Physical Praise, Radical Love
By Malaina Yoder - July 13, 2017
Posted in Children's Ministry, Summer Camps, Stories from NMC
Kids danced through the room, giggling, shouting and bringing their childish, carefree voices before Jesus. Praise is a physical experience for a child. Everything about it is visceral, emotional and completely authentic. That day, the music slowed, and kids became more serious. The leaders noticed something different about today, the third morning. This group was encountering the Holy Spirit in a new, powerful way.
Deandra Borkholder, leader of NMC’s fourth and fifth grade camp, couldn’t help but notice this and quickly made the decision to extend worship. This allowed more time for these children to be in an exciting space with the Holy Spirit. Motioning for the band to stay up front, she looked around at the kids and invited them to a place of imagination.
There’s this story in the Bible that some of us haven’t heard since we were in Sunday School. It’s the story of the children who came toward Jesus while He was speaking. The disciples, trying to bring order to a chaotic situation, pulled the children to the side and scolded them for being disruptive. This sequence of events isn’t unusual for a child; it’s actually a pretty mundane story. Then, something unusual happened. One of the little children looked up and made eye contact with Jesus. Jesus was an important adult, but He stopped the disciples and reached out to the child. In the eyes of an adult onlooker, this is a cute story. In the eyes of a child, this is a story of radical importance. The children belonged with Jesus.
After Deandra told the story, a new earnestness came into the room as children thanked Jesus. This age group struggles with loneliness, Deandra said. This is the time when children are getting more exclusive. They just want to be heard, loved and accepted. In this story, they experience the unconditional acceptance of Jesus.
Through a series of skits and lessons, the children were “clued in” (the camp’s theme) to the mystery of the gospel. Specifically, the mysteries they talked about were “God is with us” and “God gives grace.” These skits were so life-like—guitars were smashed, Bibles were forgotten, a real mystery took place on stage. Even the leaders weren’t always sure when something was part of the skit and when it was real.
These children learn through experience. On stage, Mason, a leader, was frustrated that no one was on his side, and these kids understood his feelings. They felt those feelings and watched him figure out what to do with this struggle. They learned about God’s grace because, when Mason was pardoned, they felt relief.
The absurdly fun camp activities are more than an elaborate ploy to get kids to stay and talk about Jesus.
“We don’t have to bring kids to Jesus,” Deandra said. “They’re already working their way toward Him.”
The reason for camp fun is a little less obvious: kids form relationships through play. Have you ever tried to sit down and talk to a fourth grader for longer than five minutes? It’s near impossible. But when they spend the day with leader who have given their time to launch kids into the lake, build sandcastles and get covered with maple syrup and mashed potatoes, relationships are built. The kids adore their leaders.
These relationships are particularly important when a child has questions about Jesus. Of course they’re going to talk to the leaders who have spent the last few days loving them in the most fun ways.
If you know a fourth or fifth grade student and you want to ask him or her about camp, start by finding out what they learned about God’s love. This is something that is necessarily complicated for adults, but kids have the privilege of simple, trusting understandings. The kid might tell you about the No-Talent Talent Show, where children get standing ovations for showing their double-jointed thumbs. That kind of acceptance is God’s love. They might tell you about the cabin leader who told Bible stories to help them fall asleep. That kind of care is God’s love. They might tell you about sliming a leader or worshiping with their friends or the amazing fourth and fifth grade rappers.
These kids experienced God’s love in physical ways. We praise God for camps, because when parents ask students what their take-aways are, we find out that they get it. One camper told his mother the following statement, and if this sentence is all that camp accomplished, we should have camp every day:
“I learned that God loves me. He always has, and he always will, no matter what I do.”
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”