Almost everyone who has ever attended church camp will quickly attest to the profound impact it has made on their life and faith formation. Usually, they will say that they feel in community with those whom they went to camp with for the rest of their lives, even those with whom they may never see again.
This phenomenon manifested itself in an important way recently when 20-year-old camp alumnus Jordan Houston drowned. Ironically, his passing took place at the exact time his former CYF camp was starting. Many of the campers and counselors knew and loved Jordan. When the camp received the terrible news the strength of the camping community became evident. The camp’s Co-director, Rev. Larry Bishop, describes what happened at Wakon’ Da-Ho that week.
IT WAS A FEELING I HAD NEVER FELT IN MY FORTY-FIVE YEARS OF ATTENDING
CAMP WAKON’ DA-HO. THE WORDS FROM CHARLES DICKENS IN HIS BOOK,
“A TALE OF TWO CITIES CAME TO MIND.” THEY SEEMED SO APPROPRIATE AT
THAT DARK HOUR ON THE FIRST DAY OF HIGH SCHOOL CAMP, “IT WAS THE
BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES.” IT HAD BEEN A GREAT FIRST
DAY, BEAUTIFUL DAY, BEAUTIFUL YOUTH, AND TREMENDOUS COUNSELORS.
THEN THE MOMENT THAT EVERYONE DREADS, THE NEWS OF A LOSS OF A
YOUNG LIFE. A YOUNG MAN WHO LOVED THIS CAMP AND WAS SUPPOSED
TO RETURN AS A COUNSELOR IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS, JORDAN HOUSTON
HAD LOST HIS LIFE IN A DROWNING ACCIDENT. AFTER HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS
FROM HIS CHURCH WERE INFORMED, THE DECISION WAS MADE TO INFORM
EVERYONE. THIS YOUNG MAN WAS ONE LOVED BY ALL WHO KNEW HIM AND
WAS ESPECIALLY HELD IN THE HIGHEST ESTEEM BY COUNSELORS WHO KNEW
WHEN THE NEWS WAS SHARED, VERY FEW WORDS WERE SPOKEN. THEY
DID NOT HAVE TO BE. BUT THERE WERE TEARS, THERE WERE MEANINGFUL
EMBRACES, THERE WERE EVIDENCES OF WHAT COMMUNITY IS SUPPOSED TO BE.
IS IT NOT AMAZING WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE CAN TEACH US? THE CAMP
MADE A COVENANT TO MAKE THIS CAMP ONE OF THE BEST EVER BECAUSE
THAT IS WHAT JORDON WOULD HAVE WANTED. AS I FINALLY WENT TO
BED THAT NIGHT I REFLECTED ON THE SONG WE SING AROUND THE CLOSING
“LAY DOWN, MY DEAR BROTHER, LAY DOWN AND TAKE YOU REST
I WANT TO LAY YOUR HEAD UPON YOUR SAVIOR’S BREAST
I LOVE YOU, BUT JESUS LOVES YOU BEST.
I BID YOU GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT
I BID YOU GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT.”
I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS TIME WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE AND ADULTS ALIKE
SAID GOODBYE TO A DEAR FRIEND WHO WAS ON HIS WAY TO LIFE ETERNAL.
“JORDAN, WE BID YOU GOODNIGHT.”
At Jordan’s memorial service, which took place on the last day of camp, many of his camp friends and counselors were there, most still wearing their camp T-shirts. Their presence was a source of great comfort to Jordan’s family. As I watched and interacted with Jordan’s camp community on that day it clarified for me, yet again, why what I have the privilege of doing for our church is as worthwhile as anything I have ever done. Because of the time and effort of those who direct and counsel our camps these young people have the strength of faith to grieve together and love each other through the tough times in their lives. There are many tears, but they will pass. There is much sadness, but it will fade. And, there is great love that will last and last and last.