I’m not sure what wild whim it was last February that had me filling out and submitting and application for Summer Staff at Camp Mennoscah.
My relationship with this Kansas church camp was shaky, at best. I hadn’t gone every year as a camper, and not all the years I had attended had been particularly good experiences. From what I could remember it was hot, sandy, and full of both poison ivy and extroverts.
So when I arrived at camp last June, I had come because it was something in which I believed. I had taken enough BTS courses at that point to have a vague recognition that, when set up correctly, Christianity could be positive and life-giving instead of horribly destructive, as my own post-high school experience had led me to conclude.
Camp, then, was the best example of Christianity being “set-up” correctly, that I could think of: an intentional community that broke bread together; worked, played, and rested together; had healthy intergenerational interactions; and defied gender stereotypes—all on a place set aside as holy ground by the life-giving flow of the Ninnescah River.
But what I didn’t bargain for when I arrived at camp was, well, the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God: that Grace, eloquently described in Hamilton’s ‘Unimaginable‘, as “too powerful to name.”
When I started working at camp, I viewed all those aforementioned aspects of Christianity as a check-list, as if I could simply mark them off once they happened. I saw them as practices that brought us closer to God. But I had gone so long without feeling that overflowing, overwhelming love, grace, and certainty in who I was as a child of God, that I couldn’t quite dare to believe that I would again.
But God has a way of overturning all our assumptions and our expectations.
Somewhere between buckets of compost, stacks of dishes, and a little turtle poop (I was the nature person after all), I regained trust in my own ability to be strong, capable, and loving in service—a living example of worship.
And between hymn sings and hug circles, notes of love from our director and quiet campers pouring out their stories, I regained trust in the loving goodness of other people.
And on my last night with campers, as I was hanging back at campfire waiting to put it out, I found myself talking to a camper whose difficult story was eerily similar to my own, and in ministering to her, (I guess that’s what listening, and sharing, and praying really is), I regained my trust in God, and God’s ability to work through what is messy, and broken, and seemingly irreparable.
I went to camp because it seemed like a place to live out what I had learned in textbooks and lectures. But I left knowing God beyond academia.
I affirmed that I need a place to write and think, to make sense of God amidst all the dangerous, damaging religiosity I have, and continue to brush up against. But I also learned that God’s mercy forces us to reevaluate our doubts, God’s grace can sass our bitter cynicism right back, and God’s love can come in forms as small as a baby turtle, and as expansive as a prairie sky.
At camp I slammed into a God who is in all and through all. Even me.
Elizabeth Schrag is in her second year of a Biblical and Theological Studies major.
This post was first shared in Chapel at CMU on Sept 12, 2017.