CYMT Graduate Resident Tiffany Nygard had researched all that she could about Camp Barnabas before taking her youth from White House United Methodist Church this summer. She spoke with Volunteer Director Mark Holder, watched YouTube videos, read the information on the website, and learned through her students. The White House UMC youth group had served at Camp Barnabas for the past three years, but this summer was Tiffany’s first trip. Before arriving at camp, Tiffany confessed that she was a little nervous because she knew the week was going to be a challenging one but the Lord was faithful and would help her along the way. The Lord taught her a lot about the kingdom of heaven through those campers. He showed her the value of coming alongside someone and walking with them.
Camp Barnabas “exists to provide life-changing opportunities to people with special needs in a Christian camp setting.” Tiffany’s group served during Term 1 – Adult Friends, which is for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism ranging in age from 18 – 45 years old. She took ten students and two adults to Camp Barnabas this year. The volunteers’ daily tasks at Camp Barnabas ranged depending on their age. Students 16 years and older served as CIAs (Christian in Action) for the week. These students were paired up with a camper and cared for a camper 24/7. These students did anything from help a camper go to the bathroom and brush their teeth, to help a camper go canoeing and participate in archery. The younger students who went, ages 14 and 15, served as Barnstormers. Barnstormers worked in the kitchen to prepare meals, as well as cleaned bathrooms and prepared for evening group activities. These students worked hard during the week and met new friends in the process.
Tiffany shared two of her students’ stories where she personally witnessed God’s presence at Camp. She told about Emily who has served at Camp Barnabas for three years. Emily reflected on her experience serving:
You really experience the presence of God at Camp Barnabas because you don’t have any distractions. You learn to rely on God because it is stressful at times, and you need God to give you strength and to keep your focus on him. Also, we aren’t allowed to have cell phones which causes us to see God because we aren’t distracted. I also learned that God is always present, and I can find him if I look for him.
Jesse, a high school senior, served at Camp Barnabas for his first time this year as CIA. Jesse’s camper gave him a taste of what his week would look like the moment he arrived. His camper, with a mental age of about seven but physically was 23, took off running for the exit gate as soon as he arrived. Then he ran out to the woods and then back to where they started. CIAs are required to stay within three feet of their camper at all times. Thus, Jesse went for a three mile run to chase his camper as soon as he arrived. When Jesse was not chasing his camper, he was being hit by his camper. Tiffany talked to Jesse during a 30 minute break one day and asked him if his Camp Barnabas experience had been what he expected. Jesse said,
“No, but that’s not important because I came to serve. “It is not about me. It is about God.”
Jesse faithfully walked (or ran) alongside his camper all week and continued to put the needs of his camper first with a servant’s heart and a smile on his face.
Tiffany shared that her favorite moments of the week were watching each of her students walk alongside their camper. “Each of them seemed to serve their camper so naturally without fear or complaining. The way they exemplified Christ reminded me of Philippians Chapter 2, where Paul tells us to take on an attitude like Christ. Christ humbled himself to the point of death on a cross, a death used for criminals. Christ met people where they were and walked alongside them to show them the power of God. He walked alongside his disciples to teach them the way and then charged them with the honor of spreading the good news.”
Tiffany said, “Camp Barnabas seems to be an experience that attracts our core students who are interested in growing deeper in their relationship with Christ. It is an experience that requires deep commitment to putting others first, long work days, and a continual reliance on God. I haven’t seen a more beautiful example of humility, servanthood, and relational ministry than what I saw at Camp Barnabas.”
If you would like to learn more about Camp Barnabas, please visit their website at www.campbarnabas.org.
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.