Core scripture: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Message: My six-year-old shoved me away from the bus yelling, “No, Daddy! Don’t leave!” Tears racked him. Anger. He was flirting with an all-out tantrum. This was going to be more painful than expected! I was leaving last Sunday, Father’s Day no less, for a week-long trip to chaperone a bunch of middle school kids to Camp Cyokamo, a beautiful church camp in Alba, Missouri. It was odd, but I had a feeling God was going to be up to something. I just didn’t know what. I gave my little buddy a bear hug while fighting my own tears and hopped on, quickly overwhelmed by the variety of personalities inside.
The middle school student is quite distinguishable amongst the different grade levels. I knew that all too well. Middle school has been my home away from home, teaching 7th grade since 2004, and it was no different on the bus. The 7th graders attempted to gain a sugar rush through Skittles, Twizzlers, and Sour Patch Kids. The 8th graders listened to some YouTube song about Kool aid. And ah yes, we can’t forget the adorable 6th graders, two of whom decided to dig a fort in the luggage in the back, peeking their heads out like gophers. Call me crazy, but these are my clientele. My peeps. And I happen to enjoy the heck out of working with them.
We arrived just in time to claim a bunk—try to imagine about 75 bunkbeds stacked together Marine style in a long cabin—and grab a quick bite to eat. Can’t go wrong with pizza. It reminded me elementary school, little lukewarm rectangles, but it tasted delicious. I even snagged a second piece from a camper who wasn’t hungry. After learning all the camp rules in the chapel, we broke into small groups for the first time. I was assigned six raw 6th grade boys, the same kids that were playing “the floor is lava” when I was seeking out a bunk. The same kids that chase each other around the bunkhouse, giggling like elves and screaming like … like … would it be awful if I described their voices as feminine? Puberty has still eluded them.
I had to scope them out. Having taught most all of them in Sunday school, I did know a little about them, but that was from when they were in 4th and 5th grade. They were somewhat more mature now. Key word there is somewhat. Yeah. Four out of six had been baptized or sprinkled. One kid said he attended church only when it was convenient, but the rest were regular attendees. I took them under my wing, attempting to add my own flair to break down sermons they were hearing. Day one was all about learning routine and having fun. It wasn’t until day two that the sponsors really got down to business.
You could feel something happening that second day. The sermons went deeper. The youth pastors and sponsors still had fun with the kids but began peppering the unreached kids and seekers with biblical wisdom. The kids felt it too. Some were nervous about it but they warmed to the idea of submitting to Christ. It was that night that one of my 6th graders, a missionary on leave from Africa by the name of Will, pulled me off to the side.
“Mr. Clint?” he asked hesitantly. “I was thinking about being baptized.”
This is what you sign up for! One problem … I had never had this conversation before. Ever. And he was asking me of all people. Lucky me, right? I talked him through it, asked him what he was feeling, prayed over him, and took him to our youth pastor. We both talked to him, prayed over him again, and let him go think about it. I almost laughed when he came running back to me within minutes, saying he was totally ready. It worked out perfectly. Will’s brother was leaving that next afternoon, and his dad was making the trip to pick him up. Dad decided to bring the whole family up to watch the occasion and baptized his son in the pool that Wednesday afternoon.
That one was expected. The next one came from right field. Taylor, the sweet boy who admitted to not being a regular churchgoer, found me outside the tennis courts Wednesday night.
“Mr. Clint, I was thinking about being baptized.”
This one wasn’t a question. It was purposeful. Bold. Almost like he had made his decision beforehand. I pulled him aside and talked to him for a good half hour, maybe 45 minutes. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Whether it was the moving worship, the thought-provoking sermons, the small group discussions, or maybe just God working through it all, Taylor was ready. He looked up at me with hopeful eyes near the end of our conversation.
“Will you baptize me?”
Me? I have dreamed about baptizing my own sons when they come of age, but a kid at camp … was I even allowed? What an honor! Our youth pastor Collin smiled, coached me through what to say, and after having gotten permission from his family via telephone, we waded into the pool together. The water felt delightful, lapping on my waist. Taylor beamed with a gleam I had never seen in his eye. It was his moment in the sun, and he owned it, purposefully declaring his love for Christ. I dipped him back into the water and up again, born again anew. Taylor, welcome to your new life!
That night at worship I was moved to tears. There was Taylor right in the front row, hopping like a bunny, arms raised in complete praise of our God. Another one of my 6th graders who had rededicated himself to Christ on Wednesday found me, gave me a hug, and said two glorious words: “Thank you.” I squeezed him and watched him go back up front where he was embraced by about six or seven other 8th graders, mostly girls. (Not bad there, Caleb!) You see, when you worship together age doesn’t matter. Sixth graders, 8th graders, 41-year-old camp sponsors like me … we’re all on one team: God’s team. Nothing can touch that. Absolutely nothing.
On the bus ride home, I called Taylor over to the seat next to me. “So, what’s the first thing you want to when you get home?” I asked him. I was totally expecting a 6th grade answer. A hot shower. Time to play his favorite video game. Maybe a nap. I didn’t get that type of response because he told me he wanted to tell his dad about Jesus. “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Amazing what God can do in one week. God took a 6th grade boy and matured him into a young man.
Seeing God’s work at Cyokamo and feeling how He likewise protected my family through prayer was inspiring. We prayed every day for each other at 3:00 pm. Me at Cyokamo and my family two and a half hours away. Was it worth the risk of taking a week away from my family? Without a doubt. So, what about you? What are you risking to spread God’s kingdom? God is waiting. His kingdom won’t expand without effort. Get your hands dirty, and find a new way to shine His light for all to see.
Challenge: Take a risk. Get out of your comfort zone a bit. Find a way to serve the Lord through a gift He has given you, and let God take over from there. You never know what you are fully capable of until you stretch yourself.
Song to bring it home: God was sure on the move this past week, wasn’t He? Why not jam out to 7eventh Time Down’s “God is on the Move” to celebrate His majestic power! Just be sure to crank the volume high, and if you’re listening to it in the car, put the windows down so all can hear. 😊
Prayer: Lord, how can You use me? Speak to me. Tell me what I am capable of and allow me to act upon it. Get me out of my comfort zone to do something amazing for Your kingdom. Amen.