I’ve really struggled to start writing this blog because I just had no idea where to start. It’s been two weeks on from finishing camp and I have had time to process and reflect on what God has done over the summer, lessons I’ve learnt and how I’ve changed as a person. So now I’ts finally time for me to share my 2 and a half month journey of my unfolding of how I belong at camp Sonshine.
25th of May, 2017 – My mum and I jumped on a train to stay in Sydney for the night before my journey To Lincoln, Nebraska began. I remember sitting with her talking about camp and reading over the training manual. This was the moment when it all became real for me, when my emotions started to go crazy yet take control at the same time. I was filled with wonder of what could be, fear of the unknown and Joy because God chose me to go on this journey with him. Sitting on that train I had absolutely no idea what I was about to step into nor did I know the experiences I was about to have.
It got to the morning of me leaving and I was an anxious wreck. I have never felt so scared to do something before. My journey to Nebraska alone was 3 flights and about 2 days worth of travelling. Keep in mind I am PETRIFIED of flying and I had no idea what I was doing. If I’m being completely honest at this stage I didn’t want to go. I didn’t think I was capable enough. All I felt was doubt and fear but thank goodness my incredible Jesus stepped in and carried me the whole way. As soon as I said good bye to my mum and step dad at the airport I felt nothing but peace. This was a big leap of faith and a defining moment in my walk with God and I am so thankful I was obedient and listened.
Fast forward a few days – I have arrived! As soon as my plane landed and I got greeted by Lauren, Lulu and Adrianna with open arms and smiling faces. I knew this is where I was meant to be. I knew this season was going to be life changing.
The meeting process began. I remember feeling nothing but overwhelmed at this stage because I felt so connected to everyone almost instantly. I can honestly say I have never met a bunch of people as beautiful as the team I was blessed to work with this summer. Each of them made me feel welcome, loved and accepted. They were each a beautiful representation of what a Christian should be. They were different because Jesus shone through them.
I am changed because of the things God has done in not only me but through the people around me this summer.
During our training week we were asked to write out a vision for the summer, our goal, our purpose, what we wanted to achieve. When I first got accepted into camp Sonshine after reading their visions and values I said to mum “This seems like the type of camp I would have needed when I was younger”.
As much as I knew this summer, the people, Nebraska and camp Sonshine was a part of my new beginning, my purpose for the next few months was about others.
I love to encourage so this summer that’s exactly what my vision was.
Growing up I was an anxious little being and a lot of people Judged me for who I was and I HATED how that made me feel so I wanted to use my past experiences to help empower and encourage young people that they are enough, they are loved and they are worthy just the way they are – the way God made them. Each week I taught my girls about how much God loves them and how important it is to love themselves. I did this through talking about their fears, picking up rocks as a representation of what they had just stated their fears were and threw them into the pond so they are now rid of what ever it is that was holding them back. I did it through reading my all time favourite book – You are special by Max Lucado, I did it by filling up each others buckets – We would get in a circle and say something we liked about the person to our left. I did it by reading them Psalm 139 and then getting them to write down and speak out loud 3 things they loved about themselves to the group.
I was blessed to be given the opportunity to work alongside each age group over the summer. Through each of the precious beings I became friends with came many lessons.
I remember sitting in my room at my host home one Wednesday night, I was praying to God because I didn’t feel as connected my group as I had hoped on this particular week. I was praying for answers as to how to make a connection with them in the space of 2 days. I heard God instantly and as clear as anything.. Be vulnerable.
The more I thought about it the more it made sense and the more I sat on the thought of vulnerability with Children the louder God spoke.
I have been through a fair bit in my 21 years of living and I know that it hasn’t been for no reason so why shouldn’t I share my life with my girls? I prayed for the opportunity to be vulnerable with my little loves and I prayed it would be in God’s time. It says in the bible if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains. Boy oh boy did mountains move that week. It came to Thursday afternoon and my group had become really interested in the concept of Heaven and hell. The girls shot out questions left right and centre during that afternoon group time. I kept praying as we had one more day left that their interest in this would continue. It got to Friday night during the over nighter and I decided to have my group by the archery stalls (right where everyone had their belongings to move into teepees and tents). I didn’t think the group would go for as long as it did but I heard God say loud and clear again.. Be vulnerable. So I struck up a conversation about how I felt the presence of Jesus and I started to share about my personal relationship with him. By doing this that then lead my beautiful girls to do the same thing. We spoke about our fears, things we’ve overcome with God, our self worth, our crappy times and how God has moved in our hearts.
I was super hesitant to share about a few things because the girls I had were 8 and 9 years old but I trusted God and shared about how dad had passed away and how God bought me through that time of my life. Being vulnerable really pays off because my girls shared about their experiences with death too. I remember when I shared this, my girls paused, some came and sat closer to me, some held my hand, others gave me their friendship bracelets they had made from earlier on in the week. There was a distinctive moment where one girl (I call her angel face or joy face because you feel nothing but happiness when you are around her, she is anointed with the love of Jesus and it is so so evident) She looked at me when she was sharing one of her life stories and She quoted the bible verse “Our God is a father to the fatherless”. I was so taken back because I was being encouraged by a 9 year old. She also shared an incredible story of how she felt the presence of Jesus. She said “I feel Jesus in my dreams, I have this dream where I am running up to Jesus on his throne and then we just embrace with this big hug”. This group time went on for about an hour when we were only given 20 minutes. All while these conversations were happening we had so many distractions around us with people moving their belongings, other groups were really loud as well as others packing up from s’more time. God gave me the opportunity to connect with my group in a way I never have before. We didn’t just have surface conversations, we were able to go deeper – We cried together, we prayed together and we felt the presence of Jesus TOGETHER. All because I was able to have the courage to be vulnerable. I will be forever thankful to my incredible Saviour for that moment.
The next big lesson I want to talk about is obedience. Obedience to God in my opinion is never going to be something simple but the outcome is going to be phenomenal. My first lesson of obedience on this journey was listening clearly to what God had called me to do. I was in shock when things started to piece together so quickly and so easily for me to come over to Nebraska. I had no idea why I was called to the middle of America to do a summer camp but I knew in my heart that I had a peace that I had never experienced before and I had to go.
It was the end of week 2 when I was sitting in a local church I attended during my time in America (Mosaic! Best church I have ever been to) when I felt God telling me to open up to John 13. I had absolutely no clue what story of the bible it was going to be but I was eager to find out. I began to read, It was the story of Jesus washing his deciples feet. My stomach instantly got butterflies and my heart began to tingle… I knew the Holy Spirit was calling me to not only share this story with my group in the coming week but to actually show an act of love by washing each others feet just as Jesus did. This was petrifying to say the least. I mean, really, who wants to sit and wash someones else’s feet, let alone make this experience engaging enough that the focus will still be on Jesus? The week started and days kept going by, I still couldn’t muster up the courage to do this devotion. This particular week was my absolute favourite week of camp ever because of the bond I shared with my girls completely through Jesus, it was incredible but I was still scared to go through with my devotion. It finally got to Friday and I knew I had to do it or I would be filled with utter regret knowing this is something God had specifically called me to do. We had just finished doing some spontaneous Yoga in the rain because the girls didn’t want to continue with pool time as it was a little cooler that day, we sat down for lunch underneath the white tent and we finished a lot earlier than expected.. It was time. God even gave me an extra 20 minutes to do this devotion. I went to Walmart the night before and bought some bath salts and moisturiser to make the experience a little more fun for the girls. We sat in a circle and I began to tell them the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet, I focussed on the fact that it was a complete act of love. I then told them that we, as a group, were going to wash each others feet just as Jesus did. At this stage I was SO scared of the reaction I was going to get but I was taken by surprise. The girls couldn’t wait to do it! they thought it was super fun and they grasped the concept of why they were doing it. They told me that it made them feel special, loved and relaxed. Then all the girls crowded around me to wash my feet and oh my, it was honestly the most humbling experience I have ever had in my life. We then went on to imagining how it would feel if Jesus washed our feet. I loved watching as their faces beamed with absolute joy and wonder of what it would be like. My girls have were so hungry for God, so eager to learn about him and were such a reflection of all he is.
A few weeks after doing this, I got a little note from a mum from one of the girls in my group that week. It said.. “Bethany, Anya absolutely loved you. And it wasn’t just that you were fun, when I asked about her favourite part of the day she shared about your devotions and about you washing her feet. Thank you so much for being more than just a councelor. Thank you for purposely living out Jesus to my girl. She already misses you.”
With Obedience comes blessings that you can’t even comprehend.
As wonderful as camp has been, I’d be lying if I said my growth was only through the good times because everyone that walks with Jesus knows that our real growth comes through the hard times and man oh man did those times come. I’m all about being real, raw and honest with my feelings and my writing so here it goes.
It got to the last few weeks of camp where I really started to struggle, I struggled in ways that I never have before. I struggled because I was doing ministry work, the work of the Lord. Looking back now it’s more of a compliment because the enemy saw me as a threat. There were so many times in those last few weeks where I just wanted to throw in the towel and give up. I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained. I was burnt out and I knew in those weeks I couldn’t do camp alone. The only reason I was able to finish was because of God’s strength. Working 12 hours days outside in 45 degree heat is not something my body would be able to do for 5 days a week normally. Not being able to talk to my family because I was working so much that when I would be awake they would be asleep and when they would wake up I’d be doing camp. Not being able to spend more than 20 minutes alone with God because my mind was so distracted with planning for the next day of camp, spending time building relationships with people that I met in America or trying to have some time to only think about myself. From almost fainting a number of times, throwing up in corn fields, being sweaty, smelly and gross my God came through. I cried out to him (literally) because I was done but he wasn’t. I was sitting outside of the barn one night at camp and I was praying for help, I was praying for signs, I was praying for anything to get me through these next few weeks.
God started talking to me through the book of Philippians in the bible. It is essentially a bunch of letters from Paul writing to Philipi while he is in prison, in literal chains for having a faith. I know that my situation is nothing like Pauls but I took comfort in the fact that to some degree I felt like I was able to relate because I had to completely rid myself of me and all the things that I found comfort in to serve God in a way that I never have before. I was reminded that I have been called to Nebraska all the way from Australia to serve God. God chose me! He chose me to love on all of these little American babes and use me as a vessel to pour his love on them. WHAT A FREAKING HONOUR!
I received all of these verses in my time of a breakdown.
Isaiah 43:19 – See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Philippians 2:13 – For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Philippians 2:17 – But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.
Philippians 4:4-7 – Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:13 – For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:19 – And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 – Always be joyful. Never stop praying.
The list goes on and on to how much I have learnt and how much God has taught me over these last few months but I am changed because I’ve learnt how to be completely obedient, I am changed because I have learnt how to be vulnerable, I am changed because I have learnt to love like Jesus loves, I am changed because I now know my capability of how far I can push myself and I can only do that because of God’s strength, I am changed because I have learnt how to surrender the things I am comfortable with, I am changed because I let God do what he wants even when I am scared. I am changed because I belong at camp Sonshine.