Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Taking A Chance On Me

Today I will begin a series of blogs about people who have influenced my faith and life in big ways, in some cases altering the course of it altogether.  I decided to start with one person who carried around a can of RAID wherever she went.  Let me explain…

Growing up, Camp Vick, an American Baptist Churches camp in upstate NY was one of the places where I really fell in love with Christ.  I attended camp for the first time in 8th grade.  I slept in a tent with a wooden floor along with five other girls and a counselor.  We talked about what boys we liked and the latest fashions, but by the Friday night campfire, we’d fallen in love with more than just the boys in Cabin 5.  Many of us had met our Savior.  We kept in touch with our camp friends by writing letters.  (Yes, actual handwritten letters!  I still keep in touch with many of my camp friends, but we’ve upgraded to Facebook now.) We couldn’t wait to return to camp the next year.  We enjoyed paddling canoes around the lake, eating grilled cheese in the dining hall, lying on our backs and looking up at the constellations in the dark summer sky.  We loved all of the counselors, including one who I can still picture singing “Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again” at every campfire.

As we got older, we’d do anything we could just to be at camp for an extra week during the summer.  I cleaned bathrooms (By the way, Francis, what’s the string for again?), raked trails, and even volunteered in the kitchen.  (And I cannot cook to save my life!)  My favorite jobs around camp were by far the ones where I interacted with campers, either as a Leader-In-Training or as a Counselor for a cabin of girls.  It was during one such week where I felt God’s call begin to develop in my life as a mere whisper. It happened during Jr High Camp when a boy named Matt asked me for advice about a girl in my cabin.  I started to see that teens saw me as a good listener, someone they could trust.

And then came the Reverend Gloria.  A tall, feisty woman from “the big city” of Philadelphia, who’d been called by God to come to the “boonies” of upstate NY to be our Camp Director.  At first, we weren’t sure what to think of her.  She was different than anyone we’d ever met at camp.  She was loud, she was feisty, but boy could she PREACH.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit and it oozed out of her everywhere that she went.  She turned our heads and our hearts for sure.
Being from the city, the country, where our camp was located, was very different from anything she’d experienced.  Before coming to Camp Vick, she’d never seen a cow in real life.  This amused those of us who passed several dairy farms on our way to school every day.  Every time we were riding in a car with Rev. Gloria and we saw a cow, we had to stop!  She’d get out and talk to the cow, perhaps pet it if it was close enough and even sing to it.  We laughed every time.

Although she loved cows, she did not like bugs one ounce.  She carried around her can of RAID, spraying it directly at any bug that flew into her vicinity.  It became her new perfume.  A friend remembers that she even let go of the wheel of her car once and the others in the car had to kill the bug before she would drive any further.  Although she hated bugs, another friend remembers that she could clean and fry up a fish like no one else.  I guess she did like some parts of country life!

Although Camp Vick’s location was way out of her comfort zone, she threw herself into ministry there.  During morning exercises, she’d run around the soccer field with the campers, saying that if she could do it, they could do it!  She threw every ounce of energy she had into running the camp with her own personality and style.  And we loved it!  She took every challenge in stride, including our donated camp van, which was constantly breaking down.  To this day, I still pray the prayer she would pray every time we got in the van: “Dear God, please keep us safe from accidents or incidents as we drive today.”

What we loved most was her heart for the Lord. Her affection for Him was evident from early morning prayers in the chapel to evening campfires to walks along the trails.  What I remember most vividly was how she took our Friday night worship service up about 1,000 notches.  At the end of a long and stressful week on staff, she brought us back to the real meaning of what we were doing and encouraged us again with her words.  Each Friday, she’d preach the Gospel message and many children and teens would give their lives to the Lord.  We’d all symbolically place a lighted candle into a wooden cross and then we’d float it out into the lake.  A tradition that still continues at Camp Vick.  When I think of camp, this is one of the first images that come to mind as I remember Jesus being so palpable on those warm Friday nights by the lake.

A couple of years into her tenure as camp director, Rev. Gloria made a decision that would alter the course of my life.  She chose me to be the co-program director that summer with another girl my age.  She saw something in me as a counselor that I hadn’t yet seen in myself, knowing that I would grow to thrive in that role.  She gave me the opportunity to be stretched outside of my comfort zone as a quiet young adult and to be molded into a leader.  I learned as 2 Timothy 1:7 instructs, that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  God does not usually call people who are already ready for the job.  He stretches us and grows us and makes sure it is His glory that is revealed, not our own.

Rev. Gloria counseled me and taught me and guided me.  She also told me jokingly that I should “never hand-write an address on a letter again” due to my bad handwriting.  It’s the little things you often remember most about a person.

Because Rev. Gloria chose me to fulfill such a role, I grew and found gifts I didn’t know that I had.  My calling into Youth Ministry began to develop, and as I chose a college, I decided to major in Youth Ministry and English/Writing.  I ended up spending fifteen years in professional Youth Ministry.  Looking back, it was Camp Vick and the amazing counselors, camp pastors, and directors who influenced my spiritual life as a whole and encouraged me to take that enthusiasm out to the local church and minister to teens.  It also helped me to develop life-long Christian friends who I know will always be there for me.

Camp Vick and Rev. Gloria influenced more than just me.  My Co-Program Director that year would go on to later become the director of Camp Vick herself from 2003-2017 and now the director at Camp Cowen, a Baptist Camp in West Virginia.  Rev. Gloria encouraged another man to go to college and later seminary and two close friends who were on staff with me later became full-time pastors.

What I learned from Rev. Gloria is that it’s important to take a chance on someone.  Look deep inside of them and see what gifts God may be ready to mold and shape into a beautiful masterpiece in His grand Kingdom plan.  You’ll never know until you take that chance.

The cross at Camp Vick

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