I never knew that the Lord would lead me towards one of my greatest passions in life through going to a camp.
As a child, I would occasionally run into people with special needs, and I never knew how to communicate with them. To be honest, it frightened me that they weren’t able to speak or move about the same way I could.
During my freshman year of high school, my church was taking a group of kids in to serve at Camp Barnabas, and I decided to go. Camp Barnabas is a place where children and adults with physical and/or mental disabilities can go for a week and get to do things they normally wouldn’t get to do at home: for example, these activities include climbing a ropes course, swimming, creating pottery, canoeing, fishing, and so much more. Campers are assigned to a teenage volunteer who will hang out with them the whole week with one-to-one interaction.
After having spent a couple days at Camp Barnabas, Jesus totally rocked my world. He began to show me how beautiful people with special needs are and how they see the world in a totally different way than I do. I was humbled getting to encourage and love those sweet campers, and my life was forever changed.
I later served as a missionary two more times, and I got to be a camper’s best friend for a week. The campers have supplied me with a lifetime of joy, but more importantly, they care for others so well. I had one camper who would never be upset or angry with any person, but she would get angry at inanimate objects. For example, if someone accidentally tripped her with their foot, she would get angry at the shoe and not the person. Campers get excited about the simplest joys in life — for example, being content with just sitting in a bean bag to get a break from being in their wheelchairs all day or dancing with a staffer at the camp dance parties. Most would say people with special needs don’t get to experience life fully, but I highly disagree and say they experience life fuller than some of us in this world ever will.
This past summer, I got the incredible opportunity to be on staff for half the summer at Camp Barnabas. My prayer going into the summer was that Jesus would confirm that I need to work with special needs throughout my life, and He answered so much more than that.
I got to experience camp on new levels than I had going as a volunteer. At the beginning of each week, the missionaries would arrive, pray over and pick their campers. The next day, campers arrived, and the staff and volunteers made each individual camper feel like a rock star entering camp. Throughout each week, I was amazed at how much the campers taught me about Jesus and His love.
One week, a camper shared her testimony to our cabin for the very first time and rededicated her life to Christ in front of all of us. Another week, my co-staffer and all of the missionaries and I prayed that the Lord would soften a camper’s heart, and by the end of camp, she was weeping because she had to leave.
Camp Barnabas is a ministry like none other, and I’m honored and forever grateful to be a part of it. Each and every camper that comes through those gates at camp is made in the image of God, and He makes no mistakes.