“Avengers” and Encounters with God
I stood guard with some of my fellow Winter Camp staff on top of the wooden platform, waiting for the first surge of “Avengers” to fall upon us. Armed with a basket of water balloons, one water gun, and one water bow between the 7 of us, we knew we stood little chance against the well-armed campers, who each represented a different Avengers character – Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Vision, Quicksilver, Iron Man, Beast, and War Machine. We represented Ultron and his robot minions, but contrary to the movie, this time the Avengers way outnumbered us!
“Here they come!”
Around the bend, through the trees, and over the hills, they pounded down the dirt path towards us: one “Captain America,” one “Thor,” one “Beast,” and a few others. Up on the platform, we braced ourselves for the inevitable water fight to come.
Winter Camp. It never gets old. This was my 3rd year being part of Youth With A Mission Perth’s annual event for high school students, run during the July school holidays. Over the course of 2 weeks, more than 120 teenagers from Western Australia descended on Forest Edge Campsite for 5 days of fun, filled with intense games, delicious food, international speakers, real friends, and life-changing encounters with God.
The theme for this year? “Regenerate.”
Regenerate: to revive or bring into existence again.
That’s what we wanted – for each camper to be refreshed where they felt weary, to be restored where they felt broken, to get healed where they felt hurting, to grow stronger and more confident in who they really are and knowing how much God loves them.
Each morning, international speakers shared their personal stories with us, teaching us from lessons they’d learned (often the hard way). Each afternoon, we gathered in small groups to discuss those sessions and share our own stories with each other. Within two days, the campers were already diving in deep, trusting friends they’d only just met, getting real about the struggles in their lives. Tears started to flow as hurt and pain, locked up for so long, were finally released. And when the tears flowed, instead of teasing and rejection, these young people found their new friends waiting for them with open arms, understanding what they were going through, willing to fully accept them and stand by them. It was enough to move even us grown-ups to tears.
Instead of teasing and rejection, these young people found their new friends waiting for them with open arms.
The last night, we set up the hall to look like “home,” with different objects scattered around, representing things we go to for comfort – music, sports, make-up, clothes. None of these are wrong, but when we try to find comfort in them, instead of asking God for help, we’ll find ourselves restless and dissatisfied, always wanting more, because it’s never enough. On tables, we placed paper and pens, so people could write down lies they’d believed about themselves, and then go throw it in the campfire and watch it burn. Finally, we encouraged them to ask God, “What do You think of me?”
Here are some of the stories they shared the next morning:
As these campers encountered love… it made them brave.
“… I spent my life running away… hanging out with the wrong kind of people at school… left me feeling like that $20. But last night… I really felt God’s presence was there, I just sat down and asked for forgiveness for so many bad decisions I made… This burden left me, just felt so much better… God never hesitates to forgive.”
“For a while, I’ve struggled with lots of people… and for the past few years, I’ve pushed a lot of people away, and I don’t let a lot of people in… But you guys are so open and so welcome… You guys are like a family to me, and it’s really sweet, because I can finally let people in.”
The courage of these young people to stand and face their struggles, to share so openly about their weaknesses and pain, blew us away. We had started that week talking about how “perfect love drives out fear,” and as these campers encountered love – both God’s love and the love of the people around them – it made them brave, and they were able to stand and face situations they might have otherwise preferred to avoid because of fears.