Four years ago I was working at Camp Sonshine in Silver Spring, and slowly getting acquainted with our new church, Grace Community. I had several issues with Camp Sonshine, mainly two things. One, I was working an average of 82 hours a week during the summer leaving me no time for my husband, and two, I never really saw their vision and mission lived out in the camp itself. To me, it seemed more like a regular camp that happened to have Christians working there. In December of 2004, I rendered my resignation ready to take on the world. A week later I found out I was pregnant with Owen. Shortly there after I went to work part time for the middle school ministry at Grace. All along I had this burning desire to start a day camp, maybe at Grace, but most likely wherever God took us next (preferably way down south in the land of cotton.) I even shared that vision with Shaun Smithson over a meal of bottomless fries at Red Robin. At the time, Grace was meeting in a warehouse with little to no land to speak of, but they had already purchased the property we now meet on. From the first time I saw that piece of land, I could see the kids playing in the fields, but surely God was going to take us home, so it must have been someone else's vision (I know, stupid thinking).
Then last summer everything changed. During a quiet time one day, I felt pressed to pursue the vision. As silly as I felt, I emailed Tim Siemens, a pastor at Grace, and told him my idea for this day camp at Grace. Within the hour, he responded, excited to hear more. We met in September and the rest is history.
Flash forward to July 7th, 2008, the first day of camp. I have to say that Michelle and I both were quite emotional. To see something come to fruition after 9 months of hard work and four years of dreams was more than even my words could explain. We had 38 kids, 8 staff, 7 servant team, and no nurse during the first week. Despite a few hiccups, the feedback from campers & parents was phenomenal. There are a million stories a could share with you, but I'm going to focus in on three.
Over the weekend between the first and second week, Michelle told me that we'd gotten a registration for a girl named Charlotte (Charley). Turns out she was invited to camp by a Grace family that was attending camp that week. Here's the kicker: they had just met Charley and her family two days before. So Charley comes, and despite a rough first day, has a great time at camp, so much so that she wanted to return for another week. But given the fact that her family had just relocated from Arizona the week before, finances were a little tight and she wasn't going to be able to come. Well, Charley was actually going into 7th grade, making her a little old for camp, so Michelle suggested we bring her back the next week on our Servant Team. We typically don't take 6th graders, but thought we could make an exception for Charley. At the parent assembly on Friday, Charley was visibly upset that it was the last day of camp. As her mom & sister, Chloe, arrived, we pulled them aside and asked if Charley (and Chloe if she wanted) could come back. Her mom was floored that we would take such an interest in her family. We told Charley right away and those tears of sorrow turned into tears of joy.
Charley and her sister Chloe finished out the summer with us, and found a new church home in the process. That's our vision right there. The family that invited them had no idea at the time that a simple invitation would be so fruitful. Charley and her family felt safe at camp, and because of that gave the church a shot. We couldn't have asked for a better story our first summer, but wait, there's more.
During our second week we had a little girl named Rebekah come to camp. We knew she came with a friend, but that's about it. A little over a week later, I received a note in my mailbox, actually a copy of the "let us know" sheet from morning service. On it Rebekah's mom praised camp profusely, and then I saw the box checked "new to Grace." See Rebekah's friend, Emily, had invited her to camp, and in the process, they decided to check out camp. Again, that's our vision played out in person, in lives.
Lastly I have to tell you about Karin, our camp nurse. Originally she signed up to work week two, half days, in exchange for her daughter, Victoria, coming to camp. After just a few days at camp, she decided to come back, and ended up spending the rest of the summer with us. She was just like one of us, even stayed with me until the last camper was gone each evening. And what a blessing she was when she brought Michelle and me a soda each day when she arrived. I believe God sent her to encourage and "heal" Michelle and me, and we hope she will be back next year as our official camp nurse.
Not really a story, but I feel obligated to tell you about our staff. From the moment we hired them until the last day (and beyond), it was clear that God called each of them to be there this summer. Several jumped in before camp and helped out as much as they could, as well as offering to be involved in the planning process for next year. Without a stellar staff camp could not have happened this summer. It's because of them that kids wanted to come back from week to week, and the kids that came all four weeks can't wait to come back next summer. God certainly knew what he was doing when he sent these 8 people to us. From Cree who coordinated assemblies & ran servant team (who is now in Austria for good) to Amy who managed to work all four weeks pregnant and with a 10 month old to Chris who despite his physical age blew us all away with his maturity and patience. From Nick who was challenged with two autistic children and never let it get him down to Meghan who saw a need and met it with grace and the heart of a servant to Thaise who cared for all the children with a gentle spirit and passion for the Lord. From Phil who was ready and willing to do anything and everything asked of him to Roya who worked another job outside of camp but never let on to her fatigue and allowed herself to be used. And then there was out support team: Matt who flourished as a worship leader and Ben who grew in this new experience. Then there was Blair and Aaron who caught the vision long before the summer and never ceased to amaze us with their acts of service. And all the volunteers who gave their time, energy and hearts to camp, even if only for a moment, helped make camp the success it is today.
There's so much more I could tell you, and maybe someday I will. God is continuing to work in and through camp, and I'm excited to say that we will be back next year. Thank you for all your prayers and support.
Oh and we officially own the house we live in. We closed last night at 5:00 pm. It was shocking how smoothly it went.
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