OPINION: Volunteering builds compassion

By Jordan Guthrie*

In the little town of Terra Alta, West Virginia is Camp Galilee Church Camp, run by the West Marva District Church of the Brethren. Kids of all ages attend for a week to learn about God, meet friends and make memories to last a lifetime.

The children participate in a wide range of activities such as Bible studies, swimming, crafts, movie nights, work projects, food drives, hikes and more. The camp engages the children with the surrounding community to spread God’s love. As a former camper, I know the memories and friends I made there will always remain. I will never forget the lessons I learned throughout the years, or the grateful faces of the people we’ve helped. As a counselor, the lessons the children teach you are sometimes just as valuable as the lessons you’re teaching them.

There was a girl this year that tried my patience every single day. She had a horrible, infectious attitude. She would consistently absorb attention around her, and constantly “stir the pot.” We had several boys in the camp that were mentally immature; for example, one of them was 16, but had the capacity of a 5-year-old. His brothers were in a similar situation. This girl consistently agitated their fragile nerves; she would purposefully start trouble for her own entertainment, then would outsmart them or call them horrible names. The worst incident was when she accused one boy of touching her inappropriately. It was an obvious lie – there were witnesses and counselors present at the time of her accusation. Honestly, I cannot tell you how much it infuriated me. I had to bite my own tongue when it came to implicating appropriate words or levels of discipline.

It was mid-week when I really prayed to receive understanding of her attitude. Eventually, I learned why this little 11-year-old girl behaved the way she did – her mother died of cancer when the girl was eight. After that, her father became an abusive alcoholic (more than he already was), and the family moved in with her uncle, who sexually abused her. Her grandmother was fighting for her custody while the girl was at camp. After I heard her story, I prayed again for understanding, guidance and even more patience to deal with her. She was just so awful to everyone around her. She was verbally abusive, disrespectful and physically abusive at times. The only answer I could produce is that her horrible nature was attributed to the bitterness and anger she had faced growing up.

This year at camp, the analogy that stuck with the children the most is that life is a puzzle; if you live to be 100, and you are 12, you only have 12 pieces of the puzzle, so you don’t know where, when or how you’ll find the next one. I was able to get through to this girl with this analogy. She was so angry, scared and sad, and she kept questioning God’s goodness for letting her experience such a horrible life. I told her that she only has 11 pieces to her puzzle, and that we don’t know what our future holds or how we will find our next pieces. However, we have to trust that God will give us our pieces as we can handle them, and that the overall picture will be beautiful and satisfying. After our discussion, she was just as disruptive, but she seemed a little less untrusting and bitter towards me and the rest of the counselors. With only one week of heavy exposure to Christ and his love, I counted that “little less bitter” as a win. I can only pray that planted some seed of forgiveness and love in her.

Sometimes, you forget how hard, and what “pieces of the puzzle” other people have been given. If they received the ugly pieces first, one should remember to provide them hope and encouragement so they keep looking for the better pieces. It’s funny how the campers teach you, just as you teach them.

*This opinion article fulfills a requirement of the AB honors program and is published as a courtesy of Battler Columns. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Battler Columns.

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