Exiting the highway and turning onto the gravel road, I could barely contain my excitement. As I rounded a corner and passed the lake, however, the anxiety began to mix in. My summer would be spent on staff at a Christian camp.
If my experiences during high school were any indication, the summer ahead would be great.
During one of our first times of staff worship, the camp director spoke on how this summer would be anchored in prayer and the Word. Reflecting on Isaiah 37, I read how the Lord is faithful through all generations, so I can/should bring my “armies” to the Lord in prayer and lay them at His feet.
I journaled this on May 24:
Tonight, before campers begin to come, I need to begin preparing for summer and give things over to You, God. Honestly, there are two things weighing on my heart tonight concerning this summer at camp: being able to relate to campers and connecting with the other male staff because of my past. Deliver me from my insecurities.
A few days later, my boss shared with the staff from Philippians 2:1-11, one of my favorite passages. He reminded us of the servant mind of Christ for this summer ahead.
But the feeling lingered that I had lost this humility during these past semesters of struggles. So many times during the past year I’d doubted my identity, wondered if my faith was real, questioned how my sexuality could be part of my story, and lied to myself to make friendships and ministry happen.
And so, the inner dialogue started . . .
The staff don’t know my story. Just be yourself. Do I even know who that is without the facades? Don’t force a deeper conversation. Do they need to know my past to know me now?
We continued our camp training — cleaning camp, digging into the Bible, sharing meals. One afternoon, all the cabin leaders went to do the ropes course. Partly as team-building for our staff and partly so we could connect when our campers were twenty feet in the air.
As one who doesn’t care for heights, participating had the desired effect of making me trust the others in the group. How could I not feel closer to the cabin leaders after that?
One night, though, I had a sexual dream about one of the male cabin leaders. I didn’t want my past to ruin the summer and my connections with the other male staff.
On several previous occasions, telling my story had helped me break down some of the awkwardness I felt. So, I grabbed JP, the cabin leader supervisor, and shared my story with him.
He thanked me for being vulnerable. My only follow-up was if there would be time for the male cabin leaders to share some of the baggage and hopes we were each bringing into the summer.
Alas, the schedule didn’t have time for this. But I could always connect with individuals on the weekends.
Suddenly, it was the first week of camp! What a rush as campers arrived and my co-cabin leader and I started to get to know the boys in our cabin — their quirks, middle school boy-humor, and all. How alive camp felt with kids there, playing camp-wide games, filling each space with laughter and conversations, seeing our guys grow during team-building and worship.
Thursday at lunch, JP asked what I was doing in the afternoon. A couple of my boys had invited me to the waterslide with them, but I could meet up with him after that.
When I got to his office, the camp director and camp manager were there as well. They asked me to share that uncomfortable part of my story again.
After listening to my story, they informed me that I could not stay on staff as a cabin leader.
JP assured me that he felt God had me at camp this summer for a reason, though. He said I could stay on staff as part of the grounds and maintenance team, but the leadership also understood if I wanted to leave camp altogether at the end of the week.
I left the room. Passing by one male staffer, I told him I’d just received some tough news. I went to my cabin and closed the door.
What do I do? Wasn’t I called to work with youth? I know nothing about maintenance. What would it mean to leave camp with no other summer plans? Does my story really disqualify me from working with young men? What do I do?
At our Saturday staff meeting, JP announced that I would be joining program staff as part of the maintenance team. He also told me that if I ever needed help understanding the what or how of any task, I could ask him.
Good, I thought, because there will probably be several tasks I have never done before.
I’d be lying if I didn’t share how difficult that next week was for me. Seeing campers who weren’t part of my cabin; having a menial or completely new workload; having to form friendships with program staff as my new support.
Overwhelmed, I asked JP what my purpose even was for the summer. Why had I stayed at camp?
He encouraged me to use my new time as a ministry of prayer and care. When I was out mowing or weed-whipping, I could pray for the camp. As I set up campfires, I could thank God for creation. With the friendships I’d made with cabin leaders, I could pray over their campers.
It didn’t sound glamorous, but I gave it a try.
There were lots of sweaty prayers as I removed weeds around the lake. There were tearful prayers as I prayed over specific campers and asked why I wasn’t able to be more involved with camp. There were interceding prayers as I helped behind the scenes during worship.
I started connecting regularly during down times with Bart, one of the other guys on program staff. Slowly, I found tasks I could champion: unclogging toilets, fixing lights, weed-whipping for hours, and helping with cookout night.
The rhythms of program staff were different, but it did allow space to be in nature, connect with God, and help make camp, well, camp.
One weekend toward the end of the summer, Bart and I were walking the trails, talking about life and how the summer had been, along with what was in store for the fall semester. The conversation turned to dating, and I felt myself tense up.
Did Bart know my secret? Had he guessed why I was moved from cabin-leading? I tried to answer his questions vaguely but honestly.
Eventually, I just asked him why all the talk about dating.
“I’ve seen the way you take care of people at camp, especially the female staffers,” Bart responded. “It’s clear that you care, and I wanted to learn how to be a better man for the next gal I date.”
Darn my overthinking and overanalyzing self. I proceeded to share my story — all of it — with Bart. He thanked me for trusting him with my story, and we continued on our trek.
As the summer wrapped up, I continued to enjoy my ministry of prayer, though tinged with anxiety about the upcoming semester. There were good conversations with JP about my unexpected growth during the summer, and with Bart about what the fall semester would hold for each of us.
The worship that final week couldn’t be matched. The laughter shared during staff reflection was contagious. Those final laps around the lake and stargazing the last few nights — reminders of how big and beautiful and mysterious God and his ways are to me.
Have you attended or worked at a Christian camp? Did your story with sexuality ever come up? What was great and what was difficult about camp?