The beauty of having a growing faith that has developed over many years of my (still youthful) life is that when God pulls you in one particular direction, there is nothing on this earth that can drive you in the opposite direction. (A lesson Jonah learned in the foulness of a large fish’s stomach.)
Summer 2011 was my second serving as a camp counsellor on the shores of Higgins Lake and even still I found myself questioning, “How did this average university student from the outskirts of Belfast in little old Northern Ireland end up here?” I was hired through the Camp America program, something that has been pivotal to Camp Westminster in providing a wholesome experience of God’s love through eager young people like me, from all across the world. I however, was extremely fortunate to be one of those people.
I met Jim and Suzanne Bates on a cold, grey Edinburgh Afternoon in January 2010 at a Camp America recruitment fair. Camp America was something of folklore to me, as I had heard of how students before me had gone on trips of a lifetime to the USA and worked at summer camps while earning money. So I thought to myself, “Yeah, I guess I’ll give this a go.” So I decided to attend the fair, but not before I cleaned up and cut my hair, casting aside my stereotypical student look. Of course in traditional fashion I was late to the fair and it took the sympathy of Jim and Suzanne to even consider me a member of the summer staff. And that’s where it all began.
If you were to ask me what session of camp I enjoyed most over my two summers, then I probably couldn’t give you an honest answer because the marvelous aspect of working as a counsellor is the dynamism associated with the work. One week I would be leading the Worldwide Sports camp… the next I was being a cool “older-brother” figure to a handful of 7-9 year olds, and succeeding that, I’d be on an outtrip hiking around Pictured Rocks National Park or canoeing on the Au Sable River. Where in the world could you find a job that gives you that amount of variety?
However, one session stands out in my mind. Over my 2 years I was given the responsibility of the Pre-Leadership and Leadership groups who consisted of the same core group of individuals. Having the pleasure of watching this group grow into mature members of the camp community was truly astonishing. From a group of individuals who barely knew each other they developed their relationships and their individual spiritual gifts. I could talk for hours about this group, however space is limited. All I would like to say is that leading this session of camp is extremely rewarding. Sure, teenagers are awkward, grumpy and dynamic in emotions but for me, they not only grew in character themselves, they allowed me to mature as a leader, a role model and an eventual friend.
Recently, I have heard the same strange question on more than one occasion from
someone of the British Society; “I am told summer camps are declining and closing down quite rapidly in the USA. Is this true?” My answer to this question is never normally direct, as mostly there’s a part of me that wants to scream and tell them they have no idea what they’re talking about. In reality it would be an awful shame if this tradition were to become extinct from US society. To me, camp provides a plethora of benefits to those attending. Social skills are developed, logic is tested, friendships are made, self-awareness of abilities understood and role models created. Now, that is just the counsellors. The benefits to those campers (who will give us lasting memories for the rest of our lives) are infinitely greater. Camp is a fundamental part of a child’s life, teaching them lessons in the unfamiliar surroundings that perhaps their parents aren’t able to teach them.
So at the end of the day, where would I have been without camp? I would probably be spending my summer in a monotonous computer sales job in between college work. Sure, it’s a source of money but it’s by no means rewarding (not to me anyway). Everyone knows camp counsellors don’t do it for the money. Finances can come and go instantly, however I would rather be paid in memories of smiling campers, hilarious moments, camp food, songs, sunny days on the lake (and the wet ones), the friendships I have gained, the skills I have learned and the love and compassion of those I was extremely fortunate to work with, who I will no doubt be friends with for years to come. All in all, I would say that makes me one wealthy counsellor!
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Student at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland