When I was eight years old, my nana and papa gave me a birthday present. I still remember where I was when I got it: the atrium section of the old White Spot in West Vancouver. The gift wasn't much to look at, but it would be one that would change my life. It was a card telling me that they had registered me for summer camp. I would be heading off to Camp Kawkawa for one week once school was out.
The time finally came (it's a long wait for a little kid from the beginning of February till summer!) and my parents drove me out to Surrey to catch the camp bus bound for Hope, the little town where the camp was located. Fearless little monkey that I was, I hopped on a bus full of kids I'd never met before in my life, and waved goodbye to my parents, who were definitely having a harder time saying goodbye than I was. I was off for an adventure!
Little did I know then what an adventure I'd be in for.
I don't remember much of that first week of camp, except vague pictures in my mind of my counsellors - Sudsy and Coke - and one of the crafts we did: leather bookmarks that we decorated with leather stamps... They were so cool!
The next year, of course, I wanted to go back. And the next, and the next. I didn't miss a summer - from kids camps to junior then senior teens. I loved the counsellors there - Bunta, Dewey, Squeak, Bertski, Prem, Link, Chunk, Gump, Squab, Lucy, Derby, Crocket, Festus... the list could go on and on. So many of them made such lasting impacts on my life.
And I met lots of great friends there, too. Every summer my address book would be full of new addresses - people I'd write to every now and then, maybe call on the phone once in a while (back in the days when it was a big deal to call long distance to the next suburb. Definitely no email or facebook to keep in touch back then!). They were all people I couldn't wait to see again the following summer.
The location was beautiful, the water was warm, the food was great (oh Georgy Porgy, you were the best cook!), the skits were hilarious, the activities were always fun. It was there I learned how to have a camera war, how to paddle -and tip! - a canoe, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to watch the counsellor at the table like a hawk so I wasn't the last one to put my thumb up and be stuck scraping the dishes with "Mr. Scrapey." I learned goofy songs and ridiculous wide games, and I learned that sleeping out on the beach was an amazing experience - unless of course the counsellors woke you up early and told you that you were all going to play a trick on the director and sneak over to the provincial park across the lake via canoe. Let me tell you, 80 kids trying to hide behind two outhouse buildings just doesn't work. Grizzly was M-A-D when he got in the camp boat and came looking for us. Kids were in tears, the lifeguard threw down his whistle and quit, stomping off into the forest. Counsellors were mad, we were terrified of our punishment, and it all blew up... until Grizzly finally told us all that it was all a big joke, he'd planned it all, and YAY! We were going to have a pancake breakfast in the park.
Man, that all sounds so awful written out. It was pretty funny at the time, and I have only warm memories of the famous "Sneak." Maybe that's also because that was also the day I found out that my very first cousin was born (he's in grade 12 now!).
I learned all kinds of things at Camp Kawkawa, but the biggest impact that camp made on me was on my faith. It was there where I felt that my faith really grew the most - where I learned the most about God and about what it meant to be a Christian. It was all around me at home, too, but it somehow seemed that there, between the mountains and at the edge of the lake, away from "normal life" and school and parents and pressures, I could really experience God in ways I never had before.
Every year I left camp on a high. I felt like a new person every time I got home. The thrill would subside, but the lessons remained. It was at camp that I remember Gump sitting with me on the back bench of the campfire, ignoring what was going on around us and stopping to pray for my friend April, who was at camp with me and had just gotten called away to take a phone call about her mom who was very sick. I learned that I can pray any time, anywhere, for anything, regardless of what's going on around me.
I remember Bunta telling me straight up that I had a bad attitude when I kept complaining about the girls in my cabin practicing their cheerleading routines every night. I remember telling her, "You know what? You're right," and being so grateful she called me out on it. Those girls stopped annoying me from that moment on, cause I realized it was really me being the twit. (And funnily enough, one of those girls now is a fairly regular sub at my school!)
I remember Matilda's Bible study sessions one week when I was fourteen. She challenged us to make ourselves available for God. I did, and recommitted my life to Jesus that week. I would say that that was the week when my faith really became my own and I became a Christian because I knew it was what I wanted to do, not becuase my parents told me so.
I remember the campfires - the songs, the stories, the testimonies kids told on the last night of camp about how God had impacted their lives that week at camp. I can see their faces lit with an orange glow as they stood by the fire and told their story - of their life back at home - good, bad, or otherwise, of their struggle with friends, of new commitments they wanted to make, of what God was teaching them. I remember how they impacted me. I shared my stories, too, at the edge of that campfire. Of how God had challenged me, of who I was, who I wanted to be. Of renewed commitments and a refreshed soul.
I remember knowing that I wanted to keep going to camp as long as I could, and when I was too old to be a camper, that I wanted to work there. So when I was sixteen, I applied to work as a Leader In Training...