All growing up I was totally “that kid”. That one girl that went from basketball camp to soccer camp to High School Musical camp (still an all time favorite), to church camp almost every week of the summer. I lived out of my suitcase, was constantly sleep deprived, hyped up on sugar, and loved every second of it. I was constantly in a new place with relatively new people exploring some interest of my life whether that be in an unair-conditioned gym or a lighted stage or everything in between. Although the question is still up for debate as to whether or not my parents were simply trying to get rid of me for the whole summer or genuinely wanted me to try every possible activity known to man, my mother would always ask when it came time for school again, “What was your favorite one this year?”
And my answer was always the same. Church camp at Camp Egan.
Starting in the third grade, my parents shoved me on that bus to Egan and waved goodbye praying that I would come home in one piece and with relatively few damages. My mom likes to tell the story of how nervous I was while sitting on the bus to leave that first summer. I was sitting next to our pastor’s granddaughter and we were both very anxious about this whole sleepaway camp concept. I was just about ready to bolt off of the van when out came our minister from the church to say goodbye to his granddaughter thereby blocking the door and prohibiting my dash from the car. So as he shut the doors behind him and tapped on the van to head off, I reluctantly waved goodbye to my parents and headed off for the new adventure.
Little did I know that I was off to the start of one of the greatest adventures I would have.
It sounds so unbelievably corny and stereotypical, I know. But somehow for one week every summer filled with silly songs, games, creek hikes, bug bites, crafts, farmer tans, friends, and Jesus, my entire spirit was rebooted and off to the races. There was never a summer where I left not feeling rejuvenated as a person and ready to conquer the world, even at age 8.
Camp Egan was my safe haven. My happy place. The place where I couldn’t wait to go to and the place I never wanted to leave. No matter what was going on in my life at home, somehow I was able to put it all aside as soon as I set foot at camp. It has given me some of my all time favorite memories, greatest friends, and strongest connection to my faith. Even though I attended church 52 weeks out of the year, there was something about being surrounded by a bunch of sweaty, sticky, kids and leaders that made my heart feel so full and alive.
As I sit on this plane ride at 6 AM headed for Hawaii after just finishing an exhausting camp experience as my first time on the leader side of camp, I find myself through my slightly sleepy and dazed eyes reflecting on what my summer experience has brought me. Having worked with kids all this summer, I was so excited to finally get to be at Egan again on the flip side. Although this year in particular brought many new challenges for Egan, I would not trade my past couple weeks for the world.
Okay, so maybe having no running water thereby not having access to showers, flushing toilets, sinks, etc. was not exactly ideal. When I first heard the news and thought that that was it and we would all be headed home soon, I was crushed. Sure it would have been great to maybe get to rest a little more at home and do something crazy like shower. Yet I knew how much I would have been saddened if I were a camper and had to leave Egan early. However I was completely blown away by Egan’s response to the problem.
Immediate plans were put in place to bring in port-a-potties, water jugs for brushing teeth, and even a fire truck to hose us down for our “shower” at night. As expected, the kids and adults were somewhat hesitant to embrace the whole thing at first. However, somehow through 100 kids all in bathing suits getting hosed down by a fire truck dancing around to music at 10 PM, I found my happy place in a completely new light. I finally realized that it wasn’t just the beauty of Egan that made it so special to me. It was the people.
On the first night of camp at worship, we were told to take a sticky note and write on it our “why?” question to God then pin it to the cross. I thought about it for a while, then ended up writing, “Why did you choose for me to serve this summer?” Little did I know that just a few short days later, I would have my answer. I needed those kids and those experiences. I was somewhat reluctant to even come home this summer in the first place, let alone work for the church. But it was through those kids that I was able to, once again, find myself with an uplifted heart and spirit.
We focused on this concept a lot this past week in particular. The whole idea that it isn’t a building or a location or a number that makes the church a special place; it’s the people inside them. The high spirit these kids kept through the entire experience made me realize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I found myself focusing on one of my favorite bible verses; Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” It was not easy, it was not clean by any means, and it was certainly not simple. But it was worth it.
I can only hope that I touched at least one camper’s soul this summer even half as much as they all touched mine. After 11 summers straight, it is scary for me to think that I don’t know when I will next experience Camp Egan. However, I know being able to look back and think of all the fond memories and life changing moments that place has given me will keep me going for a long time to come. Egan was one of the biggest shapers of my faith and my person all through my childhood. They always talk every summer about their goal to change people’s lives and I can say confidently that they have changed mine. The spirit is certainly alive in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and I hope it continues to be for a long, long time.
I am forever indebted to all Camp Egan has given me over the years and for the opportunity to have it as a huge step in my faith journey. I cannot say thank you enough. Oh well, I’m about to land in Honolulu so Mahalo, right?