At Outdoor Mission Camp, we talk a lot about the beauty of God’s creation and how we can learn so much about God through his creation. When you see the sun slowly settling down for the night behind a vista of mountain tops, or hear the birds chirping and feel the sun shining on your face early in the morning, or see the layer of fog that hovers above the Nantahala River, it is hard to deny the truth in that. Some of my most powerful moments with God have been walking down a lonely trail, or silently watching the waves of the ocean crash onto the beach. But until this week I didn’t realize how much I had been overlooking such a huge part of God’s creation and the glory that could be revealed through it: His people.
The past week was an unusual week here at OMC. We had a group of middle school students from Greensboro Youth for Christ who were staying with us and helping serve at a day camp for kids with special needs, Camp Ability. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to this week at all. It is hard for me to admit this, but I have never really felt comfortable around children with special needs. I’m not entirely sure why, and I feel incredibly insensitive even saying that. I guess I just never knew how to act around them. Do you just treat them like completely normal people? Do you go out of your way to be overly nice to them or does that just make them feel even less “normal”? Honestly, another part of me just had trouble grasping the thought that this could be part of God’s plan. After a week of serving kids with special needs, it’s embarrassing to even say that I had those thoughts.
I spent the week co-leading the 6-8 year old age group at Camp Ability. We had 5 outstanding little guys as our campers, and 5 incredible middle school girls to serve as their “buddies” for the week. It was tough. Two of our campers were mostly non-verbal, while a couple of them became violent pretty easily, and one of them refused to participate in any kind of group activity. I feel like I spent most of my week crouched down, negotiating with one of my campers. “First we need to go to arts and crafts, and then we can go play with Legos.” “I know you are hungry and want lunch right now, but first we have to get out of the pool and then go to lunch.” It was certainly a test in patience, but it was also immensely rewarding! I saw kids who didn’t talk at all in the first couple days open up to conversation with their new “buddies”. I saw pure joy on kids’ faces as they sang silly songs like “Bananas Unite!” I saw some of the biggest smiles on kids faces as they splashed around in the pool and did epic cannonballs into their buddy’s arms. I saw the lives of middle school students changed as they gave everything of themselves to children who wanted nothing more than to have a friend who loved them. Through it all, I was still plagued by sadness by the fact that these kids were faced with immense challenges in life that they had no control over, and never would.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night, sitting around a campfire, fully immersed in God’s creation, that it all clicked. We were eating dinner around the campfire with our middle school students from Greensboro and a local church’s worship team was leading us in a few songs. After singing “How Great is our God,” the worship leader stopped and told us to take a look around, at God’s creation, and just see how great our God truly is. I glanced around at the trees towering over us and the roaring fire in front of us. Yep, His creation never gets old. But as I looked around, I saw something else: The people I was sitting around this campfire with. I saw the SHERPAs who I have been serving with all summer and have become intimately connected with. I saw the middle school students we were leading who were perhaps connecting with God for the first time. I thought about the kids at Camp Ability and their giant, jubilant smiles. All beautiful, wonderful, marvelous. And all part of God’s creation. We talk so much about seeing God in nature, and how is glory is revealed in the mountains. This is all so true. But I think sometimes we forget about the fact that we are all part of God’s creation. We don’t have to look for God’s creation, we ARE God’s creation. And so is every single person around us. If we truly believe that we are all created in God’s image, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then we have to see the beauty of His people.
I still struggle with the fact that a God who is as sovereign and loving as ours can allow for people to have so many challenges in their life. But I know he loves us, and I know his creation is infinitely beautiful, and His glory is revealed through his creation, including His people. I’m thankful for a God whose image can be revealed as much in a 6 year old with Down syndrome as a beautiful mountaintop sunset. One thing I have been reminded of this week is something my mom told me about called “people first language.” Essentially, it is the idea that what a person has does not define them. So, instead of referencing someone as an autistic child, it would be a child with autism. It’s not a Down syndrome child, it is a child with Down syndrome. As much as this is just a politically correct and polite thing to say, I think it has some really cool spiritual implications as well, because it is exactly how God sees them. God does not limit people to the diseases that afflict them, and sees them first and foremost as His children. In the same way, we began to see these kids as just that: kids. Kids whom God loves and cares for and desperately wants to be His. I’m thankful for a week to serve and to love and to see more of God revealed in his creation. I’m thankful for the beauty I now see in each of His children, no matter what challenges or disabilities they may have. It’s a lesson I hope I don’t soon forget.