On Wednesday I hooked up with a group of 19 young people in Cloverdale, BC for the final leg of a trip into the coastal mountains. I've come to Red Soul Rising, a camp in the "bush" along the Lillooet River, to serve in whatever way (currently I'm a breakfast cook), to spend time with long-time missionary friends Don and Mary DeHart, and I'm discovering, to learn how to build leaders and disciples in the context of the local church.
Ron Kirkeeng has been the youth pastor at Crystal Lake Evangelical Free Church north of Chicago for a decade and a half or so. That means he's leading his second generation of young men and women, pastoring and mentoring them. Crystal Lake is not a small church, and Ron regularly ministers to over 150 teenagers each week. For almost that many years Ron has taken a team from his youth and some post-youth singles to staff a camp - not the typical US 21st century version of camp - for 9-13 year old Native American kids.
The camp has to be re-set up every year, and an advance team, mostly from CL church drive up a week early with supplies, gas cookers and staples for the week. Then, four days before the camp actually starts the majority of the team - this year 19 - fly in to Seattle, rent vans and make the 6 hour drive up to camp. The costs for each team member are covered by the team member. They must raise the majority of the funds, over $1000 each, for plane fare, food, transportation, etc.
When they get here they work! Camp has to be cleaned up. Logs and branches are moved to piles where they'll be burned in the winter. Tents are set up (no cabins or AC here). The "pool" - a hole dug into the earth and lined with a heavy black rubber tarp - has to have the accumulation of snow and rain water pumped out. Then the liner is removed and pressure washed and replaced. Two logs of substantial size were carried by a dozen or so to help hold down the sides. Finally water is pumped in via pvc pipe from an adjacent mountain stream.
These youth are the kitchen staff as well. Everyone is expected to be a self-starter and do what needs to be done without being told. About a third of them are first-timers, being shown the ropes by their veteran friends. Servanthood is the lifestyle here. And all this is in preparation for the week of campers.
They'll learn cross-cultural skills, teamwork, following orders, and lots of selflessness. They'll only get to bathe every few days and that in a natural hot spring. The girls washed their hair in an icy cold mountain river yesterday evening
What impresses me most is the longevity of this relationship. Sean, now 26 and 2nd in "command" started coming here to serve when he was thirteen. Many are in their 4th, 5th and 6th years of giving up two weeks in July to invest in the lives of First Nations' kids. Those with jobs either take vacation to do this or simply lose two weeks of summer income. And while they'll all tell you they're having fun, the fun is not game-centered, but the fun of growing mature and building life-long memories, disciplines and relationships.
These "kids" are in the Word every day and learning from one another what it truly means to give up something to invest in eternal things. The level of commitment has to be strong to do what they're doing. Pre-trip requirements were set high. Classes and meetings were mandatory. There is no place here for whining and slackness is not tolerated in a gracious way.
I don't know Crystal Lake Church at all. But if I was a betting man I'd
put a year's wages on the strength of their church and that their youth
are at the heart of that strength. I'm sure these are the cream of the crop. As they mature into adulthood and take the roles of church leadership in the years ahead they'll be prepared. As they face the tough challenges of life that face everyone, they won't falter because they've learned spiritual toughness.
These young people show that they don't need everything handed to them. I'm grateful to stand back and see how God is shaping them through hard work for which they have willingly volunteered. They're putting their hands to the plow here in the wilderness. They've left their nets and are following Christ in ways that will set the path for the rest of their lives.
And I'm learning from them!