Written By Camp Director Ben Smith
Let me tell you about one boy whose life will be forever changed.
*Andy, with his dimples and freckles, is a honest thinker. He is also quick to tell you what he is thinking about. Last week, when I was talking to Andy’s team about forgiveness being God’s plan in healing our hearts, Andy emphatically announced, “I can never forgive the man who killed my sister.” At age ten, Andy remembers that helpless moment like it was yesterday. I could feel his pain as he spoke, and I responded by empathizing with his pain in the midst of that traumatic event in his young life.
Later that week, we had a TV reporter come to Camp David to do a story on the camp. Since Andy has been to camp a lot and is a talker, we asked if he had anything he wanted to tell the reporter. As other boys shot arrows at targets, Andy told the reporter about his mentor in our after-school program, and that he had learned about God here at camp. When asked what he liked about camp, Andy said he came because Papa Big Heart (my camp name) helped him with his anger. Then he paused. His eyes teared up, and he looked at the ground. Our talker was silent. Andy remembered the pain but he didn’t go to the anger. In his sad moment, he also felt the love of the people that he knew cared about him.
The next day, I asked which boys wanted to get baptized, and Andy stepped into the group. His grandma let us know on Monday when she dropped him off, that he had been looking forward all year to getting baptized and we had her permission to do so. Andy knew that getting baptized meant he was making Jesus the Captain of his life and he was excited about following Christ.
Friday morning was hot as we gathered at our “Leave It Behind” ceremony. After explaining that the little white papers were for the boys to write down something they wanted to leave at the cross, I pulled Andy to the side. I asked Andy if he would like to give God his painful memory of his sister’s death and forgive the man who killed her. Andy said a quiet, “Yes,” and then asked me to help him write it out. The details of his sister’s murder that he shared filled me with anger. How could someone be so cold and cruel to kill a little girl in front of her brother?
Then I saw in my mind’s eye, a picture of Jesus and his angels taking Andy’s little sister to heaven. I told Andy what I saw, “Jesus was there and he was sad too.” I said, “When you get to heaven, your sister will be waiting for you.” I really believe Andy forgave the man who killed his sister. As he laid the paper with that painful memory at the foot of the cross in the hole we had dug there, Andy was at peace.
Andy could be all bound up with bitterness and anger, but because of your gifts and many others Andy has found forgiveness and hope. Thank you for your part in giving hope to children of prisoners.
*Name changed for confidentiality
Children of prisoners are likely the most vulnerable children alive today. But their parents' sentences don't have to be theirs. We have found a week of camp can be a life changing experience, as these children find their true identity and discover that they are never alone.