Confessions of a Camp Counselor

barton bonfire

Have you ever found a treasure in the most unexpected place? A treasure I have found in my life is Barton Bible Camp. Driving along a road in the middle-of-no-where south Arkansas near the Little Missouri River is a gravel road that goes up over a small hill. If you didn't know any better you wouldn't even notice it, but if you turn onto that little road and drive over the hill, it quickly opens into Barton Bible Camp. It may not look like much at first, but look past the volleyball & basketball courts, pavilions and white concrete block buildings and imagine it filled with campers. Maybe then you can get a glimpse of the active spirit that fills this place. As someone said this week during camp, that basketball court is not there just to play basketball, it is a tool for relationship building. Near the back of camp, there is a path down the hill that leads to the lake where we have our baptisms and bonfire at the end of the week (pictured above). It is easily the most beautiful spot at camp, especially at night with the stars overhead.

I have attended this camp as a camper and activity director and for the Labor Day retreat, but I just came home from my first experience as a  camp counselor. Although it is not where I grew up attending, Barton Bible Camp has come to hold a special place in my heart. That is mostly, if not completely, due to my boyfriend, Alex, who did grow up going to Barton. 

There is just something about Barton that is different and difficult to explain. It seems so easy to build real relationships when there are no distractions, like cell phones. A lot of these kids have dealt with more in their life than I will ever be able to relate to; nonetheless, they always seem to open their hearts wide by the end of the week, pouring out their souls and burdens. This year we focused on filling them back up once they emptied themselves of everything they were carrying. By focusing on the topic of "Inside Out," we were able to talk about the difference between what is in the heart and what is on the outside. Everyone goes through struggles, but you don't have to bury them deep within. That is what the church is for — to be a place to let go. 

You attract people by the qualities you display; you keep people by the qualities you possess.

Since there was no prior registration required, we didn't know who was going to come until they arrived. Even not knowing, I have been to many church camps like Uplift, Tahkodah and Barton as a camper and knew a little about what to expect. Despite any expectations, of course there were surprises and challenges too.

I expected having high school students, but I didn't necessarily anticipate everything that would with it. 

I expected the heavier emotional and spiritual atmosphere, but I couldn't anticipate exactly how the campers would react.

I expected to do a lot of singing, but I didn't expect to feel like I was going to lose my voice on the second day.

I expected there to be late nights and early mornings, but I didn't expect to find being a counselor even more exhausting than being a camper.

I expected to interact more with other counselors than I did as a camper, but I didn't anticipate the relationships I would build with them.

I expected to get to know the girls in my cabin better than others, but I didn't expect the love and protectiveness I would feel for each one of them by the end of the week.

I expected there to be challenges, but I couldn't anticipate the joy and reward of the results of those challenges in hindsight. 

As a counselor, it was no longer a week about making a difference within myself; it was a week about making a difference in everyone else around me, which ultimately resulted in a difference within myself. This week I dealt with situations and struggles I never thought I would have to, but, in the same day, I saw transformation in a difficult situation and experience first-hand the baptism of one of the girls in my cabin. It was without a doubt the hardest and best day of the entire week. 

Proximity to other human beings does not equal connectivity. ... You cannot expect everyone else to be the oxygen to your soul.
— Lyndsee Burleson

Although I have been to many church camps over the years, I found spending a week as a counselor so different. As I drove home, caught up on sleep, and readjusted to life outside of church camp, I couldn't help but reflect back on the week, the transformation of the campers, the relationships built with other counselors, and my experience as a counselor. And what do I do when I am lost in thought and reflection? You got it; I write. So here it is: the confessions of a first-time camp counselor.