She was angry, hostile and sometimes violent. She was prone to verbal and physical outbursts. By the end of that week of church camp, we adults were running out of ways to help her and to keep the other campers from lashing out at her. We were afraid the bullying was going to start. Then she signed up for the talent show. She got up to sing and said, “I’d like to dedicate this song to my dad who died.” Suddenly it clicked. The anger and the frustration all made sense. She was grieving and we didn’t know it. The beginning of our week might have been so different if we had only known what was wrong and how to help.
She got up and sang the most sincere and absolutely worst solo I have ever heard. It was off key, off pitch, off rhythm, off everything. When she stopped, she just stood there at the front of the room with her head down and her eyes closed, clutching the microphone for dear life. Middle school kids can be cruel, but they weren’t that night. That night they gave that little girl who had hurled insults at them all week a thunderous standing ovation. It lasted 3 minutes.
Some people think church camp doesn’t matter anymore, that it’s obsolete. Kids have too much other stuff to do with their time, they’ll say. To them I say, church camp still matters to that little girl. It still matters because she needs somewhere in her life to receive that applause. It matters because those other kids need a safe place to practice loving like Jesus loved. It matters because there still need to be places in the world where we practice living as if the Kingdom of Heaven has already come to Earth. It still matters.
I believe in church camp.
Rev. Tiff Austin Williams (TCU ’05) is the Director of Programming at Disciples Crossing Camp in Athens, Texas. She is married to Daryn and they have a one-year-old daughter named Belle, who is the star of their household. Of all of her college experiences, Tiff is most grateful for her time in the TCU Religion Department, where she was taught to be a citizen of the world. She apologizes to Dr. Lahutsky for the probable grammatical errors in this text