As promised, we’re back here again talking about Serpent River.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly ‘Serpent River’ is, I’d encourage you to go check out my last post or just check out this info video on Serpent River below this paragraph. The video talks about the series of missions trips I’ve been a part of that are centred around the Serpent River First Nations reserve, where myself and a team of another Toronto Christians run a two-week long daycamp. For those who are familiar, well I suppose that was a bit of a refresher.
This post is going to be modeled a little differently from previous ones. I didn’t know how to format this blog and also wanted to spice things up and but most importantly it was originally written as more of a daily journal than anything else. I hope you’ll enjoy journeying with me as events unfold in the order that they did to me.
I’m just warning all of you’ll this blog is going to be longer than normal blogs. We did not intend it to be like this it just happened to be like this.
Any who, without further ado, let’s jump in.
Day #1 – Saturday, August 11, 2018
It’s amazing what God can fit into a day, especially one that also includes 7 hours of driving.
Our journey began at around 9:30 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Scarborough as I and five other team members bundled into a van to set off for the long ride. After the aforementioned 7 hours of driving, and a few pits stops at such thrilling sideshow attractions as an overpriced Licks, and a rural Tim Hortons, we arrived in Serpent River.
Our six-person team was made up of people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t come for the first week of camp, so when we arrived, the majority of the DOXA/Daystar crew of which we were a part had already been there for a week, and were presently celebrating pow wow (also happening that weekend) alongside the rest of the indigenous community. We quickly got into the festivities, to a very warm welcome–I heard several times that the kids from the previous week had been asking where Cricket was. I was surprised to be honest–like, why me? I only knew them for three years in total. I wouldn’t say I built many relationships with any of them. I felt proud and bit surprised to be honest. I felt joy that they remember me and surprised that they cared enough to ask where’s Cricket. That began to melt my heart. Not literally.
We spent about two hours at pow wow that day, and then trekked down to Stockwater beach, where one of our teammates planned to be baptised. It was amazing to hear his testimony and learn about how powerfully God had worked in his life; evidently, I was not the only one who was inspired, because promptly after he came up out of the water, another of our team asked to be baptised as well.
Day #2 – Sunday, August 12, 2018
Our second day was mainly spent in preparation for the week–physically, in terms of prepping the building for camp, but also very much spiritually.
First thing in the morning, we headed to the nearby town of Elliot Lake. We worshiped that morning at Grace Christian Center, a church that our team had been attending on this trip for several years now. The spirit was definitely moving that day, as the pastor preached on ‘demystifying prophesy.’ Without going into too much superfluous detail, his point was that, though not all Christians will receive specific revelations of the future that they are to share with others, all Christians are called to prophesy to each other by speaking encouragement through the promises of God. Whether we are in season or out of season–feeling it or not–the promises of God are always true, and we can build each other up when we remind each other of them.
Day #3 – Monday, August 13, 2018
On Monday, camp started with a bang. Or at least it felt that way, as we were all a little shell shocked by the time the last kid funneled out just past four.
In a word, it was exhausting. Really, it wasn’t anything new or terrifically unexpected–I’d done the same thing the last year and the year before. This year though, rather than working at camps all summer, I had been at a very relaxed placement, so the contrast was a shock to the system.
On top of that, a lot of our planning fell apart when the kids actually started…y’know being kids. One specific child, six-year-old David, was easily riled up, and would often attack the other children; I offered to watch him, which led to some interesting and colourful experiences.
It felt as if the preparation that we had done leading up to the week, and the night before, had all been for nothing. However, in remembering the lesson of the last two days, we were able to stick it out. Although we felt our strength was exhausted, we relied on those promises that the pastor talked about and did our best to build each other up.
Also, seeing our two newly-baptised team members at work was downright inspiring. As one of our leaders, Sarah, pointed out later in the week, right after Jesus’ baptism, He went into the desert and was tempted by the devil; too see my co-workers go from such a spiritual high point to a place of difficulty and adversity and still give it their all was amazing to see.
Day #4 – Tuesday, August 14, 2018
The second day of camp was really a testament to what could happen when we relied on God’s power, rather than ours.
Camp itself ran a little more smoothly, as we tried to be more humble and communicative than the day before. It’s funny, it was in turning away from the organization issues and focusing on relationships that those issues were worked out.
I felt that I was able to build more bonds with the youth that day than I had before. One always seemed to want to play ball and listen to music with me, which may seem small, but it was more meaningful to me. My intention for coming on this trip was to build meaningful and lasting relationships, and in this moment, I was given a glimpse of what that might look like.
After that little taste of opportunity, I had a few more tastes–but this time, a little cheesier. Literally. While most of the kids left for the park, my small group of youth (there were about three of them) stayed at the Lifestyle Centre for “Leaders in Training” and spent the afternoon making Kraft Dinner. It was great to see them compete and problem solve as they followed the recipe, but also figured out how to add in some additional secret ingredients, and it gave me another glimpse of the path I’ve chosen for my life.
Okay, maybe not all of youth work is about making Kraft Dinner, but is it too much to hope that some of it might be?
Day #5 – Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Another reason why Tuesday was much quieter than Monday was that David wasn’t able to come that day. And while it was nice to have some time to hang out with the youth without worrying if David would get into a fight, I did miss the little guy.
Wednesday he was back in action–and oh boy, what action.
Since we all sort of realized that he needed more support, another staff member and I volunteered to accompany him throughout the day, to make sure that he was having fun and engaging, while also being there to (sometimes physically) hold him back to keep the other kids safe. We had our work cut out for us, as at several point throughout the day, his physical and verbal attacks on other staff and children necessitated pulling in even more staff to calm him down and cordon him off.
This could have been incredibly demoralizing; some of the things he was talking about, no six-year-old should even have to think about. Yet, God carried us through the day as we relied on His strength.
We soon learned that, really more than anything, he first needed an outlet for his emotion. Fortunately, we just so happened to have a supply room off of the gym that was full of padding, squishy toys, and even a literal punching bag. What became known as “The Punching Room” was the perfect release for him
On top of that, I also realized that the way to calm him down was right in front of me–right in the proverbial eye of his angry metaphorical storm–the whole time. Here was a kid who was angry at the world, and he really had every right to be in a lot of ways–life had not been kind to him, even as young as he was. What he really needed was to be loved and cared for, and to really feel and recognize that care. That, of course, is easier on paper–how can you really make someone feel that they’re loved? I still don’t know if I have the answer, but if by me trying I made his time at camp a little better, then I am content.
(That being said, one easy answer is to set up a slip and slide and let him play to his heart’s content. Slip and slides are always the answer.)
After all the kids had gone home, we rounded off the night with a barbecue dinner provided by one of the families to which our team had grown close over the years. To call it a ‘barbecue’ is underselling it a little–it was really more of a feast, with barbecued components. It was a great time of bonding for everyone on the team and allowed us all some time to chill and build relationships, not just with the locals, but with our other team mates too.
After a day that was mentally and physically draining, this was exactly what I needed. Reflecting on it, I honestly felt like God wanted me to work with David–maybe even wanted me to come on this trip for that very reason. That’s the amazing thing about God: He equipped our team with different strengths and weaknesses, which made our team strong enough to handle any task that comes our way, but only when we turn to the source of our strength. I realized when we rely on the God, anything is possible.
Plus, I got to ride an ATV, which has been on my bucket list ever since I started my bucket list, so that’s cool.
Day #6 – Thursday, August 16, 2018
Thursday was, in many ways, more of the same as Wednesday.
While it was my plan to be involved in “Leaders in Training” with the older group, it soon became evident that I would again be spending my day working one on one with David. By that point, I was beginning to figure out that my plan wasn’t the one I was going to end up following (cue God’s Plan by Drake), and I was alright with that.
By the afternoon, we were at the park, and I was uncharacteristically exhausted–they don’t call me Cricket because I sit on the bench and let the kids play, but this time, I had to do basically that. However, my teammates stepped in to support me, and David’s aggression was limited to a few minor sand-based incidents.
I also buried myself in the stand again, which has become its own tradition. Maybe it was a metaphor this year?
Day #7 – Friday, August 17, 2018
Friday was a fun day, but it was also a sad day.
Going into it, we knew it would be the last time we’d see the kids until the next year, but we were also reaching our limits energy-wise and were ready to finish strong. An air of bittersweet melancholy hung over the staff as the morning began, but honestly, that was all swept away as we fell into having a great time with the kids.
The latter half of the day was to be a carnival, so David assisted in helping out some of the other staff preparing things, by which I was very impressed. Earlier in the day, he had also participated fully in an activity for possibly the first time that week–making slime–so the kid was on a roll. It made me very proud, because I could see the potential in him. He’s not just an angry kid, even though he may seem that way at first.
Like David, the youth in the “Leaders in Training” team stepped up as well, helping to run parts of the morning session. Small things again, but it was such an encouragement to see their leadership grow even in just a few days.
And then, just as suddenly as it started, it was over. The last kid left the building, and we were left with the building, now empty and in need of a good scrubbing.
As much as we all would have liked to crash onto our air mattresses and sleep for the next decade or so, we held off just long enough to clean the building, scoot lethargically to Lucky’s (the local chip stand) to stuff just a few more deep-fried foods into our mouths, and back to the lifestyle centre to swap some encouragements.
And then being young adults, we all stayed up for a few more hours anyway to watch a movie (or start a blog post).
Day #8 – Saturday, August 18, 2018
This was our last morning we were in Serpent River. We all did our final cleanup and had our daily team meeting and then started loading up the vehicles. From there, just imagine the first day, but in reverse.
On the way home, I thought about all the emotions that were running through me that day. I was happy that I was going to see my family & friends back home, and relieved to finally be able to relax, but I was also sad, because really, two weeks (or one on my part) are not enough to share all the love that I’d like to this community.
This whole trip felt overwhelming with stuff from school, my personal life, and the stresses of camp, and missing people from home all weighing on me. Coming into this week, I wanted a break, but soon realized I wasn’t going to get that. It wasn’t a vacation; it was tiring, and exhausting at times. But it was good.
I was here to serve God and build His kingdom, and I know that that is what I did. I was overwhelmed with the stuff that I needed to handle, but through it all, I felt the Holy Spirit working in me, giving me that extra push when I needed the most. As it says in Acts 17:28, “in him we live and move and have our being” –and run day camp, even when we’re overwhelmed.
I want to thank all the people that supported our team financially and through prayer; it was needed, and it was felt. I don’t know how the future looks like for me and don’t know what God has in store for me, but I do desire to return back to Serpent River in the next couple years.
I may be tired, but God is not, and He’s not done yet.