A View from the Pew: The Fervent Chaperone

Pew_smThere are few ministry opportunities for laity that provides as rich a personal reward as chaperoning camp. Yes, there are army-issue mattresses that cause spinal issues that would confound the best chiropractor. And, yes, ear-splitting screams of joy and competition may cause more harm than a rock concert or operating a weed whacker for a living.

Those minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the overwhelming benefits of giving up a few days of work or personal time to go to camp.

This month’s dispatch comes to you live from PASSPORTkids Camp in Crossville, Tenn., where I’m wrangling four boys from Parkway Baptist Church. This is my fifth consecutive year to chaperone our church’s kids at this location. My first four years were with my eldest son, who is graduating to PASSPORT Missions Camp this year. This year I get the joy of re-living the “first-time at camp” experience with my middle son.

With a 5-year-old left at home, I will hopefully have seven more opportunities to chaperone kids camp. I will take every opportunity afforded me, and here’s why:

Chaperoning truly is a ministry of presence. This came to be a throw-away line during my days as director of communications and marketing for the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I find the phrase “ministry of presence” has real meaning when I’m with kids at camp. They don’t need me to be their parent, their pastor, their Bible study leader, their recreation leader, or even their cheerleader. These kids just need me to be with them, a familiar face to smile, be encouraging and provide security while they try out new activities and meet new friends. I am here to do little more than answer questions that will allow them to fully embrace new experiences without anxiety.

Children’s Camp is an irreversible first experience. Succinctly put, you only have one shot at your first time at kids’ camp. Every year I see the first timers with their wide-eyed wonder at the enthusiasm and exuberance of the well-trained and highly-engaged college students leading them. I see smiles when these kids have paddled their first canoe, stood in their first replica night market from an exotic locale, or read Scripture in the worship service for the first time. I am moved to tears to see them walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm with a new friend they met at camp as they learn to form new relationships and find common ground with people who are different from them, including those who come from such far-flung places as Alabama, Kentucky, or Tennessee.

Your non-camp church experience becomes intergenerational. When we get back, these nine kids and I will have a special bond. When I see them around the church or when I teach a class or volunteer at a children’s event, I will know them, and they will know me. What happens at camp does not stay at camp. When you chaperone, they remember the time they spent with you in the van on the way there and back. They remember what you taught them about putting out wet clothes on the clothesline. They cherish the time you mentioned them by name in a prayer. They are bolstered by your genuinely loving embrace and comforting words when homesickness threatened to rear its ugly head. They know you mean business when you say there is no noise after lights out, as self-serving as that rule may be. They may not think you are cool, but they will know you care.

Spiritual dialogue with children occurs in surprising ways. As a parent, you struggle to find openings to have meaningful discussions with your kids about your beliefs, your values, and your relationship with God. Camp provides all of those opportunities as well as reference points for future conversations. In preparing for this year’s camp, my older son and I had a conversation about his first time at camp and the missions immersion experiences he had, including hand-drilling a well and carrying water for long distances. He recalled what he learned about the children of Ethiopia and all the lengths they have to go to in order to have drinkable water. And in that conversation, he recalled that by giving to such ministries, he was participating in God’s mission of reconciliation in the world. This conversation with my teenager happened because of kids camp five years ago.

So when the youth or children’s minister puts out the call for volunteers to chaperone camp next year, do yourself a tremendous favor and sign up. It’s a blessing you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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  1. tom waggoner says

    Now you let the real truth out of the bag. You, Lance will need to volunteer all the earlier. I have understood this for a long time but I never been able to say it so well. God promised the true giver, the giving heart, a multiplied return. Thanks to God for you gift of writing! In Christ, tom.

  2. Paula Parris says

    Thank you, Lance, for all you do to contribute to the spiritual growth of Parkway’s children! You are truly a jewel!