Faith Stories: Faces of Angels
The children of Grace Camp will steal your heart. Hungry for friendship, desperate for affection and often traumatized by circumstances at home, they come to five days of summer camp with hope in their eyes. For one week of the year, they are released from the stigma of being children of a parent in prison. Rescued from playgrounds where they often find themselves ostracized or belittled, they learn to relax and be just themselves — children enjoying the wonderful activities of summer with an abandon that most children take for granted.
The sights and sounds of the swimming pool are a banquet for the senses — squeals of delight, shouts of ‘watch me,’ an older child helping a younger one float, sharing inflated toys, the welcome warmth of big, dry towels after the cool swim. The dining hall becomes quiet as the hungry youngsters dig into the nourishing food. Some go back for seconds, for thirds, hungry and appreciative of the warm meals. The noise increases as they finish eating, and, amazingly, the kids vie with each other in helping pick up empty plates and cups and tidying up the tables.
Bible study time in small groups is illuminating. Many aren’t familiar with even the most well known stories. They delight in reading aloud to each other and in working together to choose a story to perform in a skit. Practice goes on every day until the performance the last evening. The real excitement is in choosing costumes for each actor to wear. There is much exuberant creativity here — bathrobes and kinky wigs, golden crowns and broad pig snouts made from construction paper and glue, walking sticks and thorns collected from the woods.
My favorite activity, of course, is the music. In ‘fun music’ time, I am privileged to see the joy and excitement on their faces as they enthusiastically ring the colorful bells in accompaniment to ‘Jesus Loves Me’ or ‘Kum Ba Yah.’ But it’s during worship that the blessing of knowing and serving these children falls so profoundly on me. One song we sing at every worship, morning and evening, is ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.’ The veteran campers have taught the newbies hand movements to the words. Quiet falls in the chapel as the keyboard plays the introduction. When the children begin to sing, I see the faces of angels — children transformed from kids who are hurting from neglect and abuse of many kinds, children who are shuttled from foster home to foster home, children who have little more than the few outfits they brought to camp, children who have grown up in a home without ever knowing the presence or love of a father, children who have witnessed unspeakable violence. The faces of these sweetly singing children are transformed into the beautiful faces of angels, and I am overwhelmed.
Jesus is at Grace Camp. He gives strength and stamina to the staff, demonstrates the path to forgiveness and freedom, offers uncountable blessings of peace and acceptance, and fills these precious children with the gifts of love and hope. For a time, we hear the bells of heaven in their laughter. And even when their faces are covered with tears the morning of departure, we still are witness to the faces of angels.
St. John’s footprints are all over Grace Camp. Many Sunday school classes give scholarships for Grace Camp every year, as does UMW. The ladies of UMW also provide a meal for staff training, wash bedding and towels from one camp session, and have been instrumental in the purchase of the hand bells. Many ladies of the church have made innumerable colorful pillowcases to give to each Grace Camp child every summer. The activity hall at camp is decorated with posters made by our youth group. Thank you for such selfless and loving support of this wonderful mission!