Thursday, August 06, 2009

Camp Cherokee: where normal is as it should be

I love where I work. I feel privileged to be amongst such an amazing group of individuals, many of whom willingly gave up lucrative jobs to come minister here at camp. Camp Cherokee truly is an exceptional place. But, like Shama said, it is the people that make it that way.

There are very few places that have such quality staff all in one place as we have here. At Cherokee, it is a normal occurrence for campers to see staff in the early morning hours scattered around camp with their Bibles, spending time with God. It is a normal occurrence to walk in on spontaneous prayer sessions and spirited spiritual discussions. It is normal to see staff members carrying their Bibles or other religious books from waterfront to pool to cafe to horses, just in case they might have a few minutes of free time to read.

It is normal to see staff hugging campers, sharing testimonies, and singing hymns. It is normal to walk in on staff cheerfully doing piles and piles of dishes while listening to a Symphony. It is normal to hear discussions on topics like physics, music, medicine, nature, and other intellectual subjects. It is normal to see staff members taking time on their day off to bake pies and other goodies for their secret pals. It is normal for staff to visit the neighbors, taking them cookies and listening to their stories. It is normal for song service to be accompanied by cellos, violins, oboe, flute, and piano.

It is normal for the family campers, adults and children alike, to break down in tears at the end of the week because they don't want to leave this spiritual haven. This place is so different from the hectic chaos that many of them come from. They have seen a glimpse of a "more excellent way" and, for many of them, it's almost too good to be true.

Full-time, no-breaks, even-when-no-one-is-looking ministry is normal here at Camp Cherokee. I can't even begin to tell you how rare that is, especially for summer camps. Many of the staff here have worked at other SDA camps and every single one will attest to the fact that Camp Cherokee is in a completely different category. If you were to take away the pastor, skits, and even the whole spiritual "program" that is presented, you would still see God everywhere. Because He lives in the heart, mind, and life of each staff member here.

It is normal for miracles to happen here at Camp Cherokee. We are small. We run on a shoe-string budget. But God comes through, time and time again. I couldn't count the number of direct, overt miracles that took place just during staff training week and have continued to happen ever since. Take, for example, Shannon. She's from California. She's a Water Safety Instructor (WSI). We are required to have a WSI on staff in order to teach swimming lessons, an important part of any kids-camper's experience. Our previous WSI didn't return and our camp director was urgently praying that God would send someone. Then he receives a call from Shannon. She wants to work at camp. How did she find us? Out of the blue, she GOOGLED "SDA camp New York", found Camp Cherokee, and applied. God sent us a WSI, from California.

At this moment, I am watching a group of family campers help rebuild an important retaining wall that has been slowly shifting its way down the hill towards the lake. These are campers who are donating their vacation time which they have paid money for in order to help camp. This type of thing happens all the time. It is normal to get phone calls from previous campers wanting to know how they can help, what they can donate. It always happens just after a new need arises.

The greatest miracle, however, is the miracle of a changed life. Like *Jaden. He is eight years old and full of life, pain, and a yearning to be loved. His blue eyes sparkle with mischief and fun and he always has an impish grin on his face, unless he isn't getting what he wants. He came with the speaker for tween week, who had given him a home for the summer. His family situation is, at best, sad. When he first arrived at camp, it didn't take long for the staff to realize what a handful he would be. He pitched fits, he refused to listen, ran off in anger, and generally caused problems wherever he went. He was starved for firm boundaries, healthy attention, and most of all, love. Little by little, the staff began to get through to him. With everyone working together to enforce rules and let him know what was acceptable, he quickly began to realize that things were going to be different here. Love was poured out. I would frequently walk up to see Joel rocking him as he cried after having pitched a fit. He stayed for two weeks and the change we saw in him was incredible. Stephen (his counselor) told me that he asked if he could read his Bible every night by flashlight. By the end, he was obedient (most of the time) and showed affection openly. He went around multiple times telling us all goodbye and I cried as I watched him hug my brother. He was going back to his family. I haven't seen him since but I know his time here made a huge difference. Camp changes lives, mine included.

I am incredibly blessed to be at a place where God works miracles each and every day, where faith is exercised, love is tangible, and lives are changed. I am blessed to be at Camp Cherokee, where "normal" is as it should be.

*Name changed


shama said...

I love it, Christy. Nicely put.

Johonn said...

no wonder you guys are always telling us to come visit! Awesome description.

Aaron Purkeypile said...

Thanks for this one, C.

Little Christen said...

That's beautiful! I wish I could've experienced that. :) But that's kind of how I feel when I'm at Southern...minus the homework. ;) It's all about the environment and the people that make it special and spiritually uplifting. I'm very thankful that you all are my friends.

Jonas said...

God + you guys have started something amazing there. Carry the light.

I just noticed your widget of Homeland Security news. I wish they had a National Freedom Alert.

Andrew Whtilow said...

There is no place like Camp Cherokee! Thanks for all the work that you do as programing director. May God continue to bless our camp, the staff, and the campers that come.

Christy Joy said...

John Elliott - yeah, that would be cool. I wish they had one too.

Joel said...

Almost too good to be true :D

Good post Christy!

Francis said...

This IS the heart of Camp Cherokee. I'm lucky that I've kept coming until the last few years, when I can see it clearly. Very nice post, Christy.

No matter what differences or disagreements we have, unity of purpose brings us together.

Christy Joy said...

Absolutely, Francis! Your presence at camp again this summer was definitely a blessing. I'm glad you came back.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I haven't read this before, but it couldn't be more true! Thanks Kristi for all your hard work last summer :P

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