I have come to notice something contradictory about serving others, in ministry and in life.
In my daily attempts to serve selflessly as a camp director, colleague, and friend, I actually end up focusing a lot on myself and my own Christian-y “success”. Somewhere in a place in my heart that I usually try not to examine too closely, the reality is this: I don’t just want to be compassionate; I also want to be seen as compassionate. I don’t just want to help a child or youth through his struggles; I also want him to later remember how I helped him, to love and admire me as a role model in his life. And the list of mildly narcissistic desires goes on.
As normal as this sort of subconscious thinking might be for anyone in such a profession as mine (or in… life), it causes one big problem: I tend to forget who the real savior is here.
Hint: It’s not me.
This is Kelvin.
He is one of the silliest, most affectionate kids ever to attend Camp Hope. He is also the camper with the most difficult life that I have encountered.
When I first met Kelvin, in early 2011, his mother had died suddenly less than 2 months before. He was eleven years old. His alcoholic father eventually drove Kelvin and his siblings out of the house. He would later move in with a different woman and essentially fade out of his children’s lives. Homeless, Kelvin and his brothers and sisters scattered to different family members’ or neighbors’ houses.
Kelvin, of all of the children, fared the worst. He could not seem to stay in any one home for more than a few months—even before these devastating events, Kelvin had been known for behavioral problems. Naturally, his aggression and anger were amplified exponentially. Family after family kicked him out, fearing for the safety of their own children or simply exhausted from failed attempts at disciplining him.
Kelvin’s situation left me shell-shocked. I had to do something, I told myself. Even if everyone in all of Honduras gave up on Kelvin, I would have hope. My leaders and I at Camp Hope would provide a safe place for him. We would be the ones to help him turn his life around.
Over the next two years, Kelvin was showered with love (and loving discipline) from the leaders at camp. He received consistent support in his studies. During a period of time when he was living alone with his younger siblings, he was sponsored by a group of volunteers who came through UPH. In 2012, Camp Hope also sponsored Kelvin in his appointments with a local child psychologist, whom he grew to love and trust. None of these efforts were in vain. In fact, there were many times when Kelvin showed great improvement in his relationships, when his heart seemed to be healing, and when I knew that we had reason to hope.
There were also times when it seemed we were back at square one. Even in his best stages at camp, Kelvin could still burst into an uncontrollable rage. There would be weeks in which he would disappear and no one would know of his whereabouts. Then he would turn up again, affectionate and playful as ever. I never knew what was next.
Needless to say, I often felt desperate and discouraged. What else could be done? What more should we be doing? Why was I failing at saving Kelvin from everything in his life?
Well, as surprising as this may sound, it turns out that God is the only one who is… GOD! God saves us from all that afflicts us. He relieves us of our pain. He grants us his immeasurable peace. He is merciful. Not Katie. Not the leaders at Camp Hope. Not any human being on this earth. Just God.
Near the end of last year, Kelvin stopped attending camp altogether. My other campers told me that he had moved to a different neighborhood to live with a distant uncle. I worried about him often, and wondered how he was doing.
Some time later, I was on a Sunday hike with some friends when suddenly there he was, ambushing me with a hug. I pulled him back and saw a different child. Kelvin was wearing a new checkered shirt. He was wearing shoes. His hair was soft and clean; his face was not stained with sweat and dirt. He was grinning.
Kelvin told me about his new home and his uncle, who was feeding and clothing him and treating him well. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, but things were looking up… and this time I had had nothing to do with it! The truth finally hit me in the face. I had been worrying about Kelvin since day one… and here was God telling me that it was always going to be okay in the end, and that most of all, it did not just depend on me.
How often do we think it depends on us? How often do we feel that we are the saviors, that it all lies under our control, or that the accomplishments and triumphs are ours?
Kelvin is now thirteen. He is growing and maturing. He has even begun to attend Camp Libertad, the UPH site in his new neighborhood. According to his camp director, he is faring well and showing improvements.
In the end, I alone could not have saved Kelvin from his struggles. My efforts were significant and helpful, but I am not his true savior. Nor is his uncle; nor is Rigo. It’s easy—we all know who the real savior is. But we often forget that He is actually behind everything we do. Thanks to Kelvin, I hope now to forget it a little less.
Katie Sugg- Camp Hope Director