21 Highlights and Lowlights of Camp Counseling

August 1st, 2011

It’s midnight and I can’t sleep. 

This is the beginning of my third week at camp.  Tonight I’m in a new room sharing with 10 other guy staffers. 

Right now the lights are out but I don’t think many are sleeping yet.  Several of us are sick.

The white noise is incredible.  I think we have at least a dozen fans going plus an A/C window unit.  It sounds like jet engines revving up.  But that’s fine, it should help cover the snoring and coughing.

The last two weeks I’ve been working as a camp counselor.  The first week I had 9 boys then last week I had 11.  Good times… 

Here are 21 highlights and lowlights so far:

  1. Well, let’s start with an event from the first day: It was cool seeing my cabin come together as a unit so quickly.  As soon as everyone arrived we went down to the dock and I had them play a memory activity called, “The The Name Game” which helps everyone learn each others name.  Then we hiked back to our cabin where one of the boys pulled out a stack of matching Youth for Christ t-shirts he’d brought from home.  They all said in bold letters, “Game Changers.”  In no time flat all my boys were wearing matching shirts and were over-the-roof excited.  As we marched up to dinner they were all chanting, “We’re the Game Changers!”  As an aside, the matching shirts improved morale but didn’t help me in learning their names, especially since two of my boys were twins!  
  2. Comforting a very homesick camper his first three days at camp.  The first night he cried himself to sleep.  The second day he cried on and off throughout the day, plus cried himself to sleep.  The third day he also cried throughout the day but that third night I had a talk with him (that is, another talk with him). Sitting on the bench outside our cabin I probed, “Did your parents want you to come to camp?”  The tearful answer was, “Yes.”  “Do you know that sometimes parents want their kids to do hard things because they think it would be good for them?” No response, so I continue, “Just like God sometimes wants us to do hard things because he knows it will be good for us?”  Another pause, then, between sniffles he responded, “I’ve never heard of that concept before.”  I nearly laughed at his use of the word concept but instead said, “Yeah, it’s true,” and told him about the story of David and Goliath – how God had something hard for David to do but it turned out for good in the end.  I suggested that maybe his parents wanted him to stay here at camp because they thought it would be good for him.  Plus, I added, obeying your parents now is a good way to practice obeying God when you’re older.  After this little talk I didn’t have a problem with him being homesick the rest of the week.  Not sure if it was the talk or if he just finally got over it.  Regardless, I was relieved.
  3. Catching some massive flying insects with my hands and escorting them outside the cabin.  On one occasion this quick action saved my cabin from absolute pandemonium. 
  4. Taking my campers on a night hike to the top of a hill (the Rock Gardens) where we could see a ka-jillion stars.  My plan was to have the boys read Bible verses that talked about the stars and God’s handiwork in the heavens.  However, it was so hot, and they were so hyper, and so freaked out about being in the woods at night that my plan went by the wayside.  But a few verses were read, and we found the Big Dipper and the North Star, and there was at least one object lesson I was able to draw from the experience: “Boys, right now you’re frightened because of the dark and you have to rely on me for your safety, but I want you to know the dark doesn’t frighten me anymore because I’m older, but there are other things that do.”  “Like what?” was their instant reply; followed by one kid quipping, “Like finding a wife, right?”  Ten year olds can be perceptive.  I answered, “That may be one fear, but also whether I’m using my life for things that have eternal meaning and if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now… but in the same way you have to trust in me regarding the dark, I have to trust in God for my life and future.”  I said a prayer over them before we left the top of the hill and they were finally quiet at least for that.  I remember getting all choked up in that prayer as I thought of what their futures might hold…  I remember by the time we arrived back to the cabin I was totally bushed: one of my boys had skinned his knee, another was limping, and I was carrying a third piggy back.  Not to mention there was plenty of complaining I had put up with en route.  However, wouldn’t you know it but the next day I was asked, “Nick!!  Can we go on the night hike again today?! that was the most totally awesome thing ever!”  Go figure. The answer was no.
  5. Having a camper wake me up at 3:30am the last day crying because his ear hurt.  This same camper cried easily so it was hard to tell how serious his issue really was.  I decided to stall and so comforted him by his bed until he fell asleep again.  This went on until 7:30 when I took him to the nurse.  She gave him some ibuprofen and luckily his parents arrived shortly thereafter.  When I told them about the ear problem they were like, “No problem, we have special ear drops for that.”  I was so glad his ear problems waited until the last day to act up.  But on the other hand, playing convalescent nurse for a very tearful boy through the early hours of that morning was not fun. Now I know what Mom’s have to put up with.
  6. Giving out cabin awards at the end of week one.  The class clown award was memorable.  I went over all the exploits this kid had done throughout the week.  Everything from stuffing his face into a chocolate pudding bowl to affixing our toilet bowl plunger to the bathroom wall.  As I recounted each silly thing this little guy had done he got more and more excited and began laughing so hard and was consecutively hopping up and down on the cabin floor he nearly quit breathing and I thought he might pass out.  He was definitely enjoying the attention.  His award was three bean bags to start practice juggling.  I felt bad encouraging his behavior with a reward, but believe me he did get in trouble during the week and in fact he was again about five minutes after he got the bean bags.
  7. Record Missouri heat… no air conditioning.
  8. Having kids skip their swimming time to ask me spiritual questions like: “How can you know when you hear God?” and “How did people live so long before the Flood?” and “Were there Dinosaurs with Adam and Eve?”  Another 11 year old kid asked more probing questions: “How do you know the Bible is true?” and, “What could we know about God if we didn’t have the Bible?” and, “Do you ever think you were put here on earth for just one reason?”
  9. Exploring a muddy cave; squirming down the narrow passage under a hanging bat. 
  10. Helping kids fish by putting hooks, bait, and bobbers on their lines.  I thought it was funny when one kid got impatient with fishing and asked me to hold his pole.  I did… and promptly caught a fish!
  11. Recording a cabin video skit re-enacting Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  “Lazarus” was one of my boys.  We first covered him in mud, then wrapped him in toilet paper, then placed him back into the cave entrance.  When he waddled out into the daylight he really did look dead-like. Lazarus_Coming_Forth_Skit 
  12. Chasing a fellow counselor (Alice) attempting to throw a jug of ice cold water on her (which I did).  She tripped though (or landed weird, whatever) and pulled a muscle in her leg.  It’s been a lowlight watching her hobble around camp the last four days.
  13. Having such a bad headache one night it kept me awake the entire night.  No joke, it was torture.  Luckily it was the last night of camp.
  14. The wildlife: Seeing a black widow spider in the lunch line, chasing an armadillo at night, freeing a raccoon from an empty trash barrel, seeing a red salamander in the cave, and catching crawdads from the creek.
  15. Having one of my boys fall off another boys back who was giving him a piggy-back ride.  Who would have thought a two foot fall on a gravel road could be so disastrous?  He deeply cut his arm and the nurse thought he might need stitches. In the end he was sent to the hospital an hour and a half away.  The crazy part was comforting him in the nurses office.  I spent about 30 minutes trying to do just that and he was so distraught you would have thought his arm had been amputated instead of slightly cut.  Turns out they didn’t even give him stitches at the hospital.  Oh, did I mention he threw up too? But he was a nice kid and I felt bad he got hurt.
  16. Speaking of throwing up, I had another camper who threw up in the night, then the next morning wasn’t feeling too well… and threw up again in the breakfast line in the cafeteria upstairs.  Following this he spent the rest of the morning resting in the nurses office, but, amazingly, at noontime he appeared for lunch and said he was fine.  Lunch that day was hamburgers and french fries which I didn’t think would be great for him to eat and told him so.  But he insisted he loved hamburgers and apparently he loved salt too because I also saw him douse his fries in that.  When he didn’t throw up after that greasy chow I proclaimed him healed.
  17. Telling my boys stories each night about something from my life with a lesson: how I got saved, how I doubted my salvation when I was younger and what helped that, how I had health problems that led me to a point of more fully trusting in God with my future, and how my brother and I once got stuck in a cave and prayed for help (and got it!).
  18. During the night devotion this past Wednesday I shared something I appreciated regarding the character of each of my 11 boys.  By this period in the week I had already become attached to them (even though they were also driving me nuts) and just specially felt led by God during the evening chapel to speak words of individual encouragement into their lives that night.  This was an emotional time for me… because it was so contrary to what I would have normally been able to do: I had an awful headache, was running a fever, and the boys were being incredibly testy.  But it was moving to me how God stepped into my heart and helped turn what easily could have been the worst night (if I had lost my temper at them) into what ended up being the best night of the week.  I put off our devotions until they were all in bed and the lights were out (except for my flashlight) and then we re-capped the day and the message and as I then began describing things I saw positive in each one of them and how they could use that to serve the Lord in their future, believe me they were all ears. 
  19. Seeing kids covered in shaving cream from head to foot.  I couldn’t tell one from the other.  Talking to them was like talking to snowmen.
  20. Playing “sea-monster” in the pool.  It’s a simple game: a bunch of boys jump on you and try to stay on your back while you pry them off and dunk them one by one… and of course get dunked yourself in the process.  It’s a very exhausting game that the boys never get tired of. 
  21. Seeing the transformation in one of my hardest boys from the beginning of the week until the end.  I remember bringing him up in our first staff meeting of the week with some reference to him being a “trouble maker.”  Turns out he came from a very difficult background and yes, he did get in a lot of trouble during the week.  In fact, he crossed a line where I thought he might have to go home early which was really tough on me in making that call and bringing his behavior up to the director.  But (some) mercy was extended and he was allowed to stay with restrictions.  The neat thing was how repentant this boy became the last couple days.  I even saw him break down and cry he felt so bad and, believe me, this was one tough little dude.  The neat thing is how I saw him learn important lessons through the week I think he internalized. Surprisingly, he also became attached to me which I thought odd as I’d been so tough on him.  On the next to last day I was asking the boys what they wanted to do during their free time and he piped up, “I just want to go wherever you go Nick.”  That made me feel good. Then on the last morning when it was close to time for him to leave he came up to me and gave me a big hug.  I was really touched.  I mentioned we should stay in touch and he really picked up on that and wanted me to write down my contact info for him.  I did and gave it to him on a scrap of paper.  Then I moved on to other work, but when I saw him later getting into a van for his ride home, he was still clutching that piece of paper.

So there you have it: 21 highlights and lowlights.

I learned counseling can be tough.  I also learned how rewarding it can be when you see you played a small role in making a positive impact on the life of a camper. 

It’s also pretty neat as a counselor to realize you have the privilege to be a part of memories they will cherish later as adults.

This week is “Family Camp” so counselors aren’t needed.  However, I’ll still be staying on here as staff.  Looks like I’m on maintenance.

One Response to “21 Highlights and Lowlights of Camp Counseling”

  1. Amanda Carbon Says:

    Awesome!!!
    There are so many things I could/want to say (comments, stories, testimony, etc), but really, it all comes down to “Amen!!! Praise God for how He changes lives (all of us – campers and counselors)!!!!”
    I’m so excited you’ve had this opportunity to minister and experience God!!! Looking forward to reading more!!

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