Camp, surfing, snorkelling and basketball.
Not your traditional form of Christian ministry. Even more unusual was the fact that our team was serving at a non-Christian camp where we weren’t allowed to bring up the name ‘Jesus’.
Outreach was just around the corner and our first stop was in Sydney to help out at a youth camp. As we prepared we were asked to run a couple of different sessions for the campers. Together we had created a skit based around the concept of identity and planned to follow the presentation with a testimony, sharing stories about how we, personally had found our identity in Jesus. It was only at the last minute that we found out we couldn’t explicitly share Jesus with the campers.
This was hard for our team to hear because we were expecting to be actively evangelising on outreach and this threw a spanner in the works. Our ideas of what “outreach” or “missions” looks like were challenged.
How do you introduce Jesus to a person without mentioning His Name?
This was the question we didn’t know how to answer, and it was frustrating. However, we should have known better than to underestimate God.
Fifteen campers arrived at Stand Tall Camp on the first day to begin a five-day retreat from difficult home lives. They were anxious and unsure of what to expect. Our team was to build relationships with these teenagers, teens who didn’t always feel safe with adults or authority figures, and we weren’t too sure where to start.
The camp had invited a number of acclaimed Australian public figures to mentor the campers, teach them practical sports skills and speak on a diverse range of issues. Our job was to provide emotional support and to be an unchanging, reliable presence in the lives of the campers throughout the week.
Our expectations for what these campers would be like were dramatically different from the reality. For teenagers who came from unstable backgrounds, they were, for the most part, open and trusting with us from very early on. We weren’t able to talk about Jesus, but it was apparent that they felt His comforting Presence regardless.
We did not mention the name ‘God’ once, but several of the campers were greatly impacted by our skit and were soon asking questions about our faith and personal stories.
From that moment on many of the campers opened up to us completely, sharing their own stories and choosing to hang out with us even during their “phone time”.
By the end of the week, we were only just beginning to realise the impact that we actually had on this amazing group of teenagers. We found that because we were diving in the deep (and even facing our own fears) in surfing and snorkelling, so were the campers! They were inspired by us to have fun and to make friends with one another based on the friendships they saw within our team.
On the last day, a few of the campers even got up to publically thank us. We were astounded at the impact our team had made on the teens.
“This has been one of the best weeks of my life” one of the campers exclaimed.
Another piped up, “Thanks to you guys, I finally know how to trust someone. I also know what it is like to live in a caring family.”
In less than a week, we saw a complete transformation in the lives and attitudes of the teenagers that first came to us so nervous and unsure. I doubt that their circumstances would have changed but in that week, the love of Jesus was poured out through our active friendship with the campers – and they knew it. We hope and pray that this glimpse of unconditional love was enough to help them realise their own value in this world.
As for our team, we learned a valuable lesson. We can introduce Jesus through our actions just as much, in not even more so, than through our words. Walking alongside the campers as they worked through their hardships, supporting and encouraging them even while we fought through our own, showed us how we too, can stand tall.
By Samantha Merry
YWAM DTS – Compassion Student