Five lessons I learned working at Christian camp
How washing dishes and serving others helped me become bolder in faith, braver in friendships, and stronger for life.
March of my freshman year of college. Looking forward to summer and counting on a resume-boosting, memory-making three months in Japan teaching English to high school students.
However, those cross-oceanic daydreams were dashed when I received the email saying I hadn’t been accepted.
After much prayer, God eventually led me to a summer camp in the San Jacinto Mountains, California. It wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing over summer, but it did teach me some valuable lessons about life, faith and friendship.
1. God’s going to use you in ways that seem insignificant at first
I won’t lie, it was hard seeing people on vacations, studying abroad, or doing mission trips, while I was working in a kitchen or on a housekeeping crew, cleaning up from a group that we had hosted.
It was even harder to find purpose and meaning in what I was doing when it seemed that others (especially those on mission trips) were doing far more significant work. It took two months of time spent there, but I finally learned to find meaning and joy in the work that I was doing because I had a beautiful chance everyday to encourage, uplift and bond with my fellow staff members.
The camp hosted groups of different cultural and religious backgrounds and while we were given a few chances in this regard to engage in evangelism, I found that the most valuable aspect of having this opportunity was just to get a small glimpse into how uniquely God created each person and felt His love overflowing from me for these visitors.
2. He is my comfort
I got to learn a life-changing lesson these past few months: finding comfort in God, seeing Him as my sanctuary, every time I felt uneasy or worn out, I just imagined him, in all his brilliance and absolute perfection, cradling me to His chest.
With Him holding me, nothing could shake me, nothing could defeat me, not snide comments, not hard work and not the feelings of loneliness that washed over me. I found that I looked forward to reading His Word every (usually) morning and I tried to spend significant time in prayer.
3. The people that you first write off will wiggle their way into your heart
The first night I arrived at camp was spent at the Bible study group that a few staff members from camp attended.
I felt both overwhelmed and a little bit fearful at the prospect of new people on top of new people. The unfamiliar was daunting and less than a week in, I was just about ready to call it quits.
But alas, I was too proud to admit that I had made a mistake, and a few co-workers were starting to grow on me. Suddenly the person who I’d pegged as attention-seeking and ingenuine, was a reliable source of happiness on a day-to-day basis and by the time she took a week-long break from camp to spend with family, I was missing her presence in our staff cabin and counting down the days until she would return.
In the meantime, I was given an opportunity to explore the other friendships I had been afforded in the past few weeks. I found that the girl who initially intimidated me was incredibly thoughtful and an easy person to relax with. Even shifts went by a little faster when I got to work with her and dull tasks became more appealing when we were paired together. And the girl who had seemed too cool for me was suddenly someone I had basically my entire life in common with.
So, as easy as it is to quickly write people off, listen to some age-old advice and see where it takes you: don’t judge a book by its cover.
4. Making friends takes time
I had nothing but time that summer so I made friends. I hadn’t been willing to invest that much effort into school friends because there were always other distractions, from homework to class time to club meetings.
As cliché as it is, I wish I had learned this earlier, that just making yourself uncomfortable and accepting every invitation to hang out that comes your way, can do wonders for the kind of connections you make.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t spend any time alone, but I have a tendency to fear that I’m not close enough with someone to ask to hang out with them and then our friendship never progresses so I’m stuck at the same semi-close stage.
If you’re someone like me, don’t be afraid to go hang out, take the initiative, and say yes more often.
5. There’s nowhere like home
When I spent my first week working at a summer camp, I was almost immediately exhausted from work and feeling out of place, surrounded by unfamiliar people.
I was begging my dad to make the drive to see me after those first few days and most weeks turned out about the same for the duration of camp. As much as I learned to love the community there, it was nice to get away from reminders of grueling shifts and spend valuable time with my family.
After having spent most of the last school year and summer away from home, I learned to make the most of the time that I had with them, and I’m now able to appreciate all of the quirks that I despised when I was growing up.
So, despite getting a summer completely different than what I was expecting, it was one for the books and in addition to the loads of laughs I had there, I took away some pretty important life lessons.
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