I was just 17 years old when I traveled to Romania to spread the Word of God. My peers and I spent our days and evenings on Romanian streets singing, teaching and cuddling with children who roamed about. We wanted them to know the Lords love and to know they could develop a personal relationship with Him. It was overwhelming and intense. It created a range of emotions. I knew it might be years before I had this type of opportunity again and I tried to soak it in so that God could use me as best He could. I realized that I might never know the impact we would make.
It has been nearly 14 years since then and I am now a mother of four. I do not know if it is something I will ever do again but for now, my children are my mission field. Growing up I thought of the mission field as people who didn't know Jesus. As the years have passed, I have come to realize that the mission field comes in a variety of forms. It is the inner-city homeless. It is the single parent. It is a widowed parent working full time. It is the elderly person across the street with no nearby family. It is the recovering addict sitting beside me in church, striving to remain clean for the Lord, family and friends. The most humbling example - my own family - the special needs family.
I first heard about Camp Attitude a few years ago. It is a family camp designed for the special needs family so they might enjoy the camping experience in a safe environment - something they rarely get to do. In the material I sifted through, "volunteer buddies" would be available to help out the families. It was also free to the entire special needs family: parents, siblings, etc. It seemed too good to be true.
We attended for the first time last week. Here, our family was the mission field. As we entered, we saw young people in yellow shirts milling about. We piled out of our car and a young man - just 18 - greeted us and pointed us to check-in. Our kids were swarmed by the teens in yellow shirts. They were off and running to the playground while we were shown too our yurt. The same young man who had first greeted us asked which yurt was ours and asked for our keys. Within minutes, that same young man and about ten others were delivering our luggage and handed us back our keys . The car had been unloaded and locked. The kids were playing happily with the "yellow shirts". We had arrived barely fifteen minutes ago. We were slowly beginning to pick up our jaws from the floor of the yurt. It was hard to do. The young man who had greeted us had two robotic, aluminum legs. We were surrounded by people who "got it". We were in heaven.
As the evening progressed, we came to understand how Camp Attitude worked. Every individual in a "red shirt" was "staff" or "servant". They are not paid - they pay to come! Those in "yellow shirts" (aka "buddies") were a youth group from the state of Washington who had also paid to be here! They ALL paid so that the families with special needs might come for FREE! We are their mission field this week. The "buddies" were to serve all kids in any way possible: run along side them, push them on swings, give wagon rides, take those in wheelchairs on strolls, take them to various programs being offered all week, provide assistance on the boats and jet skis and time at the river...even take our meals with us!
Camp week flew and saying goodbye was heart-wrenching. Our lives have been changed and I'm already counting the months, weeks and days until next years camp. We will be back for many years to come. As I got to know the two buddies assigned to our family, I am constantly reminded of how unique my Lord is. The youth group serving as buddies this week is a Slavic based church. They are all immigrants from Russia and surrounding countries and came to America at various ages - as infants, toddlers, adolescents and a few as teens. One of our buddies was from Romania. She is 17. My family was her mission field this week. Just as I raised funds so many years ago to visit her native country to minister to children and their families, she did the same.
I was humbled to think that my family was the mission field, yet so very grateful. I grew up camping and boating. But doing such things with my own family seemed impossible as Dylan began to grow. It could be dangerous. But at Camp Attitude it is not. We rode in a hot air balloon with a wheelchair ramp. (There are only four in the US.) Dylan and I rode on a jet ski....our driver had an artificial right foot and lower leg. We have stayed in safe accommodations and I slept soundly, knowing that Dylan could not escape and wander down to the river or deep into the woods.
Do I think it was coincidence that our buddies were native to an area I once had the privilege of doing the Lords work? No, I don't. I have often thought back to the time I spent in Romania, wondering how the Lord used me as His vessel. I realize now that the Lord worked through me to show His great love and compassion to the children who sat in my lap, just as these young people did this week for my family.