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?