Nurturing Faith and Leadership: Aldersgate's Staff Scholarship Awards (part 2)
Camp Aldersgate’s mission is “a sacred space, empowering all in faith and friendship to change the world.” As part of that mission, we want to empower staff to take their own faith development out of the sacred space of Aldersgate and into the world as they continue their education, spiritual, and personal development. Because of this, Aldersgate offers a cash scholarship to a staff person who will live out this mission after leaving Aldersgate. Due to the generosity of our donors, two scholarships were awarded this year.
There were many submissions this year, and were assessed by a small group of Board members through a blind process.
Staff submitted responses in whatever form best expressed their feelings to the question:
"All summer, we have been exploring the Advent story and lighting candles to remember the themes of Advent. Where have you seen Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love at camp this summer?"
Below is the winning submission from Fabrizio Sergio Dias Cisneros, translated to English from the original Spanish.
Where have I seen Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love at camp this summer?
Starting with "Hope", I have seen in many children, how camping can positively impact their lives. I have seen in them goodness and innocence. I have seen that, if perhaps one of them has had a difficult past, we as a Camp and as Counselors can redirect their path with certain discipline, teamwork, love, and other aptitudes and abilities that we can impact on them.
No child is a “lost case”. Everyone always has a second chance, and we can help take advantage of it. Perhaps they come from a family that constantly fights or has drug and addiction problems. We can be that hope. We can help redirect their path by showing them love and that they are not alone, or by distracting them and letting them make new friends and have fun with the different games.
That's something I like about this camp. We not only give children fun, but we impact their lives… and the lives of all of us who work here.
Personally speaking, I know that the day will come when I will have to face the idea that I will set foot in this place for the last time, but I have this hope that I will be able to return… maybe as a Counselor or maybe not, maybe as a volunteer… or even maybe as a father of a family who sends his children to this camp so that they have that wonderful experience in their lives.
As for Peace... with so many children, so much noise, so many problems to solve, and so many hours of work to complete, perhaps one could ask the question: is there peace in the camp? The answer to this is: yes. It is true, maybe it can be difficult to find it, but there is always peace. I have found peace, for example, when taking a walk around the lake with the children while we sing the bear and the Moose songs. I have found peace when reading a story to the youngest children with whom I had to be their Counselor suddenly when I had no experience with that age and felt that constant fear of not being sure what to expect. I've even just found peace when it's time to go for a snack at the canteen while I talk with them about who my favorite superhero is and why. But mainly, I have found peace when I pray and read the bible in my free time, and I ask God to give me his peace during challenging moments. It is there where I find peace, and I have realized that coincidentally, it is when you least expect it.
Something I've learned in my church is that the peace we have is a reflection of how much we trust in God. A mature person with character rests in God's hands, placing everything in them: his fears, his dreams, his plans, his future, his good and bad times. A mature person with character is someone who can have peace despite the chaos around us. It is sleeping like a baby in the eye of the hurricane.
I can exemplify the above, for example, by leading archery with 15 children who are playing with each other or some crying, preparing the bows and arrows, teaching them the rules, and making sure that everyone has the opportunity to shoot in 1 hour or less, trusting in which they will have a good time and there will be a time for the next activity. That is to say, everything seems to be in chaos around me, but despite this, one can trust God and feel that inexplicable peace.
My life in Mexico is full of chaos, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, and being here sometimes feels like an "escape" from that reality. Being here is getting out of that reality and not thinking about the anxiety of my future, my parents' divorce, etc. but only thinking about winning the gaga round, singing at the campfire, or playing UNO. Being here is my safe place. Being here is my place of peace.
I believe that you can find joy at any stage of life, but mainly in childhood and adolescence, and coincidentally this place is full of children and adolescents. It is in this place where I have been able to play like a child, feel like a child, laugh like a child, cry like a child... and in general, be a child again, before continuing to "grow up" and face life and the world. I have had joy playing with the Gaga kids, Ra-ta-ta, practicing archery, eating hotdogs and burgers, or even in activities where one could hardly find joy like sweeping up on a Friday afternoon while listening to my favorite songs to pass a funnier time, is where I see that joy.
Sometimes I would have liked to live this same experience of a summer camp in my childhood as a “camper”, but God allowed me to live it as a Counselor.
This job is challenging, yes. But one always has the decision whether to suffer or enjoy. I remember one time leading the hike with just 2 little campers (among them Nate), and I thought “This can be boring just the 3 of us… I'm going to do my best to make it as fun as possible for them”, and then I led around the lake while we sang the song of the moose and the bear. I could see smiles and joy on their faces, and I wouldn't change that satisfaction and memory for anything, and I hope they always remember it.
Finally, as for love… Wow! I think love is what brought me back this summer and to this very camp. Not because of the salary increase, to improve my English, or to get to know the United States, but because of the love that is lived here. This is where I came to feel loved, and at the same time love others. From a simple “good morning”, or “you are great and you are doing great” while Megan smiles, or seeing my boss John again on the first day and the first thing he does is greet me with a hug before saying anything, to a surprise birthday party with a cake designed by chef John with the flag of Mexico. Or even, going to Target and realizing that Abby buys gifts for the other members of the staff on their birthdays, or even to the point of taking me to see
New York City on a weekend to help me fulfill that dream without even asking her. It is where I see that there is love.
But more than anything, I think the love and friendship for the campers is what brought me back.
Many people in Mexico recommended not to return this summer and focus on looking for a job there. Many friends who had also gone to different summer camps would ask me: “Why do you want to go back to your camp so badly?” (Well, they had already tried different camps every summer). The truth is that no one understood the real reason more than me, because they did not experience what I did last year.
It is true, many children are difficult, and one might wonder: how can I make a good friendship with him/her if I am yelling at him/her all day and telling him/her what to do? Well, one thing is certain... just asking them to wash their hands before eating so they don't get sick, telling them to stop playing hard so they don't hurt each other, asking them to get off the rocks, etc. means to be aware of them, and it is an act of love and not selflessness.
A reflection of the love that is lived in this camp is on the last night of Overnight when we all cried because many of us knew that perhaps we would never see our campers again in our lives, while we hope to have had a positive impact on them and may they always remember us as their Counselors.
Camp Aldersgate is a special place for me. Many times in life, we believe that happiness is found in a luxurious car, a big house, a socially acceptable job, etc. and we complicate that search for happiness for ourselves, but the truth is that we can find it in things as simple as it is for me to work in this place. Sometimes I wish summer was forever. Sometimes I would like to be an American citizen to come to work here every summer without as many complications as the VISA and flights. Sometimes I would like to be a Counselor forever. Sometimes I just want to be here forever. I had never loved a place so much, its people and at the same time call it "my work".
The only thing left for me to say is: Thank you Camp Aldersgate for being my home every summer! Thank you for the laughs, for the good and bad times! Thanks for helping me improve my English! Thank you for the amazing friends I made from different countries! Thank you for allowing me to impact the lives of children! Simply thanks!