Saturday we said goodbye to the Hisability campers. They arrived on Tuesday as the first bus-load of campers to come in 672 days. They were excited, we were excited, counselors were excited….and very nervous! Our family was blessed to be a part of this week on East Side with these beautifully unique campers. Jim continued normal office work as well as covering a few other tasks. I played piano in chapels for the campers. Grace oversaw the female counselors for the week. Mary Emma was an east side kitchen tech in the program for high school aged workers. And Lydia went in and out of camp having fun with the various activities. So all of us, in different ways, were able to be around and interact with the campers. You’ll not likely see a more appreciative group of campers around Barakel than the Hisability campers. Adults between the ages of 18 and 50, with a variety of different physical and mental impairments, many of whom come year after year. Many of them are enthusiastic in ways that most of us are too inhibited to allow ourselves to be. Often unfiltered and earnest, they come to learn and have fun, but in the process all of us who work with them learn and have fun right alongside of them. I found myself reminded of valuable things as I observed and participated in things this week.
First, I was reminded to slooowwwww dowwwwnnnn. Our world has gone and gotten itself in a big hurry. And even up here in the north woods, while it often moves at a slower pace than downstate, life at camp can encourage hurry. There’s a certain value put on speed and efficiency while working at camp, although most often unspoken. I’ve personally been aware of it many times as one of the “new ones”. When tasks are being completed – perhaps cleaning or baking – I don’t move with the same efficient speed as the more experienced staff. I don’t know where things are or how things are done and have to ask lots of questions. That often irks the perfectionist side of me. I don’t like the feeling of not knowing the right way or of being uncertain what to do. It’s much more comfortable to know exactly what needs to be done and to be the one efficiently moving through tasks. In the last year I’ve had to learn to sit with that discomfort a bit. And this week gave me a very tangible reminder that it is ok to slow down and not feel like fast and hurried is the only way. Sure we want to be good stewards of our time. But there is value in slowing down, listening, learning, being present with people. This was a great reset button while we collectively plow forward into summer. A great reminder of putting the people we serve over the tasks we complete in order to serve them.
Second, this week was a great reminder of the need for compassion, compassion, compassion. True Christlike compassion. Our humanity so often gets in the way of that doesn’t it? It’s so easy to be harsh and judgmental, being hard on others when they frustrate us or offend us. This week creates a moment by moment need to love people as they are, with no judgement for what they can or cannot do. To remember that everyone carries a struggle of some sort. Maybe with these campers that struggle was very visible and obvious, but all of us have a struggle even if it isn’t easily visible to everyone we meet. So it was good to be reminded to look with more compassion on others.
At the end of the week our family had opportunity to all “debrief” a bit together over the weekend. And as we did, the conversation hovered continuously around our experiences with Hisability week. The conversation might lull or change direction for just a moment, but then it came right back to something about our experiences that week. Each of us had interactions with campers to share, or things we learned and noticed, or challenges we stepped in and helped with, or ways we were blessed in knowing these campers. We even had the songs from the puppets in chapel stuck in our heads, rather like a week working at VBS coming away with those songs stuck in our heads!
It is not a glamorous week to be a part of. Not polished or perfected. Rather it can be messy and awkward and draining. But in the midst of that, God’s grace comes shining through. In the campers’ often off-key singing in chapel, in their sometimes loud enthusiasm, in their testimonies at the end of the week, in their loyalty to come back year after year after year. In the summer staff’s perseverance and growth as they work with their campers, in their laughter with each other as they find humor in the various challenges they find themselves in. It was truly a blessing for us to be a part of this week. Sign us up next year!
Rachel, for the Bennetts