Eric with camper Bryan at Special Camp 2009

A Special Time

There was uninhibited worship and rejoicing, sincere interaction, effective teaching from God’s Word, and lots of fun activities and laughter.  Those under care were constantly shown patience, encouraged, smothered in kindness, and given respect; those giving the care worked hard and did so with joy in their hearts.

Does this sound like a “slice of heaven” on earth?  I witnessed these things taking place during JEMS Mount Hermon Special Camp, a week-long retreat ministering to those with developmental challenges.  Last June was my first time as an aide, and I would like to share some of my observations with you from this memorable week.

“This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalms 118: 24.  “Love must be sincere.” Romans 12:9

I saw campers who know a life of dependence upon on others.  There were adult campers that are non-verbal, while others repeated the same phrases several times during a short period of time.  Information was given, but quickly forgotten by some. One of the campers in my cabin was in his forties, yet required the type of assistance that I provided my daughter when she was two years old.   He is dependent on those responsible and has to trust in others to care for him.

This high level of dependency and trust I believe is tied to something else I witnessed, something very beautiful -- lives lived “moment by moment” and with sincerity.  I saw campers experiencing the joy of the here and now.  Joy was not postponed until something “worked out as planned.”  I also witnessed campers who freely expressed their affection for both God and others.  Worship was uninhibited; those who sang and danced to the Lord did so without worrying about the opinions of others.  I saw friends exchange sincere smiles, hugs, and pats on the back.  One non-verbal camper was the consummate host.  When you were in close proximity of this camper’s social circle, he would, through gestures, introduce you to the individual that he was spending time with and insist that you be included.  Seeing you talking with the friend he was interacting with before you arrived gave him tremendous pleasure.  It was wonderful to see individuals who were free to enjoy their fellowship with both God and with others and to live lives without falsehood, comparison, or worrying.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I was reminded during Special Camp that I too must have a child-like dependence on my Lord and Creator. I certainly can’t save myself, and, like it says in the verse above, I can’t do anything of significance without Him.  I’m not free to be the person I was meant to be nor do the things I was created to do without remaining in, submitting to, and trusting in Him on a moment-by-moment basis.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

When Stephanie was still a one year old, one decision that weighed heavily on my wife, Lynne and my heart was where to send Stephanie for childcare and preschool.  We had to feel good about those whom we entrusted to care for her.  She would be dependent on other adults to guide, correct, and protect her in our absence.

Similarly, the parents and/or guardians of those with developmental challenges have to trust in the Special Camp staff because of the level of dependency of their loved ones.   I can testify that I witnessed staff members providing an amazing level care for each of the campers. The utmost level of respect and dignity was shown to each individual.  In my heart, I know God was smiling because caretakers were submitting to the Lord and allowing Him to use their arms to help bathe, clothe and even trim the toenails of others.   God was able to use their mouths to give timely, gentle words of encouragement, their minds to patiently teach His Word to an audience with a wide range of learning abilities and to create fun crafts.  Those with the gift of facilitating worship were used mightily.  Staff members were given confidential information on the specific needs of each individual camper.  This compiled information was not just read; it was studied so that the best care could be provided to those in need.  During staff training time, it was stressed that the needs of individuals should always be more important than the many programs.   A lot of hard work took place in preparation for the campers, and it continued after the campers arrived; yet, all staff members, especially our directors Bruce and Val Satow, took the time to patiently provide the needed compassion and reassurance to individual campers.  Furthermore, the administrative staff constantly sought feedback on how to provide the best level of care and, more importantly, they created and maintained an environment of prayerful dependence.  There’s that word again – dependence.

Special Camp is an incredible ministry.  I hope that you would prayerfully consider how you can support and participate in meeting the needs of the developmentally challenged.  Perhaps Special Camp is a ministry that you know someone may benefit from.

In conclusion, there were many wonderful things I observed during Special Camp, but I just thought of something pretty much absent during the entire week.  It just occurred to me that I heard little if any complaining.  Of course, this probably happens when you’re surrounded by those enjoying their freedoms found in the Lord and those focused on meeting the needs of others.  Yes, the week was a hint of what is to come, a “slice of heaven.”