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This was Dangerous. This was Stupid. And I’m Still Angry About It.

March 6, 2014

It was thirty-three years ago when this occurred, and it still makes me angry.  No, more than angry.  Furious.

Three decades doesn’t erase my exasperation.  Pardon me for my emotion – allow me to give you the setting.  Those that were with me during this incident can attest that everything I write is true.

Summer camp for our school kids.  A great time was in store, right?

It started out so nice.  The scenery was impressive, the facilities were more than adequate, and the energy was high. Our children sang loudly as I drove our school van along the highway.

I was to take our elementary school children to a Christian camp nestled in Northern California for a week of active games, new friendships, and some great Bible teaching.  Being a former Boy Scout as well as a veteran of many a church camp outing, I looked forward to this pristine setting and especially seeing the little kids enjoying the environment with new-found friends from around the state.  I unloaded the children and got them checked in.

“Wow,” said Ricky.  “Look at all the kids.”  He looked up at the registrar.  “Mister, how many campers are there?”

The registrar frowned as he scanned the list.  “I’d say by the time the last van full checks in, why we’d have about one hundred and ten campers, son.  Hey, we have a good Bible speaker this week. ”  He grinned and I grinned back.  Looked like a good time ahead of us.

I met a young lady who had brought a church group from Los Angeles.  Amy was gracious, but I could tell there was a concern on her face.  “I’m worried about this arrangement,” she said, watching the children head into the lodge.

“What could be the problem?” I asked.  “This is a nice set-up.”

“Haven’t you noticed?” she gestured towards the main building and play yard.  “There are no counselors.”  I raised my eyebrows in surprise.  I hadn’t been informed of this.

“Well, then, who…” I began.

We’re the counselors,” said Amy.  “I just found out.”1bbb

A staff member who wore a badge labeled “Linda” walked up.  “I’m so glad you all agreed to be counselors,” she sighed.  “The camp has been understaffed all summer.”  Before I could respond, another twenty-something sidled up to us.  “Hey, I’m Roberto,” he said, shaking my hand.  “I’ve got a vanload of kids.  Where do we register?”  I nodded toward the main building.

“They’re getting things situated right there.  Where are you from, Roberto?”

“San Jose area, but I’m just a helper, not a youth pastor,” he said, shrugging.  “Our church needed someone to bring the kids, so I decided to take a week off of work at the office and come here to help out.  Besides, I could use the break, and this seems like a quiet enough spot.”

“Well, don’t get too comfortable, my friend,” said Linda.  “You’ll be one of the adults in charge of Dorm B.

Roberto laughed.  “Um, I don’t understand.  You have plenty of counselors, don’t you?  I just want a cabin in the corner of the acreage.”

Linda shook her head.  “We need every adult.”  She looked at the three of us.  “Weren’t you told this before you came?”  We shook our heads.  “Well, it’s all hands on deck.  We’ll get every adult that is staying at the camp and put ’em to use.  Orders from the front office.”

Amy looked around at the now-quiet campus.  The kids were all lining up for a late lunch.  “I hate to tell you this,” she said to me.  “We’re the only adults left.  Look!”  She pointed at the retreating vans and buses.  Everyone else dropped off their kids and left.

It was true.  There were three of us, plus the sole staff employee Linda, in charge of one hundred and ten children.

We were introduced to the head of the camp, ‘Winston’, a retired preacher with a gruff voice. “Line up, everyone!”

The kids fell into a single file, enjoying the Army-like atmosphere.  But there was something odd about this…

“Listen to me!  Lunch is about to be served!  We’re going to have sandwiches and soup,” said Pastor Winston.  “And you’re going to eat all of it before I consider anyone being allowed to have swim time!”

Some kids laughed, while others glanced at each other.  The very first greeting from the head of the camp was a threat about eating?  I blinked and glanced at Roberto.  He had the same expression of puzzlement.  Pastor Winston barked out the rules and even barked out a prayer.  “Seems like he doesn’t like the kids,” whispered Roberto.  We were to find out that this was painfully true.

The head of the sports program was a volunteer from a local church.  He was nice enough but not strict on rules or clear on explanations.  Amy, Roberto, Linda and I were the coaches, counselors, referees, trainers and surrogate parents.

This went on all week.

All week.

Pastor Winston barked before each meal and then went to his home about two miles away.  The volunteers cooked and announced games and then went to their respective homes about two miles away.  The guest speaker would preach three times a day and go to his cabin at the edge of the property and hibernate. That meant the four of us pretty much ran the camp from sun-up to sundown and even through the night. By Thursday night we were exhausted.  Friday morning was the day we were to leave, and I was counting the hours.  Mind you, the children were actually great through all of this.  For many of them, this was their first camp, and we were charmed by their innocence and enthusiasm.  It was fun, but our energies had been tapped pretty severely.

Then… it happened.

I first noticed that before the evening service, Shane was dragging his feet and looking droopy-eyed.  Shane was one of our most active campers, and I was concerned.  “Not feeling good, my man?” I asked, placing the back of my hand on his forehead.

“I feel terrible,” he moaned.  His forehead was blazing hot.

I led him out of the meeting area and waved Linda over to me.  “Do you have a key to the infirmary?”  She nodded.  “I need a thermometer as soon as you can get it.” She dashed to a small room down a hallway while I led Shane to a cot.  He was already turning pinkish in the cheeks.

Linda came back with the thermometer.  I took Shane’s temperature.  It was over 102.  I glanced up.  “I’ll stay with him.  Can you find Pastor Winston?”

“He’s gone home.” She shrugged.  “He always goes home before it gets dark.”

I looked up.  Roberto was walking two other woozy kids to me.  “These guys almost fell out of their chairs,” he said, pulling out some cots.  “Thought we’d better get a temperature check.” I cleaned the thermometer and took each of their temperatures.  Each was over 102.

Before the service was over Amy escorted three more kids to me.  Each had a reading of over 102.  One was 103.  By time the service was over we added another sick child.  “Look, I think we need to get the camp nurse or doctor or medical authority here, right now,” I said to Linda.  “Better get on the phone.”

Linda chuckled without humor.  “We don’t have a nurse here.  No medical leadership at all.”

“But you attend the sponsoring church for this camp.  Surely one person has medical training?” I was getting desperate.  Roberto brought in some more sick children and we now have twelve kids laying on cots and sleeping bags, moaning.  More 102 temperatures, and some crying.  “Get the speaker.  He might be able to help.”

Amy shook her head as she brought in another child who was crying.  “No good.  He and his wife left.  They’re driving to Nevada tonight.  They left as soon as his message was over.”

I read the temperature of a little girl who was pouring sweat.  She was over 103.  I looked around and counted.  There were twenty children up and down the hallway.  It looked like a scene out of an old battle movie.  Kids were everywhere, groaning and crying.  The small boy who had pulled off his shirt was now registering 104.  My mind was racing in panic.  “Get Pastor Winston on the phone,” I snapped to Linda.  “Get him down here now.  We need to get some of these kids to a hospital.”

Linda got up and headed to the phone.  “He won’t like this…”

I shook my head.  It was near ten in the evening and I counted thirty kids.  “I’ll take the blame, just get him on the phone and tell him we have a serious situation here.”

Amy had found another thermometer.  “Julianne’s registering 105,” she said trying to keep calm.

Linda leaned out of the office.  “I got Pastor Winston on the phone and told him the temperature readings and the other symptoms.  He said don’t you dare call an ambulance and that the kids should just sleep it off and don’t ever bother him this late at night again.  Then he hung up on me.”

I gritted my teeth in anger and gestured to Roberto.  “Wet towels, quickly.  Start drenching the boys.   Amy, take the girls into that room and get water into them and get that rubbing alcohol over there – swab them down as much as you can. Force them to drink water and use the bathroom.  Maybe we can get the water to flush this thing out, whatever it is.”

Linda raced over to help.  “Will that really work?”

I shook my head.  “I have no idea.  I’m just trying to keep the children’s temperatures down!  Now go!”

The four of us raced up and down the hall all night.  We soaked the kids.  We prayed with the kids.  We toweled them off and soaked them down again.  We used water and rubbing alcohol.  We forced every liquid we had into them and walked them to the bathroom.  Two children held steady at 105.  Brother, did I pray.  I can remember few times in my life where I was so scared.

By two in the morning five of the kids were down to 101.

By four a.m only one child was over 103.  We kept at it.  Soaking, drying, forcing water…

We called all over the town to any camp contact Linda could think of.  She stayed on the phone all through the night.  Those who did answer the phone brushed us off.  The four of us were alone, with precious little medical training for something like this.  There were no medical supplies on the camp grounds.  We kept at it.  Soaking, drying, forcing water…

Thank the Lord that by the time the buses and vans were pulling up in the mroning, Roberto confirmed that virtually every child was hovering at a fraction over 101.  One girl stayed perilously close to 104, but thankfully her parents had come to pick her up and I was able to give them the necessary information.  They took her straightway to a doctor.

I still clench my teeth as I write this.  Yes, I still get angry.  One of those children could have been injured for life because of the callousness of the camp director who didn’t want his sleep bothered.  This is not Biblical Christianity, brother, not at all.  Scores of verses race through my mind about the care of children and the round-the-clock protection we Believers are to show the little ones in this world.  I’m also reminded of the words of Peter in his second epistle as he instructs the Believer to make every effort – in verse seven of the first chapter – to add, along with his godliness, the power of kindness.  Loving, caring, sharing kindness.  Is that so hard?

Weeks, months, years later as I dwelt on this sad memory, I realized what the leadership of the camp had done.

They wanted efficiency of a camp without the affection needed for the campers.

They wanted a reputation without any care for the recipients.

They wanted to give Bible knowledge without showing Jesus’ kindness.

So let me say something about that type of attitude.  It stinks.

Mister, if you’re in that selfish, uncaring mode of thinking in your ministry, then repent or get out.  You have no business being in the ministry that calls Jesus Christ your Lord.  Find another career.  Go be an office worker or ditch digger.  Find a cubicle and earn a paycheck.  But by all means get out of the Christian ministry if you don’t have compassion.

That’s all I have to say.

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4 Comments
  1. That is atrocious. It’s hard to figure out why people like that get into ministry.

    • Barbara, I am in full agreement with you. I can only reason was that it was an “old school” thinking that felt that the kids should have toughed it out. I ran into many a callous leader in those days.

  2. Ohmar Benitez McConkey permalink

    You’re right Doctor Z. That’s overly annoying and I could just imagine the frustration and worries that you had. That’s an awful ministry they got there!

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