• Tom Beaumont

Doing the Impossible with the Improbable

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

The summer staff challenge

So, how do you tell a twenty-year-old, who doesn’t even have Psychology 101 under his belt that he needs to be prepared to deal with a cabin full of kids who will come to camp from a variety of dysfunctions? How do you tell him how to get ready for bed-wetters, bullies and bug-eaters? Is now the time to let him know that before the summer is over he will have dealt with the tears of the neglected and un-loved, he will have consoled the victims of a messy divorce, he will have protected the rest of his campers from the aggressiveness of another, and tried to find a way to pull the introvert out of his self-imposed exile of silence? Good luck with that one.

How do you tell one of your star counselors from last summer, who is one year shy of graduating from college, that her charge, not for the week, but for the summer, is to lead a dozen counselor-in-training girls? How do you let her know that her job as CIT leader is to order their lives and schedules, train them to do a variety of tasks needed to keep the camp running and to disciple them into spirit-filled, mature followers of Christ? At the same time you must break it to her that some of her CITs were campers just the year before and they can hardly believe their good fortune to now be able to spend a whole summer at their ‘happy place’. You will need to encourage her to be upbeat and positive when she explains to her charges the fine art of toilet management, the beloved activity of dish washing and the challenge of getting the smell of vomit from a camper’s mattress.

As director, it’s your job to communicate to your counselors and staff that for ten weeks, instead of looking out for their own interests, they are charged with looking out for the interests of the kids. They will need to relinquish a few personal rights from time to time, keep their hormones in check, and set aside private struggles that plagued them leading up to the summer, and may well be waiting for them when the summer is over.

These are the people you are about to give the chance to stand up in front of hundreds of campers and fellow staffers and share their story – what Jesus means to them. They are the ones who will be deluged with questions about God, life and death, and sex and a host of other things beginning with ‘why’. To be fair, you will need to tell them that people will be watching and results will be expected. Decisions should be forthcoming, lives changed, parents happy and the mission accomplished. That’s all.

If you mix into this picture the perils of an outdoor camp environment, the high risk of inappropriate behavior towards children (real or perceived) and outside threats that need to be prepared for, a very simple question emerges. How can this thing called ‘camp’ succeed? Isn’t this concept doomed to failure from the start? Needless to say, we are in the business of asking the impossible of the improbable. (Hmmm… sounds a little like the approach Jesus took with His disciples.)

It seems counter-intuitive, but in a real sense your biggest, and maybe most important, camp of the summer is the one that your summer staff participate in all summer long. Yes, most are paid (sort of) to do a job and, yes, they are expected to work and to serve. But, don’t miss the reality that they are a huge opportunity for your ministry to carry out its purposes. They are learners ready to learn, leaders ready to lead, and a huge potential ready to be realized. They won’t understand fully; they will fall on their face more than once and they most assuredly will gray your hair. You may never see what they will become, but you can be assured that God will use their summer experience in route.

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