When I was twelve years old, my parents helped load up the minivan with all of my essentials for a week. Unfortunately that minivan had some difficulties before we made it to the destination, but God understood the importance of me arriving, so He cooked up a different plan.
While the minivan sat with steam pouring from its hood in the parking lot of one of those off-the-highway rest stops, my friends and I did what any kids would do when adults start getting anxious. We went and found the candy machines.
And while we were snacking on the chocolatey goodness we’d purchased, I looked at the large map of WV hanging on the wall to see just how much further we had to go in order to reach our destination.
“What city is Spring Heights in?” I asked the two girls from my church that would be tagging alongside of me for a week in the wilderness at church camp.
“It’s in Spencer” answered a familiar, but obviously not female voice from behind me. I spun around to face a boy my age who I had met a few years prior in a county-wide chorus group, Eli (who years later would change my mind about international missions). “I’m going there too!” he said cheerfully.
At the same time that I was coming face to face with Eli, little did I know that his father was approaching my parents as they stared helplessly into the hood of the van, willing it to heal itself.
And then my parents did the most radical and most uncharacteristic thing I’ve ever known them to do. They agreed to allow this stranger take their daughter and her two young friends with him and his two kids to a place that we had never set foot in.
As we went to find our chocolate, my mom whispered a pleading prayer that God would provide a way to get the three of us kids to camp. And to this day, we firmly believe that Eli’s family was sent to us in the exact moment we needed them.
I made it to camp, where I fell in love with a 900 acre plot of land and the God that created it.
That plot of land has borne witness to the shaping of my faith; from the moment that I surrendered my heart to Jesus at the age of sixteen. That was the last year I spent there as a camper, as I accepted the offer to join the staff as a counselor in training that following summer.
And then eight years passed and I didn’t step foot in that place.
I was leading the high school Sunday school class at my church back home, when the director of the camp that had stolen my heart came to do a training on safety. He asked if I would consider spending the summer there, this time as a cabin counselor, and I jumped at the opportunity, which turned out to be one of the most transforming experiences of my life.
I went back home at the end of that summer where the every day dealings of life didn’t satisfy the empty space in my heart. No one understood my desire to sit beside a campfire each night, or the power of praying before each meal and singing afterward. So I nursed my broken heart.
A month later, I received a call, asking if I would join the staff full time as the Program Director, where I would live on site and help to run programs year round. I accepted and packed my bags and moved to the small town that changed my life forever.
But in August of 2008, I moved back home. Things had changed at camp and the experience behind the scenes weren’t as glamorous as I had envisioned. But my desire to work with kids in camping ministry hasn’t changed.
I have since volunteered my time in the summers, taking a week off from wherever I work in order to step foot in the place “where loving God comes naturally”. And though things have changed since I first walked those 900 acres as a twelve year old, so have I.
No matter how old I grow, or how difficult it becomes to make the journey to that place, it will continue to hold a piece of my heart. There in that place, where I have come to witness my own slice of heaven on earth.
“I looked through the list and asked God again, ‘What is it, God, that makes me feel so alive?’ “
I still have the desire to work in camping ministry or within a Christian community that gets to witness to others and be a part of that “light bulb” moment, when eyes are opened to the greatness of the reward that is Jesus Christ.
I just haven’t found how to God will use me in this capacity. Maybe it’s time to make a list and bravely begin listening for the answer.