Last Thursday night, I came home from a week long holiday camp for junior high school students. You may have heard of it – Kedron – if you haven’t, no judgment, I had never heard of it before I went. Strictly speaking, the camp has nothing to do with Student Life, but I was given the honour of leading alongside three other Student Lifers: Viki from UWS and Macquarie University’s Zac and Sarah.
At 5pm on Friday night, before the camp began, I left my home, 5min north of Gosford. I had organised to meet Ian – one of the camp directors – at Hornsby Station before traveling together with him to the Kedron site. I had never even spoken to him before. I had no idea what he looked like. Luckily God is bigger than stranger danger…
In the car, on the way there, Ian asked me what I was hoping to see God do over the next week. “I’m here to be challenged,” I said “I want God to stretch me and teach me.” Silly me, I should have realised how my words would come back to bite me.
I was certainly challenged and stretched. Here’s what God taught me at Kedron:
- Christian community is redemptive and powerful
I have no idea how to behave in a Christian community. I really have never experienced true benevolent Christian love. In my experience, love is always conditional. What do they want from me? How can I win their love? That’s how Christianity works. Right?
Wrong. During Dan’s talks, he illustrated God’s sacrificial love. God does not love us for who we are, but because of who He is. I am a horrible sinner, undeserving of all earthly or heavenly attention, but yet I am freely given the love of a perfect Saviour. This was realised through the communal support of the leaders at Kedron. I may have been one of the oldest leaders there, but I felt like I was learning so much from the younger guys and girls. The way they gave me a chance, regardless of my past, to serve Christ alongside them, was beautiful.
When Ian and I were travelling to the campsite, he told me that over the coming week I would make friends that would last a lifetime. The fact that this man has been coming back to Kedron every year since 1999 (yes, that is when I was in kindergarten!!) lent some weight to that statement. Evidently, Kedron is a place where love can be found. Like a child bought from slavery, all we can do to respond to the love that has been freely given is to offer our love and service in return – it would never be enough, but it’s all we have in the God’s economy.
2. The next generation is in a world of pain
During our cabin discussion group on the third day of camp, I studied the faces of the five preteen girls sitting before me. What pain have these faces seen? Divorces, drug problems, separation anxiety, psychological abuse, if I were to guess some. These girls had suffered. What would their lives bring? What would they be like in ten years from now? I felt a heavy sense of immediacy. These girls really need to grasp the reality of Jesus’ love, otherwise they will not survive. It gave me an urgency to pray for their salvation. God had entrusted the lives of these five girls into my unworthy hands. When I lost my patience with them, I was humbled by remembering where I was at their age. God spoke to me in a still, quiet voice: “Emma, at twelve years old, your life was a mess. You were a slave to sin. But still, I loved you and I put people in your life who would love you at your most difficult. You are not more precious to me than these girls.”
Every night before the girls would go to sleep, Jess, Maddy, Emma and myself would read a couple of chapters of Esther to them. On the night we read chapter four, I felt a huge sense of conviction.
Verse 12-14 “Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’”
Judgment is coming, and I was putting my head on the chopping block by dismissing these girls due to my impatience and lack of compassion. I had been set into their lives for such a time as this and God would not take lightly to my deliberate disobedience.
3.When God’s on your case, you cannot hide
There are two things I find very difficult: forgiving people from my past and being touched by strangers. So God used Kedron to make me confront both.
- Forgiving people from my past
When the kids arrived on Saturday afternoon, I wandered around the campsite meeting them. The cute, shy, scared little faces awkwardly exchanging greetings with their cabin leaders. Showing one such girl around the campsite, I walked into the gym – where Sarah stood talking to another tiny child. She called me over to meet the camper – who also heralded from the sunny Central Coast! One suburb over from where I live. Which school did she attend? None other than the one that had inflicted four years of psychological damage on me. I had confronted my unforgiveness on Summer Project in January when I came face-to-face with a recently graduated student of that school (‘Asleep In The Light’ https://usydstudentlife.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/asleep-in-the-light-summersalt-central-coast-2014/). But I thought I had dealt with that discomfort. God obviously had other plans.
That school is tiny. The likelihood that there would be a camper from this school was minimal. Even smaller was the likelihood that this camper would be in my cabin group. God had grabbed my attention. Evidently, He wants me to deal with the past. I would love to say that I handled it perfectly. Certainly, I can say I handled it a lot better than I did on Summer Project. But, every night during the week at camp, the nightmares associated with this school plagued me with greater intensity than I have experienced in almost 10 years since leaving. When the pint-sized camper reacted unfavourably to my discipline, I felt like that 12 year old girl who had been told she wasn’t good enough to be accepted and had to excuse myself for a moment alone with God. God impressed upon me once again that my identity needs to come foremost from Him, not that school.
On the first night of the camp, my fellow cabin leaders – Maddy, Jess and Emma – encouraged me to share my testimony with the girls before they retired for the night. Feeling the familiar sense of trepidation, I shared with them my ‘life tattoos’ – the hideous scars inflicted in my past that have combined to become the beautiful artwork God has painted with my life. I worried how I could explain the brutal treatment I received from this school without saying: “Hey, the school you love so much is a cult that messed me up beyond repair.” To my astonishment, the girls relished my honesty. Fighting back tears, they thanked me for my candor and showed me love in place of the painful memories I had shared. It was a beautiful moment, restorative and perhaps a little vindication.
- Being touched by strangers
On the third day of the camp, I sat in the dining hall and lamented to Sarah about how the girls in my cabin group were becoming far too familiar for my liking. They kept touching my hair, hugging me, and just basically catching me off guard with their affection. Perhaps this would be endearing to many, but not for me. I hate being touched. It makes me uncomfortable, especially if I’m not expecting it. Sarah shared with me a profound statement: “Maybe that’s why you’re here. Maybe God wants to heal you from this fear, so everyone’s going to touch you until you’re better.” It may be obvious in hindsight, but it had not occurred to me until Sarah voiced it. Mind blown. When we ask something of God, He rarely gives it to us without challenge. I had been asking for healing and He gave me an opportunity to be healed. Sure enough, as the week progressed, I became a little more confident with the girls’ affection. I’m not completely out of the woods just yet, but I’m taking steps in the right direction. God is so good!!
4. Words are powerful and can be used by God. Be warned.
I should know by now how powerful my words are. I’m a journalist – a glorified storyteller. I should be careful what I say, because though I may forget it, God never does.
About a month ago, I was praying for a good friend of mine who suffers from anxiety. I don’t have a lot of empathy, so I really couldn’t understand this friend’s pain. So God gave me the opportunity to experience it.
I had two panic attacks. Once in the week leading up to Kedron, when I sat at the piano in my brother’s studio and again during worship on the fourth day of camp. Both times I felt my heart pounding against my chest, I began to draw short breaths trying to steady my dizziness, nausea washed over me as I crawled into the fetal position under a mountain of blankets and pillows. Both episodes didn’t last longer than 5min, but it felt like an eternity.
God gave me insight into that world of suffering, telling me: “You won’t know what brought it on. You won’t know when it’ll end. You won’t know what triggered it or if it’ll come back. You’ll feel like you’ve been run over by a steamroller, and just when you think you’re about to die for lack of oxygen, your lungs will fill with sweet, sweet air. It’ll feel like the most important breath you’ve ever taken, even more than the first you took 21 years ago. You’ll never take breathing for granted ever again.”
I can now completely empathise with my friend’s pain, and God I pray I never forget it and have to experience another attack.
Kedron was a rewarding, if challenging experience for me. As my Facebook notifications lay testament, I have made lasting friendships. I was blessed by the care for my emotional, spiritual and physical needs extended by the other leaders – the way Sarah would make me a coffee every morning and cleared off the ‘skin’ from my hot chocolate (it makes me gag!!!), how Jess would encourage me to rest when I looked tired, how Ian insisted he would drive me home to the Central Coast in return for a stimulating drive-time conversation because he didn’t think it was right that I should have to commute all the way home. These people hardly knew me, but they had extended Christ-like love to the beautiful stranger in their midst (Matthew 25:31-46).
Thanks Kedron friends for the amazing experience! I am honoured to have served with you!