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“Get Me Out of Here, Right Now!”

February 24, 2014

I took the students to Theology Camp this past weekend.  The new camp location we tried – Wa-Floy Retreat – was great.  Undergoing renovation, the camp personnel was quite accommodating and the facilities more than met our needs.  I took thirteen teens and we had plenty of space.

I cannot say I had a good time, though.  I was greatly bothered by the lack of commitment by some of the teens attending, the worst I’ve had since I started the camps.  Not troublemakers in the bombastic sense, mind you.  I’m not going to go into specifics, but some of my Christian campers did not understand the true nature of the camp, which is intense Bible study.  Rather flippant when it came to spiritual matters and shared responsibilities, this small group cast an influential pall over the spiritual dynamic of the camp.  A lesson learned for me.  There will definitely be adjustments made, including who attends the camp.  These are not out-of-the-way mini-vacations for the lighthearted, and the student who does not come to dive into God’s Word for learning and meditation will stay home.

As you can tell, we get pretty zealous at our camps.  It makes for a fast-paced weekend.

Through the years the school Theology Camps have had some funny responses to the manic pace we keep.  This includes responses to some of the rules I lay down, which sometimes may not be found in the normal camp setting.  Take, for example, the N.N.T. Rule.  I would give the Theology Camp’s opening-day remarks and include this paragraph:

“The key initials you will hear my staff use is N.N.T., which stands for ‘No Negative Talk.’  The world has conditioned you and me to speak negatively on just about everything, and that’s not going to happen during camp, students.  I have divided you into teams for competition throughout this week, and may I tell you that the prize at the end of the camp will be great.  You will want to win every contest you can.  Bear in mind, though, that if I or one of the staff hears you mention anything negative about anything – the food, the weather, the games, the speaker, your shoes, someone else’s hair style – you will be deducted half of the points you have earned up to that point.”

You’d think this was for a spiritual purpose, but truthfully it was a more mundane reason: cooking.  It’s true.

I started the NNT Principle because I wanted each student to learn how to cook in the kitchen (you would be amazed at how many students have no idea how to get around in a kitchen – we discussed that in an earlier blog) but I 1asoon found out that many shied away from the stove due to one phobia: the fear of being mocked.

I wanted them to learn at least a little of this necessary life skill but I also knew that teen self-esteem can be very fragile.

Good words can build up, as the 25th Proverb tells us that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”  At the same time we are reminded that “a broken spirit dries the bones,” as told in Proverbs 17.  I didn’t want teens to hear harsh words and get a troubled spirit.  I didn’t want any dry bones at the camp.  So I put a mute on the ‘down talk.’

The first camp that introduced N.N.T. was memorable.  Remember, you couldn’t complain about anything.

Ricky:  Did you see how Karen and Melody are making the scrambled eggs in the kitchen?

Teen leader:  Yes?  What about it?

Ricky:  (pausing to consider) Why… they have the most unique consistency I’ve ever seen.. Absolutely amazing!

We had an afternoon softball game, dividing the camp up into two teams.  This was where the rubber meets the road for many of my young men – they usually leave their Christian testimony along the sidelines whenever they played a game, and we had many a conflict in the past over their poor testimony, Martin especially.  Martin was a shining example of Christ’s love and compassion – until he got onto the sports field.  I am not making this up.  He would scream, kick, growl, throw his hands in the air.  Well, today was the test.

At his first at bat he was thrown out at first.  He spun around leaping and shouting.

I trotted over to him.  “And why this jumping and leaping, Martin?”

In mid-leap he spun around and realized his dilemma.  Thinking quickly, hollering: “Underwear’s a bit tight, but I’ll manage!”

It became hilarious at times, but the culmination is that by late afternoon on Day One of N.N.T. as I was cleaning dishes in the kitchen and preparing for the next teens to cook dinner, Kandy sidled up to me quickly when she knew nobody was within earshot.  He voice was low and her eyes were narrow.  “Okay, you’ve got to get me to the bus.  Get me out of here right now!”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Do what?”

She hissed fiercely.  “I need to leave tonight.”  Laura slid through a door and was right by her side.  “Me, too.  I want to leave now.  In fact, I need to leave now.  Tonight!”

I put down the cloth and the dish.  “What in the world are you two talking about?  Why should I take you home on the very first day?”

“This N.N.T. stuff,” said Laura, and Kandy nodded.  “We’ve both been talking about it and we’ve agreed to talk to you.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Yes!” Kandy exploded.  “No negative talking?  Are you kidding me?”

I narrowed my eyes.  “What do you mean?”

Laura threw out her hands.  “We haven’t been able to say anything all day!”

Kandy nodded.  “All we’ve ever done is talk negative.  We don’t know how to talk any other way!

I smiled and sat down.  “Then I guess this weekend will be one of the most powerful weekends you’ll ever have as a Christian.  You’re going to learn how to talk right.”

They tried.  Mercy, mercy, how they tried.

I saw them at dinner, chewing on overcooked macaroni while the cook, little Tina stood by with shining eyes.  “How do you like it, Laura?”

Laura held her face steady and with a half-full mouth, said, “Vereh unique way uff cooking thish, Tina.”

Kandy smiled and kept her mouth full.  “Ish delishoush.”

And that, my friends, was the beginning of the transformation of two ordinary mouths into two very lovely mouths.

Both Kandy and Laura are active in local church work in other cities these many years later.  On occasion I will visit them or receive a happy letter telling of the joys of their service to the Lord.  I look the letter over from front to back and you know what I see?

No negative talk.

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