Back in high school, I lived a double life. I enjoyed spending time with my friends and the youth group at my church. But I also spent time looking at porn, questioning how I fit in with guys, and lacking any strong sense of masculinity.
The summer after my junior year, I decided to volunteer at a nearby camp. Having never attended this camp — or any camp — as a camper, I had only vague expectations for my first week. It was a Christian camp so what could be bad about it, right?
Driving down that gravel road, though, all the fears and insecurities came rushing at me.
I’d have to share sleeping and a bathroom with several other guys. What if any of them are attractive? Will my struggles be obvious to them? What if I don’t fit in?
Questions, fears, lies abounded.
As I entered the guys’ cabin, two volunteers recognized the “new guy” and got me situated to a bunk, then showing me to orientation for new volunteers.
Alright. Off to a safe start, it seems.
I’d be working in the kitchen (because I wanted to) which meant working with several other volunteers as a new guy. After the first dinner with all the campers, the volunteers gathered for some icebreakers — which did their job. I got to know the other volunteers’ names and let down at least some of my initial walls.
That first night, our director gave us a challenge for the week — “The Philly Challenge.” Commit to memorize Philippians 2:1-11 either this week or by the end of summer.
My teenage mind couldn’t imagine memorizing eleven entire verses, but our director said the passage was powerful and relevant.
Despite being in a “strange” environment with people I had only just met, that week blew me away.
I was part of a group — a community — made up of 30-40 high school teenagers willing to give up a week (or more) of a summer job to serve.
Something about doing the behind-the-scenes tasks strikes a chord with me and my understanding of faith. As teenagers, serving felt even more counter-cultural.
Not only did we serve together, we also shared living quarters and meals. We met twice a day to worship.
Mornings involved songs, prayer, and reading Scripture with discussion — like honestly reading a passage, meditating on it, and coming back to share how this could impact our lives!
Evenings included more singing and prayer, and the director also included testimonies as part of our evening gatherings. “Testimony” here meant sharing some amount of your life and how you could see God working.
Each evening, two or three teens shared a year or more of their experience and how God was/is moving.
Maybe I’d just never paid attention before, but this concept of sharing how God has/is worked/working in one’s life rocked me.
I listened as my peers (who were becoming friends) shared about trials and joy and tears from their lives. I joined a new community as we gathered to pray for each person after they shared.
I was experiencing vulnerability in community for the first time.
Throughout the week, I did try and read the Philly Challenge passage several times. I found myself resonating with those verses. Our team “being like-minded, having the same love” as we served, having “the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” and knowing “God exalted Christ to the highest place that every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”
This passage described my camp-faith-living so well. Without realizing it at the time, camp swept me into community.
The songs. Serving alongside peers. Discussing the words of Jesus. Enjoying creation. Sharing insights, hurts, and lots of laughter.
To wrap up the week, volunteers gathered around a large campfire to sing and reminisce. My favorite part of campfire was “Barnabas-ing” where we set aside time to encourage one another before leaving.
Hearing stories of how my small actions impacted my friends, how others went out of the way to love campers, volunteers, and staff, and how we saw each other growing during the week was — is — inspiring to me.
The week went by far too quickly. Thankfully, that one week I was “hired” for what would turn into four more weeks that same summer. Each week meant a new chance to serve, connect with new and familiar teens, worship, escape the pressures of society, and live in authentic, vulnerable community.
When did you experience vulnerable community for the first time? When have you intentionally served and supported others in the past, and how can you serve where you are today?
Thank you Kevin for your post…and reminder of those verses from Phil. 2. Working for a Christian service organization helped teach me many of those lessons about service. After it closed, and I was back home, I got active in my home church again, and realized I was/am not the brightest or articulate person around…but I could do something.
So, I did what I could…ushered at church each week (which I loved doing), served on some boards at church etc., but what I did enjoy was having a quiet ministry of baking breads for people at church…I would try to listen to God’s voice and then go and give them with a loaf of homemade bread to surprise and bless them. I would laugh and say I know man doesn’t live by bread alone…but a little does help! I would go and visit shut-ins and bake cookies for them…send out countless cards…well I thank the Lord for those opportunities He gave and I can’t claim credit in any way…it is what I believed God wanted me to do.
Thanks again for sharing and blessing us!
Philippians 2 has become one of my favorite passages over the years… I still go back to it when I’m unsettled.
And I LOVE that you bake for people and send notes – both things I enjoy as well! I think the small ways to love nd encourage are often times more meaningful.
amen…and thank you for your service Kevin!! Your labors are not in vain, and God will richly reward you in due season.
The first time I experienced vulnerability as a human being was when a kid came before our entire congregation and asked for prayers because he was gay. This was January 2016. It was the single bravest thing I had ever seen; me, I was too cowardly, sitting in a pew by myself, no one knowing the struggle I went through. The kid left visibly upset and ran away from home; but I knew I wasn’t alone. For the first time I outed myself to a straight, the pastor of all people, and while I was at it, I also revealed myself to the youth minister and the boy’s father. I began counseling the boy and his family on homosexuality and prevented his suicide (something I am sensitive to, since the suicide of my best friend).
Now everyone at church knows what I deal with on a daily basis. I even posted my testimony on YouTube, for all the world to see. I can talk about this now and can point to this one moment when everything changed.
Ooof. I can’t imagine sharing in front of an entire congregation… or even hearing somebody else give that story. So many thoughts and emotions would have been going on for me. Sounds like you handled it well! And great that you were able to share with the pastor and be an encouragement and resource for the family.
What an incredible discovery of community, Kevin. Thank you for sharing. There is something so special as well about a camp community. It’s a unique experience hat almost heightens the power of the impact of community. I am so thankful you were able to step into something like that. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences wth community!
Ah yes, camp or any intentional (yet short term) group seems to draw people close together. Many more good stories to come about camp and other communities.
There’s just something about camp. Walls go down. Authenticity emerges. Fun is had. Growth comes.
Gosh I miss it. Thanks for this story, Kevin. Took me back.
Camp. Time will tell just how many blog posts happen that are entirely or partially connected to my different encounters with camps.
Let’s all just go back?
There is something about being with other like minded people that is so powerful. The worst thing is after you leave camp though and you get what I call “post camp depression” haha.
Camps are especially powerful though. I have been really privileged to be part of an international Christian youth organisation called the Boys Brigade. Now I know it sounds tacky, but I think it has honestly been one of the most powerful things in my life. The Boys Brigade is an organisation that runs in countries that used to be part of the British Empire (Like my home Australia). It was found in 1886 by a Scottish christian to promote obedience, reverence, discipline and self respect amongst young men. In some ways it is much like scouts but strongly Christian.
Anyways, in Australia The Boys’ Brigade runs a week long course called Team Leadership. To do this course you have to be sixteen and you have to be invited by BB leadership. In the course you are teamed up with 4-5 other teenagers and you listen to lectures and complete challenges throughout the entire week to become more self aware and to grow in team skills.
This produces a powerful sense of community amongst the boys that is incredibly valuable and unique. At the end of every night in the course you would debrief and discuss the day with the other boys in your “team”.
At one of the first of these debriefings I told my team about my SSA because I didn’t want to be hiding anything, this wasn’t the first time I came out though, and they didn’t care and it didn’t affect our team dynamic at all. It was beautiful. Beautiful to be in a community that didn’t care.
Community is what we all search for. I think one of the reasons the gay community is such a big thing is because homosexuals want to be in a place where no one cares! The modern church does not always provide for this. The more and more I look at the church of today the more I see how far it has fallen short. The church originally was not a building or service. It was a community, a family. This built a dynamic where they were all willing to be martyred and killed with each other.
When I was on this course I could relate to that sense of comradry.
I have been so lucky to have family in the boys brigade and to be able to serve in the organisation. I have been a member since I was 5 and am so lucky. It has been a place for me to make male friends and build community with males. It has been a place for community.
I pray that the church of today can move back to the communal places they used to be.
The post-camp slump is very real. Not fun.
Boys Brigade sounds amazing! I was involved in something similar as a kid. Such a powerful way to bond and grow.
Andre – I agree with Tom on both points. Post camp is the weirdest/worst feeling. I definitely tried to hold on to the goodness of it all as long as I could every week/summer.
And this Boys Brigade sounds quite amazing. There’s something SO good about taking time to call out the goodness we see in one another.
The church is supposed to be that community/family where we can be ourselves (with room for correction to be sure). It is tough to see our shortcomings in this area, but I find that my struggle has helped me to be more attuned to the need for community and push church to be more of that. Glad that you have BB and this community as well!
[…] “Discovering Vulnerable Community for the First Time” by Kevin: https://www.yourotherbrothers.com/2018/03/29/discovering-vulnerable-community/ […]
[…] I had experienced vulnerable community at camp for two summers, I took my double-life with me as I entered my next season at […]