Thelma (right) with her care group at Special Camp 2013

Over two years ago, my heart was opened to the Special Camp and its campers.  They are people in society who are ignored or misunderstood.  My thought was to someday be of service to them.  However, it was not God’s timing for me to be an aide at that time. 

This year, although having a trigger thumb and bursitis, both painful and debilitating and great excuses, I filed the application for Special Camp aide online.  Had the application not been online, I could not have filed the application as my fingers could hardly hold onto a pen to sign my name or use a pair of hashi to eat at that time.  I felt God would work out what needs to be done if accepted to be an aide.  Another excuse would have been my request to stay out of the sun due to sensitivity to the sun.  What campground would not have sun?  However, I did not allow any excuses to enter my mind because I could have had at least a dozen more. 

Special Camp receives support from so many people and in so many different ways.  Many people pray for the camp and campers.  I thank the friends who have sent me e-mails and cards or verbally communicated that they were praying for me.  Prayers are a priceless comfort and support.

This is my perception of Special Camp.  It is about committed leaders who provide excellent training before the camp.  There were orientation and training, even a training retreat one weekend.  There was a time of fellowship and team building.  I was totally impressed with all the staffers involved in this selfless endeavor.  They work in unity and share a camaraderie that is quite admirable. Their love for one another and for the campers is contagious and made me want to work together with them.  They certainly are a cohesive team of dedicated, faithful servants committed to serve God through their love of the campers and serving them.  One volunteer has served for 24 years, another, 13 years, and countless others, for several years.  Feeling apprehensive but confident that the Lord who started the good work in me would allow the work to be completed (Philippians 1:6).  The staff showed their true love, dignity and capability when thrown into various situations that arose during the camp.

The camp is about the special campers.  They were from various ethnicity and background and had various mental and/or physical disabilities.  They have been attending Special Camp for many years and are very familiar with all the activities, schedules, and routines.  The purpose is for everyone to have fun while learning God’s truths.  The campers participated in the worship and lesson time.  They enjoyed all the activities such as making crafts, swimming, bowling, playing in a Special Camp games, and participating in a carnival.  The college group utilizes the same facility and they assist the special campers during some of the activities.  Both the college group and the special campers are blessed because of this involvement and participation.  The special campers enjoy the attention and pampering they receive from everyone.  This annual camp is said to be the special time for the campers who are treated very royally and who can hardly wait to attend camp each year.  They are so gracious and grateful for every kind of assistance or words of encouragement given to them.

This year’s camp was apparently considered to be quite challenging.  From the first night, a camper came down with stomach flu/food poisoning symptoms.  Then, on each subsequent day, more campers and aides exhibited similar symptoms.  The main camp has physicians who volunteer their time to provide treatment to the campers when needed.  A doctor came daily and even throughout the day.  It was determined that it was the stomach flu that fortunately lasted a short period of time.

To isolate the first few ill campers initially, the decision was to place them at a motel nearby.  Three campers and three aides stayed at the motel; I was one of the fortunate ones as I got to sleep on a real bed instead of in a sleeping bag for a night.  As more campers and aides became ill, they were placed in isolation in one female and one male cabin.  Since they were in isolation they could not participate in the activities until the physician declared they were not contagious.  Can you imagine how these campers felt?  They had come to have a great time and could not participate in the activities nor eat in the dining room in the company of their friends.  They had a bland diet.  Yet, they adjusted well to the various changes that occurred.  The campers are the true veterans and troopers of the camp.

With the various happenings I found it to be quite disconcerting at first.  After all, the foundation for the camp was prayer.  All aspects of the camp were covered in prayer; each cabin, the dining and meeting rooms, the grounds of the camp, worship time and activities, and all the campers and aides.  Yet everyday there was a new phenomenon.  Why were all these things happening when people had come to camp to have a great time?   The Mt. Hermon theme verse could not have been more appropriate or timely. “Trust in God’s unfailing love,” from Psalm 52:8.  We had to trust in God’s unfailing love and pray every day and throughout each day as camp seemed to be unraveling with the flu, an emergency room visit of one camper, (not flu related) and other occurrences and inconveniences.  With everyone’s cooperation, campers, staff and aides alike, each situation was handled triumphantly.  Everyone just pitched in and kept doing whatever was needed.  Time flew by very quickly.  “Not by might nor by power but by the Spirit,” says the Lord in Zechariah 4:6.  God undeniably powered everyone to be involved in His ministry mightily and joyfully as well.

Rumors have a way of escalating.  Some of the main camp people thought most of us were really ill and even had to have emergency treatment.  Saw Rick and other people I knew at the main camp bookstore and he seemed relieved to see me well and standing before him.

God was gracious in keeping most of us well and recovered the aides who fell ill to continue to do their committed task.  God spared me from being outdoors for too long (as mentioned earlier I am sun-sensitive) as my time was spent staying with the campers at the motel or in the cabin.  Although I may not have participated fully in all the activities of the camp, I felt that God was using me for His specific purpose to be at this camp at this particular time, to care for His children and even to kill spiders, moths and other bugs in the cabin. 

Several aides asked my opinion of special camp and if it was as I expected it to be.  They were concerned about me since this was my first experience and did not want to scare me from returning.  My response was, “yes, aren’t we to expect the unexpected?”  Camp was challenging and eventful even to the nth hour.  Two more campers in my cabin became ill the morning of our day of departure.  I was so grateful that one of them, who usually had to be coaxed to go to the bathroom, went to the bathroom on her own and before any aide had realized she was in the bathroom until she summoned for help.  Had she soiled her clothes and needed to be cleaned what a time we would have had since all her belonging were already packed and ready to be sent to the bus and we had no time to spare.  God is so good and gracious.

Lord willing, I will serve again.  Mari, even before leaving for her mission trip to Cameroon, has already expressed an interest in going to Special Camp next year with a “team” from LAHC.  Bless her heart’s desire.  I would like to encourage you to receive God’s blessings by serving in Special Camp.