We’ve been back from Clarkston for a week now and I want to thank you for keeping us and the rest of the team in your prayers. It was an incredible trip!
On arrival in Clarkston our pre-camp briefing included Scott (Director of Friends of Refugees) adding to the beatitudes “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape!” There were certainly lots of opportunities to be overwhelmed by 60 elementary and 30 middle school children. Large numbers aside, remember these kids come from hard places and different cultures. Flexibility wasn’t just a nice thing to keep in mind, it was absolutely key to maintaining sanity!
The format of the camp is that all the age groups arrive first at the Community Center for breakfast and announcements. Once that’s done the middle school group boards the buses for a nearby church and the elementary remain at the Community Center. Over the next few hours each group has a camp program and then it’s everyone back together at the Community Center for lunch and games.
On the first day of camp I was nervous. How would it go with the kids? Would the like me? Would I like them? After we arrived at the church for middle school camp one of the interns announced that it was time for “Academics” and that she would split the kids into group and assign a volunteer (ie one of us) to help the groups read. There was instant protest, annoyance, and whining from the girls. I didn’t even know their names yet and already they were complaining about how they didn’t want to read with me and could they not just stay on their own. As the intern (bless her) argued with the girls resentment began to build in my heart. “Great” I thought “They don’t even want me here, this is going to be horrible.” Thankfully the Spirit is quick to correct and the words came, “You don’t get your significance from these girls. You can love them because I loved you first.” So there and then I resolved to love no matter the response and to remember where my significance comes from. Talk about empowering!
As I read with my group of girls they slowly went from annoyed at my presence to curiosity about where I was from, was I married, did I have children, and on and on. They let the walls down just enough for me to see that these girls have very tender hearts. This was my one and only true glimpse at who the “real girls” were and I am thankful for it. The rest of the week was full of ups (giggling, hugs and playing games) and downs (attitude, rebellion and at one point a near riot). I miss those girls and really wish I had the opportunity to get to know them over a longer period of time.
Middle School Boys
While I worked with the girls, Ben was assigned to the middle school boys team. Unlike the girls the boys absolutely craved the one on one attention from the male leaders. They were eager to please and Ben enjoyed teaching them how to pronounce words and especially the “th” sound!
I hadn’t realized just how differently the girls and boys were until the last day. It was towards the end of camp and one of the boys was being disrespectful to a female intern. Ben said to him “Hey, you need to respect her.” and almost instantly he stopped what he was doing. Ben said, “What does respect mean.” And the boys went quiet and started to think this through. “Like manners and stuff” and “Being nice” came some of the answers, “That’s part of it, but what is respect really?” Ben asked. The boys were all quiet and out of answers so Ben said “Treating people the way you would want to be treated.” I stood there dumbfounded. Here was Ben interacting positively with the boys and actually having a teaching moment! Those boys so need positive male influences in their lives and I was thrilled that Ben could provide that even if just for a week.
Fun and Games
Aside from camp we also organized a block party at one of the apartment communities. This was so much fun! Darla and her team served chicken chilli and corn bread (big hit!), Tony and Joy organized lots of games, and Tracey and Katie had a face painting table. It was so nice to be able to spend time with kids outside of the camp with no agenda other than having fun!
There was also the Talent Show one evening. Kids had been signing up all week and we weren’t disappointed with the talent! Acts included singing, dancing, jump rope, percussion, cups game, drawing, indie board, and trumpet for the finale! I got to join in the fun when a couple of the middle school girls asked Tracey and I to preform “Father Abraham” with them!
It was so easy to forget these kids come from hard places. I would get to playing and enjoying spending time with them and think of them as just regular American kids growing up protected from a harsh world. Then something would happen that would bring me back to the reality of their situation and break my heart. One particular instance I was having lunch with a little girl from Sudan. There was a boy next to us who was being a little annoying. The little girl said “He’s a mean boy!” I responded with a smile and said “Oh he’s just being a boy, don’t worry he’s not trying to be mean.” “No! He’s a mean boy!” she said back to me with her little hands on her hips. “Hmm, I still think he’s just being a silly boy. You know how boys are. Do you have brothers?” I asked. Then it happened. This little girl looked up at me and said very matter of fact “I used to but they all died.”
This same type of scenario happened over and over again. In the middle of normal everyday conversation these kids would reveal something tragic and heart breaking. They desperately need to know the God who loves and heals.
I was invited to go with Tiffany (Scott and Tiffany head up Friends of Refugees) to pick up bread from an Iraqi lady named Hanaa. Tiffany hadn’t met Hanaa before and didn’t know if we’d be invited in or just pay for the bread at the door and leave. Either way I was excited because it meant I got to spend a little time with Tiffany!
When we arrived at the apartment no one answered the door. After a phone call on the cell the door opened and there was the Nour one of the middle school girls and Rania an elementary girl from camp! They were so excited to see us and we were promptly invited in and served tea. We spent a little over an hour talking with Hanaa, Nour and Rania. I got to try out the Arabic that some of the Qatari students at my work had taught me and Hanaa tried to teach me a few more words and phrases. We left with gifts crocheted by Hanaa along with the bread (which she refused to be paid for) and a large tray of food. By far this was the absolute highlight of the trip for me!
So what now?
Well that’s a good question. I was sad to leave after only being in Clarkston for a week. It definitely was not long enough to make any real connection with the kids. I wish we could have stayed longer and even had thoughts of “We should move to Clarkston”. But Clarkston isn’t where God has placed us as we train and prepare for Helimission. So what now? We’ve long loved and supported the ministry of Friends of Refugees and will continue to do so, but is that enough?
In the few moments we were able to our team looked at the story of Esther with the middle school girls. As long as behavior issues would allow we tried to tackle a section of the story each day and I’d spent the preceding weeks reflecting on this story in preparation for the teachings. As we drove away from Clarkston leaving all the kids and needs behind I began to think about Esther and about Titusville. While we’d been away Atlantis had landed back at Kennedy Space Center and with the shuttle program’s final landing a further 3,200 jobs were lost. Amid a slow national economic recovery Titusville is struggling all the more. We know from our adoption classes that families suffer and break apart in economic hardship. Kids end up in state care as parents are unable to cope with the stressors of joblessness.
We always thought we’d be in Titusville for one or two years maximum before having to move somewhere else to obtain the necessary training for Helimission. Miraculously God has opened doors for us to gain training and experience here, keeping us in Titusville for six years. With the hardships our town is now experiencing I wonder if like Esther’s story, we were put here for this exact moment in time.
But as for me I trust in You O LORD; I say “You are my God ” My times are in Your hand.