Our family had the privilege of serving last week at a Young Life camp in Arizona specifically tailored for teenagers with special needs.
There were a little over 400 people in camp with us split into four fairly even groups--25% were teenagers with special needs from Arizona, California, and Alaska. These needs ranged from physical issues such as amputations, wheelchair restriction, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and blindness to emotional and intellectual differences. Another 25% of the attendees were volunteer leaders and staff from the campers' local areas. These adults were remarkable in their knowledge of each camper's needs and special qualities. They took incredible care of their friends--physically, emotionally and spiritually around the clock all week. An additional 100 high school students actually paid to travel and attend camp from Lafayette, Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi as buddies--able bodied campers full of energy and friendship.
Behind the scenes were another 100 people--some Young Life employees, but mostly volunteers--cooking, cleaning, running sound, lights, laundry, crafts and grounds keeping--all so these Capernaum friends could have an excellent camp experience full of joy and fun that pointed to the extravagant love of our Father in Heaven.
It was a true blessing to see 'behind the curtain' the outrageous lengths people were willing to go to for these kids. Chariots (complete with shock absorbers) were constructed for use in yard games so wheelchair bound campers weren't left out. A forklift was customized to safely transport campers with physical limitations to the top of the zip line and the water slide. Earplugs were available everywhere for attendees whose sensory processing issues made sound a challenge. Multiple sign language interpreters were on site so hearing impaired campers didn't miss a joke! Even the kitchen staff, who had to provide sustenance for over 400, modified their menus for the week to deliver quality meals that respected the gluten/dairy/nut/vegan tolerance levels of campers.
I wept more times than I can count as camp became a microcosm of the life God intended for us to have--so many people with various gifts serving together with one goal in mind. No job felt more or less important. We all had the same objective but knew it required many different types of service. Patience and kindness abounded and we all worked together to say YES to removing barriers between kids and the abundant life of the Gospel.
Each of my children were able to find their unique niche as well. One became a game room staple using the gift of play to connect and forge friendships. Another worked closely with my husband in the medical office, using encouragement and resourcefulness to support hurting kids. Yet another used his own loves of swimming and dancing to find ways to engage campers and leaders. I found myself watching, praying and actively asking "what do you have for me to do or see or say right now, Lord?" (It was such a refreshing, purposeful and expectant way to live!)
All in all this was a remarkable week--restorative, challenging and tremendously encouraging on many levels. I was shown that there are actually many pieces of this week that can translate into my 'real life' at home. I hope to live with a more simplified sense of purpose, a renewed appreciation for community and a glorious picture of the beauty of the body of Christ working together.
I was reminded that working with people with special needs gives a unique opportunity to know a person's challenges and address them directly. Dealing with 'typically developing' people can sometimes be more difficult because we don't all wear our real challenges on our sleeves. The ministry of daily life is to remember everyone has limps, scars and limitations in this life and we would do well to recognize them with a compassion and a commitment to removing barriers that keep people from the abundant life of the cross.