**Disclaimer**This is incredibly long and actually is missing LOTS of details. But it is more for my remembering and experience, so I won't be hurt if you don't read it, or just skim it. I haven't read through it all yet, but I am sure there are grammatical errors...here is part of my heart and part of the details...to really know it you have to experience it. There just aren't words...although I certainly tried. :)
My Camp Barnabas Experience...
I was so excited to get to go on the mission trip this summer, as it was my first since children (ie. three years). I love getting to hang out with the youth group, serve alongside my husband, and just have a change of pace and scenery. Well I did get to do all of these things this year, but I got much more than I bargained for.
Camp Barnabas is a camp for the mentally and physically disabled (young and old). We were there during Adult Friends Week (18 & older with Mental Retardation/Down Syndrome as the main disability). I was kind of sad on the way there that we weren't there for the "kids" weeks, which is mainly every other week all summer besides week 1. But hindsight, it was such a blessing and truly think that we probably had it the easiest as far as the neediness of the group (certainly as a whole, not all individually because some of the campers were INCREDIBLY difficult, but as a whole, much easier probably to handle than the rest (as a whole)).
The theme this year was Deeply Rooted, Jeremiah 17:8
We arrived at camp and were immediately kind of thrown into a mass amount of confusion and chaos. The first 24 hours of camp is training for the CIAs(Christian in Action) (aka volunteer workers). I think I had pictured that there were going to be only a few others working alongside of "us" as we were a big group of 30. We arrived to see lots and lots and lots of other people. Then we all got our assignments to realize we were completely split up all through camp and that 7 of our youth were not assigned to be CIAs but rather Barnstormers (age 14-15 year olds that clean camp, clean bathrooms, serve food, and clean kitchen/dishes for 500 + people all week). I think that had we prepared them for this, it wouldn't have been such a shock to the system, but none of knew this was coming. So, this was our first real "kink" of the week. However, our kids did a superb job of stepping up to the task and sucking it up...well at least by the end of the week for sure :).
We got all of our things unloaded (rather chaotic) and figured out (after 3 hours) exactly where everyone should be. Training had begun and we were just thrown into the mix of things...and when I say mix...I mean MIX...the whole first 24 hours of camp could be described as a CHAOS and only chaos...
Our kids were very upset and really just didn't have any foundation at all because we were so split up that they really were forced (in the end a good thing) to make new friends and/or get really close with God :) (awesome). Training was good. I think they do a great job of getting it done and done well in a short time period. However, there are only so many words that can be said before you just have to jump in HEAD FIRST and experience it and hope you don't screw up.
So by end of this day we've already had lots and lots of tears, angry words, sad words, frustration by all, but we're here. And trying to grin through it.
We had rest (although I didn't sleep AT ALL that night) and got up to have more training through the whole morning. That went well although I do believe some of our kids were way scared by this point. Changing diapers, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, and looking after someone who could be their (grand)parent yet had the mental capacity of a child aged 3-12 was starting to sink in...
We were also told that there would not be time for us to ever meet as a group and this, needless to say, ruffled lots of feathers--roughly 30! We weren't prepared for this at all. The kids thought (as well as all of us) that we'd have time to be together for support, debriefing, etc, but when you have to be "on call" 24 hours a day with your camper/cabin it makes it difficult to do. We managed to get one meeting in one day during nap time and that was great...and so needed.But that was a hard pill to swallow!
Campers come ("the Campers are Coming") after lunch. That is just insane (in a good way). I cried a lot. I teared up with almost every new coming camper. They were tears of fear, joy, excitement, overwhelming inadequacy, etc etc. It was tough. But most every camper was there as a returning camper (only 10-15 first year-ers). They love this place and it is HEAVEN ON EARTH for them in every way imaginable. They just light up. We welcome them Kanakuk style (crazy loud cheers, chants, jumping, high fives, dress up clothes, music, etc)...it was hot but fun.
The camp had begun. Everyone had their camper assignments. Some had only one camper and some had two campers (typically easier, more independent ones). Campers arrived at 4-6 and by dinner at 6:30 some of our kids were wiped out. There were LOTS more tears from LOTS more kids this evening.
My role at camp was a little different than the ENTIRE rest of our group. I was kind of sad about it at first, especially when the campers were barrelling through and I didn't "get" one. But I was assigned a cabin to be with and I spent lots of time with them. I also had the opportunity to meet ALL the campers when they came through arts and crafts. I helped out 3 other ladies and we had lots of fun in there. I liked it. Eventually I got to see why God had me there and that really I wouldn't have rather been in any other situation. It was perfect, it just took me a little while to see it.
Back to the evening. We have parties every night. This night was the Game Show party. It was one of my favs for sure. I enjoyed it. The campers LOVED it. They loved it. I won't go into all the details, but it was hilarious. My jersey (volleyball from college) was worn by 2 other people and myself! That was fun to see.
That night a torrential downpour came and destroyed camp. Literally a huge tree fell on the ropes course making it irreparable for our week. The pool was FLOODED with mud....so basically it was a lake and therefore not swim-able (these campers FAVORITE activity is the pool). Not to mention, first night of camp in a "weird" place with lots and lots of thunder, rain and lightning and then also the power went out for several hours. I don't think one person in camp slept that night. It made for an interesting next day.
This night (and the night before) I was holding one of our girls from the youth group and trying my darndest to convince her to stay while the ONLY thing in the world she wanted to do was to go home. She stayed but this was emotionally draining for sure. But again, it was a neat thing in the end to see her have pushed through her fears and stuff. If I had been in a cabin I would not have been able to spend this time with her...I am thankful to have been given that opportunity. Although two nights up till midnight or later with a kid crying at the time seemed not so "fortunate" :)...but it's all good.
First full day of camp with campers on the typical daily schedule. I was in A&C all activities this day because they needed help getting them all prepared. It was fun getting to see our kids (and all the others) do such a great job with all these campers. The campers were amazing. So unique and amazing. My heart began changing on the first day I heard about them, then seeing them on opening day, I was amazed...but in the actual interaction with them through out the week, the real amazing transformation in my heart (and most of our groups') began.
The daily schedule went something like this:
6:30 CIA wake up/get ready
7:00 Camper wake up/ready
8:00 Meet for silly songs at IP (Inspirational Point)
9:30 Cabin clean up
10:00 Devotions (as cabin)
10:30 Activity 1
11:15 Activity 2
1:30-3 FOB (flat on bunk, aka. nap time)
3:00 Activity 3
4:00 Freeze (pass out Popsicles)
4:00 OATs (Open Activity Time, aka, free time as cabin)
5:00 Shower/Ready for dinner & party
8:30 Wrap-up (praise and worship, devo, prayer, announcements)
10:00 Camper sleep/CIA Family Time (individual cabin CIAs together)
11:00 CIA sleep
The schedule was very lenient because some campers/cabins were NEVER on time to anything but with some walking slowly, some in wheelchairs and some completely capable of running (faster than you would think) it was a little bit of chaos...still!
But it worked. The campers were exhausted by FOB and exhausted by bedtime. It was great! They got to do everything there. It was so neat. They danced, sang, played games, went into tree houses, rode horses, (would have swam and done ropes course), did arts and crafts, canoed, fished, played field games, learned about gardening, drank coffee, played in the playground equipment. It was just fantastic. They aren't "different" at camp. They get to be "normal" (not a fan of that term anymore...what is normal anyway?). It was just fantastic to see...
I had lots of conversations with campers throughout the week that blew me away! Some of them are so smart and even the non-verbal ones you could communicate with if you took the time. I loved that the most...taking time. Lots of time. I got time with our kids, I got time with our campers, I got time with other campers, I got time with the nurses, I got time with the head people (Cyndy Teas)...it was just neat for a week to have real genuine conversations with people face to face...not through blogs, emails, texts, or even phones. I wrote over 30 letters (at least one to every person there with our group and some other people too)...snail mail....its a good thing.
By the end of Wednesday I think we were all worn out and beyond tired. It is so wearing to care for someone 24 hours a day...especially those that are 200+ pounds in wheelchairs up camp hills...But at the same time when you can't possibly do it yourself, you have to do it somehow, God shows up and gets you through it all. He did that in mighty ways...one of our youth surrendered her life to the Lord this week...and for that ALL of it was worth it...:)
We had some serious "kinks" this week:
Virus (stomach bug with exits out both ends) for several kids
Hyper extended arm (elbow)
*I got an eye infection from a cut and wore a patch and was without my contact in my right eye...not fun...not one bit!
Ticks (with Lyme Disease)
Drama, Drama and more Drama than I could have ever imagined!
We had really tough campers that were matched up with some of kids...there were others that were tougher not matched with our kids specifically but that were in cabins with us. It was eye opening. It was so tough for all of them. It was draining on every level imaginable and then some. But. IT.WAS.GOOD!
Overall the trip was so good. It was harder than anyone thought possible...but it was amazing at the same time. All the girls (and boys) that were crying daily to go home the first 4 days weren't wanting to leave by the time Saturday rolled around. This camp isn't for everyone and we certainly had a few that probably won't come back, but man, it was fantastic....this camp is amazing and is such a dire NEED for these sweet special people! I can't wait to go back.
Last Full Day of Camp:
Everyone was tired but in a good routine and realizing that it was all going to be over very fast. That night was the only non party night. It was Cross Carry night and that was hard on the campers. It is where the cross is removed from IP and is carried down through camp from cabin to cabin in honor of all the campers who have passed away (camp has been running for 13 years). They are all high emotion people and this was a crazy night of lots of comforting and tears and fears etc. It was hard but good. After this was what they call Say So where campers can tell what the learned, what camp means to them, etc at the mike. They all love to be center of attention as it is, so add a mike to the mix and lets just say it was a long night, but so sweet to hear their hearts. Neat people there...neat neat people they are!
Up and ready for breakfast like normal and then packing and cleaning and signing shirts and exchanging contact information galore. The parents (guardians) begin to arrive and that is sad. The campers don't want to go home. Most of us don't want them to. Sad day.
This is really where my heart lies on my whole experience: my heart breaks for the parents. We had the adults...some only in their 20s but lots in their 40s-60s and their parents for their whole lives have been taking care of them 24-7. There is NO light at the end of their tunnel. There is no hope for them to heal (on earth). They don't get to have date nights with babysitters. They are getting old themselves and are scared about what will happen to their children once they pass on. I can't imagine. It makes me sick that I complain so much about being a parent to two healthy children. I get a light. Right now it is 16 years out...but it is there. I have hope that by the time they reach 6 they won't be in diapers, nursing, and will sleep well. Those parents don't have that and never did! I can't imagine. I feel for them so deeply. Lots of them were spectacular parents and I am so glad we were able to help serve them by giving them a much deserved and needed week off...however there were some there that the "job" had been too hard for them and you could tell it was not with excitement that they picked up their child (adult). That was hard to see too...but I am certainly not one to judge them...they absolutely have the hardest job in the world...
I loved Camp Barnabas. Loved the overall experience! It is tough. It is taxing. But there is nothing better...
If you think you might be interested in going next year as a volunteer in ANY capacity please let us know, or just contact Camp Barnabas (Laura Edwards) directly too. We are going back!
I left out so much...but I am tired. There are specific things I am still chewing on and might share here later...
Please visit pictures at our flickr site...there you can see them all! (I still can't add photos for some reason)