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Privileged to Serve

Becoming the hands and heart of Jesus

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“Jesus loves me, this I know . . .”

Childhood memories flood my mind when I think of this song—Sunday school, vacation Bible school, camp—you name it, and this song was always on the top 10 list of favorites. The problem is, we tend to focus on the first three words—Jesus loves me, Me, ME!

Last fall, my husband, Bruce, and I accompanied 13 members of our youth group to serve as counselors at a camp for special needs children. The disabilities of the campers ranged from mild to extremely severe, and many came from very humble homes. On the other hand, our young people reside among the professional class in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where most live in closed, gated communities. They attend private schools, travel widely, sport the latest fashions and apparently lack nothing. Kids who’ve grown accustomed to satisfying their own wants and desires were about to have their worlds rocked by kids whose needs where unimaginably greater.

Changing Attitudes

When we first mentioned the need for counselors for the Cristo Vive Camp, we didn’t think there would be much response. First, the counselors would have to set aside 16 hours for training. Then, the dates of the camp were planned for a holiday weekend, so some counselors would have to forgo travel plans with family and friends.

“If you think you’re going to camp to rest, you aren’t,” we told the teens. “If you think you are going to eat delicious food, you won’t.”

Surprisingly, no one even balked when the “how to” themes for the training sessions included changing diapers, maneuvering wheelchairs and performing CPR. Emotions ran high as we were assigned our campers at the last training session. Some confessed fear of not being able to adequately care for their campers and admitted their utter dependence on the Lord in order to make it.

Stepping Up

The day finally arrived when we met our campers. Many of them tearfully bid farewell to their parents, and we were given last-minute instructions before boarding the bus for the four hour trip to the campground.

The schedule was packed with chapel times, crafts, music and sports activities. One of our counselors commented that it was hard for him to sit by his severely mentally challenged, wheelchair-bound camper and not be able to play soccer with the others. I asked him to think about what it would be like to be his camper, who has never played soccer and never will. During the camp, this young man became the arms and legs for his camper.

Bruce played a “bad guy” in a drama about heaven and hell that was staged all over the campground. The campers had to navigate through a maze of bad guys to make it to Jesus as they were challenged to make a decision for Christ. At the end of the camp many committed their lives to Jesus, and they were welcomed into the chapel with applause and balloons. Crowns were placed on their heads. One of the campers was so excited about receiving Christ that he took off his shirt and swung it over his head like soccer players do when they make a goal!

A highlight of the camp was the talent show. One of the campers, a young lady who was only 20 inches tall, sang a song entitled “The Apple of Your Eye,” based on Psalm 17:8 and Proverbs 7:2. In Spanish, the translation of this phrase is “the little girl of your eye,” which actually more accurately translates the original Hebrew. It refers to the reflection of yourself that you can see in another person’s pupils. Figuratively, it is something or someone cherished above all others.

Her voice trembled and then got stronger as she sang, “You saw me before anyone else had seen me, you loved me when no one else loved me. You gave me a name, because I am the little girl of your eyes. I love you more than my own life.” I will never sing that song again without thinking of her.

Strength and Grace

The young people from our church did well and never complained (and they had some campers who were very severely physically and mentally challenged). These young people went from changing DVDs to changing diapers, from sleeping in to hardly sleeping at all. We watched as they morphed from selfishness to servanthood.

“I have never washed clothes in my whole life,” Jorge confessed—but when his camper wet the bed several times, he was forced to do just that.

Genessis cried on the bus as she was confronted with the reality of caring for an autistic camper who either laughed or screamed but could not talk. “I prayed, and God gave me the strength and grace to love my camper,” she told us.

María Gabriela’s autistic camper would calm down only when he touched our car; Bruce had to wash the windows several times so he could see to drive home. Vladimir had amazing patience in feeding and caring for his wheelchair-bound camper. Anita thanked us and said that the camp was the best thing she could have done during her two-week break from high school. Maria del Mar developed such a good relationship with her camper that they got together again after camp and went to the mall.

On the way home we talked and laughed about the events of those four days. As we picked up some burgers at McDonalds, we thanked the Lord for the privilege of serving Him. In the midst of diaper changes, spilled food, biting and screaming, we sensed the Lord’s presence. It was a life-changing experience for both the campers and the counselors.

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