing thankfulness for someone or something that has played a major role in shaping the first 30 years of my life.
Dear Camp Barnabas,
Wow. When I let my mind start going down the path of reminiscing about you, I am flooded with memories. I don't think any other place conjures up the same intensity of sensory flashbacks. I close my eyes and I can hear the clatter of plates and cups in the dining hall and the stomping and clapping as the birthday rap crew approached some lucky recipient. I can feel the layer of perspiration that was always present; the combination of muggy Missouri summers, open-air cabins, and pushing wheelchairs up and down bumpy paths, making it impossible to ever feel really clean. I see the delighted faces of precious campers when we would have "Barnabas Prom" - the joy as they wore their finest and danced the night away. I smell the hot asphalt and taste the cold popsicles sliding down as the golf cart made its daily deliveries during free time.
The first time I volunteered was the summer of 1997. I had lived in Kansas City for one year, and I was so anxious to get as much time as possible with my friends and church back in Arkansas, so I came with Fellowship to work as a "barnstormer", working in the kitchen. It was young friends week. The camp was full of children with developmental disabilities, like Down's syndrome and autism. I was hooked. The next summer I came for 2 weeks, 6 the following year, and then I spent 2 summers on staff.
You were such an important part of those 5 years of my life on so many levels. On the most surface level, you gave me an escape. My high school years weren't the easiest, and you gave me something to look forward to every year. I started looking forward to camp in November of each year. You were a place where I felt like I had purpose and I felt appreciated. Being there was a balm for a teenage heart that felt like it had lost it's place to belong. My friends in Arkansas all still had one another and were making new memories without me. My friends in Kansas had all known one another for years and I was the newcomer. At camp I just felt at home.
On a deeper level, you taught me about dignity. Thank you for teaching me that all people are created in the image of God, and as such, all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I remember curling girls' hair ... hair that was often cut short because exhausted parents didn't have the energy to let them grow it long; and the excitement they would express over looking pretty. I remember seeing the joyful worship of ones often overlooked and hearing the loud, earnest singing. I remember the big meetings at the beginning of each week when we would learn about the special needs of each camper who would be in our cabins and would offer tips to other counselors who had kids we'd had in the past. "Oh, you have _______! You're gonna love her! She reverses all of her words so they sound backward." I remember hearing the kids (the ones who were able to speak) sharing at the end of the week about how camp had affected them. The kids who said that they got made fun of all year, or felt different than everyone at school. They said that when they came to camp they fit in. They felt at home, just like me.