Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp!

EMW Camp

Two years ago at the EMW Aberystwyth conference I was accosted by a dear brother, regarding my potential involvement in the youth camps. He told me that they were “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory).

At the time I was juggling a full time job as well as the Ministry. I politely declined the offer to assist with the promise that if the Lord allowed the Ministry to be self supporting, I would give it a go.

Well the following year, the Lord provided and within days of leaving secular work I was contacted by the EMW (efficient as ever) and I agreed to be a chaplain at this year’s 10-13yrs camp (6).

I did not have a Christian upbringing (at all). Camp is an alien concept and as a result I was terrified. I was sure that my lethargic, miserable demeanour would simply not appeal to the children. I am way out of touch with today’s youth (despite having four children of my own) and I grappled with God for many hours to prepare what I hoped to be relevant messages and studies.

I had already met with the team earlier in the year, at a day conference for the camp. This made me feel a lot better. All but a few of them had grown up together through the camp system (and never left). They were a solid, tight, friendly and professional outfit. I could see that the Lord had blessed me with a unit that was strong enough to support my weakness!

I arrived at the elegant Pentrenant Hall, already exhausted and we began to welcome the families in. As the children settled the parents disappeared. It had begun!

Each camper joined a team and “we” came up with a theme song that would anthem every activity of the week. I was a proud Seahorse!

The typical day started early with a camp officers meeting followed by a time of prayer and devotions. The early bird campers then came down for prayer. Breakfast was served followed by announcements and the odd letter from home publically read (the parents knew this and made them extra embarrassing). After each meal a different team was assigned with the clean-up duty. “Seeeeeeeaaaaaa – horses”!

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We then went into the marquee for the mornings worship. We sang hymns, read God’s word, prayed, the children were recommended books and then I preached. We went through Ruth together looking at identity (more on identity here).

After the service we would invite the children to stay and pray. The officers were always on hand to discuss spiritual matters/concerns with them.

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The mornings worship was then followed by a plethora of activities; craft, swimming, archery, sumo, gladiators, table tennis, table football, pool, air hockey, volley-ball, football and wide games. Split by a healthy lunch that gave us time to rest and regroup before the afternoon shift.

Day trips to the beach, the farm or the lake for water sports were accompanied by a packed lunch and ice-cream/ fish and chips were also provided. The children also enjoyed seminars on biblical inerrancy, mission and Q&A.

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The evenings were spent in dorm groups where camp officers worked through the bible studies I had prepared. All were parables of Jesus that mirrored the morning’s message in Ruth. These intimate discussions gave the children opportunities to open up in smaller groups, among friends, pray and ask questions. We would then all meet up in the marquee for fun and games before settling with a hot chocolate and an epilogue from one of the officers. Then bed and repeat.

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I had to leave camp a day early to conduct the wedding, so I unfortunately missed out on the BBQ and the fancy dress on the Friday evening. You should have seen the costume that I had prepared!

It was a delight to serve the Lord in such a way with an amazing team. The camp leaders were so organised and caring. The officers were all young professionals or undergraduates, with a great heart for the Lord and gospel service. They were all fine role models and their evening testimonies made God’s working in their lives real to the children.

The children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing was of the utmost importance. Officers were staying up until 3am with some children (homesick or simply naughty) and then awake again at 6am, fresh and smiling to begin the next day. On the longer coach trips through the windy country lanes, they were the ones lovingly holding back hair, rubbing backs and scraping the sick from the seats. Whatever situation, they kept spirits high, always singing, playing games and always willing to join in. Despite their love shown, none were “soft touches” and they made clear boundaries so that everyone could have fun in a wholesome manner. All the officers were simply marvelous.

 

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Moments of any contention were few and I put this down to the food. I must have gained at least a stone in weight. Each meal was two courses, cooked in love. How they kept to budget I will never know. The meals were of the highest possible quality and offered a balanced diet with amazing desserts. They really went beyond the call of duty and there was little waste – the kids loved it. With filled tummy’s, the children had no room for arguments, and their minds could focus on the spiritual food.

The camp gave me several fantastic opportunities to speak with the children. Although having to sit in a minibus, facing backwards, through those country lanes, whilst answering 20 questions to some very inquisitive young ladies, did cause my stomach to turn.

During the down time, I was often sat with a book in the grounds, but this did not stop the children coming across to ask questions about the message, the Bible study, their life and their faith. We would pray, encourage one another and lift up Jesus together. The outings gave us all a real opportunity to bond and share. Often walking around in groups I had endless opportunities to speak and engage with these young minds at a deep spiritual level.

What shocked me the most was how tough it has become for these children to practice their faith today. Many said they were not willing to commit (although they did believe) because they felt that they would have to let Jesus down at some point to survive school. Others confessed that they were bullied at school for attending church, others were mocked publically by their RE teachers for believing in the Bible. Many told me how other religions were “tolerated” and thus respected and encouraged in their school, but this was at the cost of Christianity and as a result they did not feel comfortable enough to profess their faith in Jesus to their friends.

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Such conversations were a huge wake-up call! They brought me to my knees! For the first time I began to realise the utter importance of this ministry. These children that I had the privilege of spending a week with are our future! They are tomorrow’s church members, deacons, elders, missionaries and Pastors and they are already being ostracised and undermined by the world. Their faith is already being tested to its limits.

The EMW Camps are a most important provision for our next generation. They should never be viewed as secondary to any other ministry. They give such a unique opportunity for ‘our future church’ to take a week away, to rest in the Lord, to make memories and be with friends their own age who share the same trials. The camp allows ‘our children’ unrivalled access to spiritually mature Christians who can answer the questions they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask at home or in church. The week equips campers with answers to take back to school, it strengthens them as they face hostility and I pray it encourages them to share the gospel with their friends and family outside of the kingdom.

In the second letter to Timothy (2:1-2) Paul tells Timothy to take what he has heard (the gospel) and pass it on to reliable people for them to tell others. Paul is preaching with four generations in mind. For the survival of the church and the gospel witness in Wales, we must prayerfully do the same. We must embrace the EMW camps, pray for the work and financially support it.

We need to make every effort to send our children and encourage their friends to go with them, and if you have no children (or they are grown up) please help others send theirs. It is simply an unrivalled opportunity for these young minds to come and know the Lord as their own, for them to hear the gospel and share it with others back home, so that one day they may tell.

We can rejoice that by God’s Grace those who came to camp professing faith, left in greater assurance and those far off, grew closer to God in Jesus. By God’s Grace…camp works!

The day after camp, I went down to my study, I began to prepare my notes for Sunday, but I could not resist browsing through the uploaded pictures of the week. I was quite emotional as I realised that I was already missing the team and the children. Camp was truly “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory). I have clearly caught the bug! 51 weeks to go!

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Random Open Air service on the Beach

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An Atheist Mother’s Day

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This morning (Mother’s Day), my doting sons woke up early to prepare a wonderful surprise (within their adolescent capability) for my amazing wife. Breakfast in Bed!

The eldest nominated himself to be the culinary whiz, whilst the middle son made a wonderful card.

Placed awkwardly on a tray, they tip-toed up the stairs and presented it all to their sleeping mother. (The kitchen was left in a total mess!)

The front of the card had a smiling face, with rosy cheeks, bright eyes and long brown hair (it was my wife). The face was framed in a two layered heart, the inner a bright purple and the outer pink. It was beautiful. Inside my son wrote, “To Mummy, Happy Mother’s Day, Love” (and then their names).

My wife was overcome by emotion; she could see the love, effort and care that had gone into making such a card. She embraced my grinning sons who appreciated the gratitude for their labours. It was quite the scene!

It all got me thinking! What if my wife had viewed this cherished gift in the same atheistic ‘world view’ that most of our society share today?

What if she ruled my son out of the equation and assumed that the picture (however beautiful) had simply arrived by chance over billions of years? The heartfelt words would become meaningless, discarded as haphazard weathering on the page. How would my son feel?

What if my wife, instead of thanking my son, did a chemical analysis on the crayons and ink to find out their source, or carbon date the paper to find out its given age, or take a core sample of the dust that gathered and take it back to the lab?

The once loving Mother’s day exchange would become a cold and meaningless affair.- would it not?

My wife would have lost that moment of love with her son and my son would be mightily concerned with his mum’s lack of appreciation with his craftsmanship! The relationship would be broken!

This world view gives us the very same problem today with our creator God.

He has given us a world that screams out the hallmarks of intelligent design. From the intricacy of our DNA to the great and purposeful forces of nature, from the fine tuning of billions of factors required to support life (let alone sentient life) to the improbability of our very existence. He even resides in our own (and unique) ability to love, create and share, even at times that are counterproductive to our very survival. All such things that we experience each and everyday, that we often take for granted, but are all signatures of the love, provision and grace of our creator God.

Dismissing all He has done for us as our creator is like dismissing a handmade Mother’s day card from an adoring son.

Dismissing God from His creation turns life into a cold and meaningless affair.

Thank God this Mother’s day, that despite our rejection of the obvious, through His Son Jesus Christ, He has provided a way back to Him. Happy Mother’s Day!

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

 

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these

On Sunday, we received a blessing that has not been shared at Noddfa for what I believe to be many a year. We had just as many Children than adults at the service!

Who would have thought it? Just a year ago we were gathered as a small remnant of grey? What a blessing!

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Psalm 127:3

However, having so many children obviously caused some disruptions, at times amidst the pew banging, the screaming and the loud whispers of “be quiet” from the parents; I could barely hear myself think!

As I paused between sentences to gather my thoughts, I was saying to myself the words of our Lord as written in the KJV,  “Suffer little Children  and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). In other words, “put up and get on with it John”.

Why? Well because the Lord values children!

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” (Matthew 19:13-15)

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Notice the children had to be brought to Him, so, you can assume that they were similar ages to whom we had on Sunday. Young children who could not physically make their own way, or did not yet have the ability to follow their parents instructions come. Yet, despite their utter weakness and dependency our Lord welcomed them.

How amazing is our God that He, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the all powerful and all knowing creator, desires to give His time to the most helpless of us.
The Lord cares for Children so we must!

Jesus looked upon those children as He once looked upon us. He saw them not only as what they are now but what they will become. We must Praise God for this truth, for before we knew Him, we shared all the attributes of a young child, we were weak, naive, uneducated and rebellious. Yet He still, so lovingly, told us to come.

Earlier this year (in faith) we started a Sunday School (11am) and the Lord has blessed that step forward as a church. The children attendance is an answer to prayer, we must not hinder them! A child’s mind is like a sponge and we do not know how the Holy Spirit is working in them even at this most early stage.

They may not bear fruit for decades (if at all), but we must be encouraged that the Lord is sending in His next generation!

“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Yes, they may bang the pews and scream the place down! Yes, they maybe too young to sit through a sermon. But they are not too young to pray for!

And that is what I am encouraging all who read this to do. Pray that the Lord will continue to bring children (and their parents in) and that they will be saved.