…at least that’s what we in the industry have believed for many years. Every camp I have ever visited and every camp colleague I engage with strives for this outcome. We have called camps “a place apart” or “more than a place, an experience,” because we truly hope that it is so for all youth and adults who stay with us.
We called this unforgettable summer season our “Summer of Sanctuary,” because we know that is what Pyoca is to so many people. A sanctuary. We provide a place away from the world to pause, rest, and breathe.
I believe it is only when we have these moments of pause that we are able to let our guard down enough to hear the viewpoint or differing life perspective of another person. This is what makes camp different from the world. Yes, we may live in a bit of a bubble for a week, but the bubble provides the space where youth and adults feel at ease enough to share their whole selves.
Some of this is built by years of experience at camp, which is why by the time you’re a high school camper or an adult volunteer, you typically feel at home at Pyoca. A foundation of love, hospitality, and acceptance has already been laid and fully embraced.
At camp we find joy and purpose in showing grace, patience, love, and mercy to each person we encounter. Our camp culture has been built up to model this to everyone. We send kids out at the end of the week hoping and praying that they will continue to exude this culture of loving righteousness to everyone they encounter in the outside world.
I am not naive enough to believe that this somehow just happens. In fact, I want you to know how much work we put into making Pyoca a space where all are truly welcome. All relationships take time to build trust, and it can be broken in an instant, making it even harder to rebuild and sustain. It’s not always easy, and every year we find more room where we need to grow.
It may or may not surprise you that my focus during the summer is probably 75-80% on establishing, maintaining, and rebuilding relationships at camp. I can teach anyone in 5 minutes how to paddle a canoe or identify a tree. The harder, and much more crucial, part of our jobs at camp comes when we have to teach a child how to manage their fear on the high ropes course, sit in the sadness of failure or homesickness, or build a space in our family group Bible studies where youth feel open and vulnerable enough to share about their lives.
I had a conversation when visiting with my grandmother a few weeks ago. We talked about the state of the world, how tired we feel, and most importantly: how we are both scared of how cynical we are starting to feel. I worry right now about how cynical our kids must be feeling. Adults do not appear trustworthy, or to have any kind of answers, and they see rampant injustice and disregard for human life allowed to continue across our world.
We find ourselves caught in a cycle of trying to trap one another in our theological and ideological shortcomings, rather than work together through difficult conversations, not necessarily in an effort to convince someone of our side, but to find a path through the brokenness. One that brings us closer to God and one another.
Mike reminded me the other day, as I sat and tried to put to words all of the anxiety, mistrust, cynicism, and sadness that I feel at times, that I’m not Jesus. Obviously. None of our pastors are, nor are our congregations. We seek to follow in his path, but at times can get tripped up along the way.
Right now it’s hard. Still being isolated from so many people, we can forget that there are actually people behind the screens. Even me. I have to remind myself not to fall back into mistrust and cynicism. We are called to strive toward the light, cut through the content, and see what’s beneath the surface.
Camp has been the backdrop of some of the most honest and extremely difficult conversations of my life. I believe we need these spaces now more than ever, and while we certainly are not a perfect utopia, I pray earnestly for the day we can welcome campers back to Pyoca and continue sharing God’s loving community with the next generation.
– Rev. Molly DeWitt, Program Director
Help us ensure that the vital work of this ministry is able to continue for years to come. For more ways on how you can support Pyoca, visit our website at: http://pyoca.org/support/