It’s around this time of the year that my mind feels most like a cool, deep lake; a place where there is plenty of sustenance and the clarity is remarkably inviting. I say this because I had the distinct pleasure to attend Camp Emmanuel, a Greek Orthodox youth camp, for my twelfth year. It was my fifth year as a staff member, and I cannot even begin to put in words the appreciation and admiration I have for this program. As it heads towards midnight here, I have two choices…. I can feebly attempt to explain my thoughts, or I can let them go to waste as the hours go by. I chose to write this in hopes that when I am old and grey, my memory of camp will never fade.
Really, none of us are born lost. We are all born in communion with God. We have no choice of it…. What we do choose in our lives is every subsequent step we take away from God; from the point of our births to our deaths. The thing that makes camp such a resonating life experience is that it is one of the few places on this earth in which we remind ourselves just how much we miss God in our day-to-day existences. We remind ourselves that no matter how fleeting and distant our meetings with one another are, they are somehow the most important relationships that we have in our lives. We love being faithful to God much more than the alternative, and in doing so, we love each other through God.
One of my biggest fears in this world is the having the feeling that "I am alive--- but so what?" It’s a rare kind of fear that, instead of inhibiting your actions, it forces you to extend yourself to become something greater than yourself. I’m not sure if I’ll ever become whatever it is that I think I need to be, but I do know that I have the chance to mean something to someone else through this camp program. Camp isn’t somewhere that I go to recharge my spiritual battery. It’s not like I try to live a life in which only one week of the year is focused on being a true Christian. Instead, Camp Emmanuel gives me hope that I can make something out of my life, and that by God’s grace, I can do it in a Christian manner.
Unfortunately, mine is one of the first generations raised without God. My contemporaries live in a world with strong religious impulses, but with nowhere to channel them. I see people struggle with loneliness and aimlessness all the time, and I thank God that I have The Faith to direct me through life. The Church guides me, and most importantly, it gives me hope that I can be a person of great faith.
Furthermore, the Church gives me hope that I am not in the thick of this life alone. I’ve never been good at telling people how I feel about much of anything because it makes me feel unguarded and awkward, but the sentiments I have about my faith and everything it has given me are nearly impossible for me to hide. It would be an injustice of massive proportions to even try. My secret is that I yearn for God, and there are moments when I know that I can no longer make it on my own. Camp Emmanuel, and all of those who have aided in its ministries, has shown me that we are all communal in our needs and experiences. It’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s enough to keep me fighting the best way I know how.
When most people hear about others talk about their heroes, the feeling must often be lost in clichéd phrases and sentiments. Every time I hear someone talk about their heroes, I smile knowing that I have more heroes than most people will ever know. In fact, I think the word "hero" devalues how I feel about the people who I have come to know and love through camp. Every clergy member, every camp director, every staff member, and every friend that I have come to know at Camp Emmanuel has become a saint in my life; A champion of The Faith. I mean that from the very bottom of my heart. To know that there are people in this world that pray for you is one of the most comforting feelings there is. When I think of the people who I have come to know through The Church, I can’t believe how blessed I am. I know that I’ll be 80 years old one day and still laughing and telling stories about my friends and family that I have made at camp. You’ll never know how many lives you can change with your own.
In a perfect world I’ll have the chance to show my personal saints just how much they have changed me for the better.
But really, the most remarkable testament to the importance that Camp Emmanuel has played in my life is how it has changed me. It has changed me into wanting to continue its legacy and ministries to the youth of the Metropolis. I may be twenty-three years old now, and beyond the years of a camper, but I cannot deny or turn away from the place that has molded me into the person that I now have the potential to be.
Maybe I’m just a kid who can’t face growing up, but all I know is that I love camp with all of my heart. As long as it will have me, I will always have something to give to Camp Emmanuel.
We all have our place. Camp Emmanuel is mine….. and it’s all of ours.