Last week, I had the opportunity to run two different day camps.
The first was at Rockpoint church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. It was a gorgeous facility, with a fancy McDonalds style slide leading the way into the childrens area. We had 75 kids total, and oh boy, were they a handful. Just about each of my eight person team had a problem child or two in their groups. Each day, we battled for the kids’ attention and focus. Each day, we just barely walked away in one piece. By the time three o’clock rolled in and the kids rolled out, my staff would collapse from a day of fighting inattentive listening and bullying. They’d roll around on the floor for a while, until I came by and made them help clean up. It was a wonderful church, with fantastic staff, volunteers, and our host families were fantastic. But, oh boy, those kids were a handful.
On Thursday, after the last parents pulled their children from the bouncy castle we so kindly hauled down from camp with us, I sent my high school staff back to camp with a couple of my Program friends, who had kindly come down to get them. Then, with my team of five collegiate staff, we progressed to step two.
None of us really knew what we were getting into. The only information I got from Shamineau was that we were running a two day long kids program at an Ethiopian church in downtown Minneapolis.
It turns out, the programming we were in charge of was for an annual international conference for the church of one of the Ethiopian people groups. We were given a few rooms upstairs in the old church. Throughout the days, we could hear the conference going on–countless voices singing praises to God in a language we did not understand. We had no sound system, no internet access, and no real outside space. Some of the basics of day camp–snack time in the mornings,
Kid Snippets videos in the afternoons–that I now view as luxuries, were absent.
The day camp itself was absolutely chaotic. Throughout the days, kids came and went as they saw fit. At the beginning of the first, we had 35 youngsters. By five o’clock that evening, when our work was over, we had fifty… the youngest was three, and the oldest was twelve. The second day was less hectic, but similar.
When we arrived at the church the first day, I had the opportunity to meet the pastor. His English was rather good, although I could tell he was not wholly comfortable speaking in it. Right away, he shook my hand and said, “You are Amelia? I’ve heard your name. We are so happy to have you here!” What he next explained to me has stuck with me.
“The people of this church, we are immigrants from Ethiopia. Culturally, we are Ethiopian. We were raised Ethiopian, and that is how we live out our faith. We worship in our own language and teach in the ways of our home country. But our children, they are not Ethiopian. They were born here, they are Americans. The culture they are growing up in is different than our own. We do not know how to teach them to follow God in a way that is relevant in their culture. That is why we are so happy to have you here. You can teach our kids. We wish we could have you all the time.”
I’ve never worked in intercultural ministry before, so I was shocked to find that the pastor (and people of the church) thought so highly of us. When I look at myself, I definitely do not see a teacher equipped to raise up children in a way pleasing to God. No. I see a twenty one year old who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life whose summer job is to run around like a crazy lady in churches trying to keep kids entertained. But here were people who, within minutes of meeting me, saw me as someone with spiritual authority and knowledge, someone equipped to do what they could not. It was incredibly humbling.
And the kids, oh my goodness, those kids were thirsty for Jesus. They’d be rowdy and rambunctious during activities, but the second we started telling Bible stories and sharing about God’s love, they quieted down and began to listen. Seven little girls decided to follow Jesus for the first time, and nine rededicated their lives to Him. They asked questions, they soaked in every word. They understood that the chance to truly learn about God doesn’t come around often, and they took advantage of our presence.
It’s amazing to contrast the beginning of my week to the end.
The Rockpoint kids had everything. They had an amazing church building, all the best equipment, a gym, an outdoor playground, space to run around in, and every kind of game imaginable. But they weren’t content with that. They fought constantly. They didn’t listen. They thought their own selves were more important than the good news we came to share. Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic, wonderful kids in the bunch. But, as a whole, they were frustrating and exhausting.
Then there were the Ethiopian kids. They attend church in an old, creaky building that has little air conditioners in the windows, no gym, no balls or game equipment, and the only rooms available to them are awkward closets and corners of offices. They have no children’s ministry, no teaching. Their parents aren’t able to feed them spiritually in the way they need. And they, lacking little, were so grateful. They were so attentive, so respectful. Yes, a lot of this I do attribute to cultural differences, but at the same time… there was a genuine eagerness to learn about God.
So often, the Bible talks paradoxes like the last being first, blessed are the poor, and rich men giving up everything to gain everything. Day camp this past week reminded me of that. Where there is much, there is little true seeking. Where there is little, people are eager for the Lord.
All in all, it was an exhausting week, but definitely a blessed one. I had a blast working with the kids, was encouraged by my host family, and deeply loved my team. Here’s some photos of us working throughout the week…