Sunday 28th July. 1730 hours. 27 families. 50+children under 10. 1 Dining Hall. 1 Factory. 6 Days. Family Camp.
The Family Camp at YWAM Harpenden over the last week was great! Lots of hard work, but lots of smiles, action songs, creativity, cuddles, silliness and some really profound lessons. Having worked for a church, and YWAM and volunteered with lots of different organisations, I have learnt that each place has its own language.
When I hear 'Family' used in the church, I often think of the meaning as 'something for everyone, provision for each member of the family' - i.e. maybe a bit together, but mostly in respective age groups. Perhaps it's a language thing, but often in YWAM, 'family' means 'all-age' or 'intergenerational'. Something I have become used to - although I still didn't know what to expect at our family camp. However, I was challenged and delighted to see a culture being set at this camp of families doing things together - the fun, the serious and the spiritual. It was great to see the 'all-age' bits really being 'all-age' and not just children-focused.
To cut a long story (or week) very short, daily we had 'Tribal Gatherings' (or all-age worship/creative sessions) morning and evening. The morning one was followed by the daily 1.5hrs in age groups, followed by lunch. After lunch each day there were creative options: bubbles (epic bubbles at that, sculpture, high-rope tree climbing, water-fun, wide games, drama workshops, learning the Bible off by heart and so on. Most of those were to give the opportunities for whole families to have fun together. Then there was the evening Tribal Gathering, followed by tea, and then something for the older children and adults once the kids were in bed.
Despite running the 4-7's program, which was so much fun and filled with some delightful manners and wide-eyed wonders, the thing that struck me were the Tribal Gatherings. Although chaotic and noisy, they were filled with heart-felt worship, dramas to challenge and to relate to, symbolic activities of handing on batons and 'bag time' to talk about the day. One on-going activity was that each family had a large planter, and each day added something to their garden. The gardens represented their family and the family's spiritual life, and it was great to see them pulling up weeds and stones and talking about the hard things or things that need to be removed from family life; the hedge of protection around the garden and the role of parents, the planting of seeds - again the role of parents in choosing what to invest in their children and the watering - seeking God for nourishment.
All the families I spoke to felt God had spoken to them about some aspect of their family life - particularly from a spiritual perspective, and were hoping to put some of the ideas and values in place. I too went away excited at the prospect of being more inclusive and feeding the age-relevant stuff into the bigger picture - a value I've owned for a long time, but haven't seen put into practice so explicitly before.
SHORT TERm; long haul?
A lot of my work with Youth With A Mission is about mobilising young people, children and families into cross cultural mission, usually, due to life stages involving schools and colleges, for the short term of between two weeks and three months.
Such short-term missions teams come under fire for being a waste of money, better spent on people in need and not a flight, 'flash in the pan' ministry that has no bearing on long term change in a given area, and largely about the young person or child having a great experience. While these criticisms are understandable, they are also perhaps based on misunderstanding, and done well, the fruit, influence and impact of such trips can be vast and significant.
Firstly, it is true that it will be significant for the young person on the trip. For them, there is a significant discipleship element to the trip. They will encounter God's love for others in a new way and they will perhaps be forced to rely on God in a way they never have before. Not only that, but when under pressure in a new, sometimes uncomfortable place, with a team of people, your character is put under a magnifying glass and a whole lot of ugly is exposed some of which you can't ignore!
It's no laughing matter!
Psychological reports suggest some thought provoking statistics about how much we laugh. Incredibly, adults laugh somewhere between 4 and 15 times a day, but the average four year old laughs between 150 and 400 times a day!!!! Even by the most conservative estimates it’s worrying for the grown ups - at least to me!
It’s a stark reminder for us to re-view. To see things again as if for the first time with wonder and joy, to reflect on all that we have seen and done and become, and to look at ourselves with new eyes - perhaps a bit of honesty about how serious we may have become!
Children offer us so much insight in many ways, and I truly believe that one of the reasons Jesus told his listeners to become like children if they wanted to see the Kingdom of God is that they found joy in the little things. Children gasp and ‘wow’ at all the minute details of creation, and the boring mandatory tasks of the day, and in doing so they find deep joy, that bubbles up and out at least 150 times a day! What an inspiration.
My musings. Opinions my own, and potentially not that thought through!