KAA: you know!
A group of students from Fellowship North joined with students from STEP Ministries and went to Kids Across America for an entirely new adventure. Bobby Harrison went along and had a great time – he’d like to tell you all about it below! (This is a little longer than a regular post, but so worth the read.)
You couldn’t have slapped a smile off my face. It was unshakable. I woke up with anticipation and went to bed with gratitude. Every. Single. Day.
I’d heard from Harold and Dena [Nash] that going as a leader, a Kaleo, at Kids Across America would be one big “bubble bath in Jesus”, but I wasn’t sure I could quite believe it. At least until I saw it. Or better yet, experienced it. But I’m here to tell you, the bathwater was just right and it was full of some pretty incredible bubbles. Bible studies. Worship with workers from across the country. Fellowship with fellow youth leaders. I came back restored and refreshed and reinvigorated and reignited and renewed. And I knew that would be the case, even from the first couple of days at camp. As for the students? Well that’s a different story. And it’s one worth telling.
Kids Across America is a Christian sports camp right across the border into Missouri. The camp’s vision is to “transform urban youth to impact their communities for Christ.” Urban youth. Not necessarily suburban youth, which is mostly what we were bringing. More than that, the majority of our students (2/3rds or so) would be in the minority, potentially for the first time in their lives. There’s no hiding it and certainly no need to: KAA is mostly designed to reach African American students. From the music to the programming to just about everything else, this camp does an incredible job at reaching into urban youth culture. But for many of our students, this new environment was hard to accept and grasp.
KAA has rules. All sorts of them. And we’re not just talking about not making “purple”. All of you Castle Bluff folks know what I’m talking about. KAA demands an incredible amount of discipline and order and structure. To say our student’s aren’t quite used to this is an understatement. Our kids are used to free time and iPods. They take for granted the little luxuries of life: throwing away excess food, bringing 3 weeks worth of snacks for a weekend-long stay, and finding a little space and solitude whenever you want. But KAA is not CB.
At the KAA dining hall, kids are expected to enter silently and proceed that way until prayer has been said. Once prayer happens, the dining hall explodes into a cacophony of chants and songs. “Take all you want, but eat all you take!” bounces off the walls, a great principle for these kids to carry for the rest of their lives. They play a game at each meal to see which student will have to “scrape plates” for the rest of that table. Students take turns serving their table family style. The whole eating experience is actually a spectacle to behold. Kids are taught how to responsibly share a meal with others. Yes, there is a method to the madness. And that’s really the struggle many of our students felt the whole first half of the week. They could identify the madness, but they certainly couldn’t see that there was a method to it.
The mission of Kids Across America is to “build Christian leaders by encouraging, equipping and empowering urban youth and their mentors through camping and education.” After being immersed in that environment for a week, I can tell you that they have followed through on their intention.
A couple of days into camp, the leaders, Kaleos, get a chance to have a sit-down conversation with each individual student’s Kounselors. These incredibly driven, motivated, Christ-following college-age folks (with more energy than a 6-year-old after a package of Pop Rocks) ask you about the kids you brought. They’ve seen them for a couple of days with no preconceptions or prior knowledge. No baggage. Each kid is a blank slate. But now they want to know a little more, to see how they can more accurately and intentionally reach these students. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think that after that meeting is when the tides turned. That’s when our student’s weeks began to change for the better. Their kounselors came back to them armed and ready. They better knew how to encourage, equip and empower each individual. And watching it from a distance was a beautiful thing.
Kids began to get sucked into this world. They began to make friends. They learned the chants. They sang the songs. They made plans to meet up with their kounselors once camp was over. They competed and ran and pushed and pursued. They completed ropes courses and climbed rock walls and jumped off of faith poles (giant telephone poles, 30 feet in the air!). They smiled. A lot. They stopped acting like strangers in a strange world. Camp became familiar and fun. Really, really fun. Demanding still? Of course. But now totally worth it.
Taido and I and all of our incredible volunteers excel at ushering students into places where they can grow deeply spiritually. We know how to create an environment in which a student feels comfortable, accepted and loved. But we’re not always great at stretching them, at creating a little friction. Exercise requires resistance so that strength can be built. And stamina, the ability to endure and persevere for long periods of time, requires lots and lots of exercise. Friends, KAA was one heck of a workout for our kids. While we as leaders were soaking in our bubble baths, our students were putting P90X to shame. In just one week, this camp fashioned brave and bold students out of these once timid kids. Strength and stamina poured out of each kid in all their sweat and satisfaction.
If you were at church Sunday, you heard Taido talk about the awards ceremony. At the last night of camp, KAA leaders and directors honor the students for the work they’ve put in all week long. Over and over and over again, kids from Fellowship North heard their names called. All because they answered the call themselves. To follow faithfully, to lead greatly, to love God and others. Just as we’re all called to do. Every. Single. Day.