At 7:15 am on Monday I pulled in to the local Dunkin Donuts parking lot to meet up with four local teenage girls that I had never met before. Their parents were dropping them off so that they could catch a ride with me to Lost Canyon YoungLives Camp in Williams, AZ. We were all headed to camp to volunteer with the Childcare for the week. We introduced ourselves, gathered in a circle for prayer – lifting up the week ahead, praying for ourselves, the teen moms and babies and leaders that would arrive on Tuesday. We were excited, curious, energetic, and ready to hit the road!
It didn’t take more than a few minutes in the car with these girls to figure out that they were really special. Here they were, giving up a week of their summer break to go serve amongst their peers that had babies. They each had such respect for these teen moms that were juggling everything they themselves juggled AND a baby! They couldn’t wait to get to camp, meet them and help out with the babies.
Seven hours later we pulled into camp to the biggest celebratory welcome EVER! Tucked into the mountains of Arizona, you enter into an amazing setting of cabins, lodges, zip lines, a small lake, horses, beautiful flowers, trees, blue skies, huge white and gray clouds…simply breathtaking and not what you would imagine a youth camp looking like. But then THE welcome!!!! As we drove across a small bridge lined with summer staff and work crew all whooping & hollering “WELCOME!!!” and high-fiving us through our open windows – we were blown away. One of the girls whispered to me, “is this all for us?!” We were given rain jackets, tee shirts, our week’s schedule, our name badges, room numbers, ice cold drinks, and snacks. We were given opportunities to enjoy camp experiences (I chose a horse back ride) and get rested before the arrival of teen moms, babies, and leaders the next afternoon.
On Tuesday we welcomed in the buses of campers with the same enthusiasm we had been shown. What a beautiful sight watching these brave young women step off those buses with their babies. For some of them, it was their first time to leave home with their baby knowing they were fully responsible without family members to help. For all of them, it would be a week of being treated with overwhelming kindness, love, good food, and camp experiences that would stretch them physically and spiritually.
Childcare helpers were introduced to the little ones on the basketball courts that had been revamped into a County Fair. Music, balloons, games, ice cream…so much excitement…and trepidation…and concern. We knew we were strangers to them, not yet to be trusted. Before long, though, we were given the chance to love on and care for the littlest ones while the moms were loved on and cared for by the leaders, program directors, and staff.
In Childcare, we are with the little ones for five days…five to seven hours a day. We are there to play with them, love on them, protect them, help them to feel safe and secure. But the bigger picture is…we are with them so that their mamas can redeem some carefree time. So that their mamas can be given a message of hope. So that their mamas can see that by God’s love and grace, others want to know them, want to walk alongside them, want to help fill in gaps that they may have. Throughout the week we watched from the various camp nurseries lives being transformed. Hearts being softened. Mamas being encouraged. Jesus setting people free from bondage, guilt, shame, fear. These brave and courageous moms becoming braver. Confidence being built. Walls being tore down. Laughter, smiles, dimples and giggles abounding. Tears that had been pushed down were released. Burdens were being shared and becoming lighter. For some, decisions were being made to allow God into their lives.
After saying good-bye on Saturday morning to the little ones, their mamas, the leaders, and my co-workers in the nursery I was back in my truck with the four teens that drove with me. We were definitely all exhausted but far out-weighing the tiredness, was the extreme gratitude and joy we had for being at camp and watching girls experience “the best week of their lives”. That I got the opportunity to be a part of Summer Camp week is a priceless gift. Lucky me!
Colleen Drew, Area Office Administrator and thankful Camp Childcare Volunteer