I spent a view days this past week up at a summer camp with 21 kids from our Westside Kids Club. For many of them it was their FIRST camp experience of any kind and it was such a joy to watch them soak up each and every part of camp. I wish you could have seen their faces as they hauled their duffel bags down the dirt road and literally ran to their cabins where they found six individual bunk beds. One little boy was astonished—“You mean no one is going to sleep next to me? (Most of these kids share beds with their siblings in their apartments so this was a luxury.) And it’s funny, most kids complain about the dull, kinda blah camp food that often gets a bad wrap, but not these kids. They ate with enthusiasm at every meal and piled their plates with 8 pieces of garlic bread because they’re used to meals that are limited by whatever the cafeteria size tray can old.
For those of you have been to some kind of summer camp you know that there is just something unique that happens when kids (and adults) enter the world of camp. Our sense of time literally changes. Daily routines are organized around shared meals and games and free time. There is open space and few distractions and endless opportunities to soak up nature. Camp takes kids out of their ordinary lives and hopefully gives them a chance to experience something extraordinary.
I have known many of these kids for the past two years. I have spent time learning about their lives and meeting their families. It doesn’t seem fair that many of these kids have known more pain and abuse and brokenness than most adults will experience in their lifetime. They carry their pasts with them—all of their hurts, fears and memories are stored somewhere deep within. And sometimes its both heartbreaking and frustrating because it’s hard to see change and growth when these kids’ lives have been shaped and influenced by circumstances out of their control.
I am learning that when you chose to care and love and build relationships with people (especially kids) its no about seeing immediate change. I long and pray for transformation. I want to see these kids grow up to be compassionate, caring and competent adults who know deep down that they are valued and cherished. I want them to come to know a Heavenly Father who loves them so much, even when many live with no earthly fathers. I love these kids and pray for them and learn from them, but sometimes I also feel stuck because I am short-sighted. I don’t see the big picture.
A few years ago a friend of mine gave me this prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero and I just found it buried under a pile of papers. Archbishop was an incredibly wise and courageous man who served the people of El Salvador. He was assassinated in 1980 while he was saying mass in San Salvador. He offers these words to us:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view…
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders.
I realize that if I take a long view it means that I may never see the end result, and maybe that’s the point. We are sometimes called to love people and be present with them in this moment. And perhaps admitting that it’s only by some element of grace and humility that the master builder uses people like me and you.