Monday, July 27, 2009

Joni and Friends Camp report

Sorry, folks, but pictures on my blog will be very limited due to privacy reasons for the families that attend JAF camp. Here are two - above are myself and Esther, the other nurse who attended camp. I was so grateful to have her there. We ended up taking turns staying the in the "First Aid Station" during the times of day that people were all over camp and most likely to just drop in there looking for help. During "all-camp" activities, though, we went to the location where everyone was gathered and got to watch and participate.

Praise God, we had no serious injuries. A couple of minor incidents were a bit stressful, but mostly we had bandaids and ice packs as our tools of the trade for the week. With all the things that could go wrong, it's truly evident that God has His hand of protection on the JAF camps each year.

I had a wonderful time and am SO glad that I went. Here are some of my thoughts as I reflect on my camp experience:

  • Overall, I felt a bit like an outsider/observer. A lot of folks attend this camp year after year and a majority of people already knew each other. It's a happy reunion of old friends for them. I, on the other hand, did not know anyone but the people from my church. Esther and I were technically part of the leadership team, but didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time. I had the wonderful opportunity to wander and meet lots of campers, kids, young adults, parents, siblings, but I didn't get to know anyone very well. A lot of the campers with disabilities are a bit reserved around new people, so I didn't end up on a huggy basis with very many campers. I would love to go some time as a hands-on STM (volunteer assigned to be with a single camper for the week).
  • On the other hand, I was priveledged to get to meet lots and lots of campers. I saw a more vulnerable side of them when they came to me with an owie or bump on the head. At first, I was kind of stymied by the communication challenges of treating these kids. But after a day I was really enjoying the challenge of trying different approaches until I was able to address the problem at hand. Keep in mind that the STM who works with the camper about 12 hours out of a day gets to know how to communicate best with them. But I'm just meeting them in a small crisis moment and don't know the best approach.
  • The people who go to JAF camp every year call it "Heaven on Earth". People also say, "I can't explain it, you just have to go". Well, I'm going to give it an attempt at explanation. JAF camp is a place where people with and without disabilities are all accepted just the way they are. Not just accepted, but celebrated. People are not made fun of for enthusiasm that may not seem "appropriate". Activities are geared to meet everyone where they are and let all participate with as little barriers as humanly possible. A highlight of the week is the talent show night. It's a performance night in which it matters more that you got up and did something than that you sounded "great". The growth and change in campers from year to year is a real highlight for those who go each year.

I came back from camp feeling much less intimidated by our own plans for disability ministry in my church and much more excited to see who may walk in our church doors. Bring it on!

Here is our group on "camper day", the day campers arrive.


Martha said...

Yeah for camp! Once you have been going to camp for a few more years you will have lots of friends and those kids will be getting owies just so they can come and visit you! Actually, the first year at camp is probably the toughest. After that you are at least a familiar face.

Ruth said...

Tracy - wow - that sounds great, and I'm sure like Martha said, each year will get easier, and I'm sure kids will be excited to see you next year.

Glad it has encouraged you even more about the plans for disability ministry at your church, that's great.

FayeJ said...

me too! camp was a definite boost to my moral for our ministry.

lu said...

Hi Tracy! It sounds like you had a good week at JAF camp. If you continue to serve there each summer, I bet you will become like family too.

I just got back from Young Life camp myself. We had one boy with disabilities on the work crew and it was so inspiring to see how all the other high school kids on the work crew embraced him as they did everyone else on the crew.

If you get a chance, read this article: Its about two kids with disabilities who were on the work crew of another YL camp this summer.

Keep me posted on how the ministry goes at your church. We're holding steady at Riverview with our special needs ministry. I am kind of feeling like God is encouraging me to expand it. We'll see where it leads.