This was our church’s third year to host TLC, a weekend camp in the mountains for teens in the foster system through Teen Leadership Foundation. I absolutely love it and each year can hardly wait for the next year to come. Every year I want to say it was our best camp yet, but I have realized that each year is just different. From one year to the next we make new discoveries that work well with the kids to try out the following year. Each change enriches their experience… and ours.
This year I was given two 17-year-old campers, Karen and Sherrie. (Not their real names.) They were wonderful girls. Very kind, polite and considerate. Definitely a joy to be around. Yet after being a camp counselor to foster kids for many years between TLC and Royal Family Kids Camp, I think this was one of my most challenging years. Not physically, though each year I feel my age more and more. And not necessarily emotionally, because I’ve struggled more deeply on an emotional level in the past. This time I felt challenged spiritually. I wanted to be spiritually bulked up before going, but I just didn’t manage to get there. Then just before camp I had to remind myself that it wasn’t going to be my responsibility to have all the answers. I just had to be there to love the kids, to listen, and to be God’s hands, feet and mouthpiece, to be used however He led. That was so freeing to give the weekend to the Lord and trust Him to guide me.
Sherrie was a particularly complicated girl. At times she was so mature, but then she could switch over to reveal the broken heart of a very needy little girl. She told me how much she hated the group activities at camp because she never likes being touched without her permission. We do team building exercises that are physical challenges which require the team to work together as a unit in order to accomplish certain goals such as getting over a wall too tall for a person to climb without help. As Sherrie talked more about this, she revealed her years of sexual abuse to me and how difficult it is for her to be touched by anyone. As counselors and staff we are trained to be very conscientious of physical touch with our campers, knowing that what seems casual and friendly to us could be very disturbing to some of them.
Sherrie told me she considered herself to be a Christian, but she didn’t believe God existed. I told her it wasn’t possible to have it both ways… that being a Christian required faith in God. Then she explained that she didn’t believe He existed because He never answered her when she called for help during those years of abuse. Oh Lord, now is the time to speak through me because I don’t have the answers! I told Sherrie that I don’t understand why God doesn’t always rescue us when we ask, but I did know that He had a plan to make something beautiful out of her life if she would let Him. Sherrie became extremely angry at that moment and began to shut me out. I told her I would be praying that God would reveal Himself to her and that she would experience the great peace He has to offer. She responded, “Whatever floats your boat,” and walked away.
Our next activity was chapel. I found Sherrie sitting alone and sat by her, giving her plenty of space. As chapel went on, she slid a little closer, and a little closer to me until she was right next to me. Then she held my hand. Then she leaned. Then her head was on my shoulder. Finally her other hand had found its way into the front pocket of my sweatshirt where she clutched tighter and tighter onto the fabric to the point where I’m certain her knuckles were white. I wrapped my arms around her in a big bear hug, rocked her, and told her I loved her.
When we had a short break, Sherrie and I stayed in the chapel and I never let go. I hugged and cried. That was my job. That’s what God put me there for at that very moment. I told her I was so sorry for all the pain she had gone through. She never pulled away once. It reminded me of holding my own girls when they were toddlers.
At the end of the weekend I gave Sherrie some verses to take home with her that I hoped she would read. I also asked her to pray and ask God to reveal Himself to her. She promised she would. On the bus home I saw her open my note and read through all the verses.
Later after all the campers had gone home, one of the other counselors told me that Sherrie had shared with her about our time in the chapel where we had held each other so tightly. Sherrie told her that it had meant more to her than I would ever know because she did not have people in her life that she could be so vulnerable with and have the experience of being held in a way that made her feel safe. That truly was my job that weekend. To be the hands and feet of Christ. To love with Christ’s love. To just be available. Yes, I think maybe this was my best year yet.
Written by Sheryl Hunter
**Thank you, Sheryl for your obedience in Christ!**