Written By Camp Director Ben Smith
Our first week of camp I drove the van to pick up our teen boys. Our St. Louis pick up was at a church because of the riots in St. Louis, and there was health screening and temperatures to take before they left their vehicles. When I drove in the parking lot there were cars already at the church. I could see the boys were excited to be going to camp.
CJ was one of the boys. At age 14, his muscles were filling out and his voice was getting deeper. CJ had been coming to camp since he was eight and he has a special place in my heart, even though he had created a lot of drama over the years. CJ wasn’t just loud. He created tension, egging on the other boys to quarrels and fights, and sneaking off when leadership arrived. But beneath his jaded exterior was a hurting fearful boy.
Two years ago, CJ showed us that boy as he told his story for the first time. The next 24 hours he was an emotional wreck. I remember sitting next to him outside with tears rolling down his cheeks. Ashamed, angry, and hurting, he could no longer hide behind his “I don’t care” facade.
What was so healing for him was to realize that even after we knew his story, it didn’t change how we felt about him. We still loved and accepted him. For the first time he didn’t have to fear what people would think. The next summer there was more change and growth, but he still had a little bit of an edge that created challenges for his counselors.
This summer, at the first meal together, we could see that CJ’s edge was gone. He expressed that he really wanted to be invited to our Timothy Training Camp. That night in his cabin, he shared his story with his team. One of his team members said, “CJ isn’t a bully this year.” CJ was interested in the Bible lessons too and showed a desire to grow. I even saw CJ show compassion when a camper was struggling and he asked me to go and talk to him. The last night at the campfire, I was proud to hand CJ an invitation to our Timothy Staff Training. The smile on his face and bounce in his step was unmistakable – he had been chosen. CJ still has a lot to grow and I am excited about where God will take him.