Just a few weeks ago we took 20+ high school teenagers all the way up to Purdy, MO, a place some would describe as heaven on earth. It’s a large patch of land nestled on a hill in the middle of Missouri farmland where teenagers and campers with intellectual and physical disabilities come from around the congregation to embody what only most can imagine as God’s kingdom on earth. Teenagers give an entire week of their summer up to help campers have the full on camp experience, carrying the burden of the life of one with intellectual and physical disabilities, helping perform everyday life task and getting them from one place to another. They act as the literal hands and feet of Christ for these campers in order that they know that they are fully loved and fully included into God’s crazy kingdom. Here are a couple of their testimonies:
Camp Barnabas is a camp full of joy, laughter, and challenges. Camp is where these kids are accepted for who they are and not by what others at school or at home want them to be. It is the next best thing to Christmas morning. At camp, I see God the most through campers’ interactions with one another; whether it is simply through laughter and repeating the same jokes over and over again or even sharing crayons while coloring. My experience of being a missionary at Barnabas has taught me many lessons including that you are there to be transformed by your camper, they are the teacher and you learn from them even though you are supposed to be the caretaker, you continually learn from them. My faith has learned new boundaries by experiencing camp. I have been able to openly talk about Christ with campers some of which who have not even heard the Gospel and some campers who have a million questions about God. This has been an amazing opportunity for me to be able to spread the word of the Lord and make new friendships along the way.
To me Camp Barnabas is a place where kids with special needs go to be normal kids for a week, they go to have fun, make friends, and learn about God. I see God in all of the campers there. When campers have smiles that their faces can’t contain, you know that God is there, and He wants them to have the best week of their life. Camp Barnabas has shown me the hardships of having a special need, and it has also shown me that kids with special needs are kids no matter what, and they deserve the same love and opportunities as those who don’t have special needs.
To me Camp Barnabas is a place full of love, acceptance, and faith. As soon as I enter the gates I am encompassed by God’s presence and love. Being there, among the campers, I understand my purpose as a Christian: to be selfless and kind to the people around me no matter what they look like or think like. Every time I go to camp I see my relationship with God strengthened especially by being a missionary, watching the other campers, and worshiping with the whole community at Barnabas. I truly believe that Camp Barnabas is a beautiful place or a slice of heaven on Earth.
At camp all are welcomed and seen as one. God is palpable and constantly moving on the Teas Trail and Lake campuses. It is a place where time and theology is suspended and the Holy Spirit takes over and weaves its way in and out of the lives of teenagers, adults, and campers.
To participate in Camp Barnabas is to die to yourself, to pick up the cross of Christ, and to live for others. It is a place where we get to practice fully being God’s people in the world!