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One of the Greatest Insults I’ve Ever Heard

March 26, 2014

I was a guest speaker at a school’s retreat in the Appalachian region of the United States.  I knew it was going to be rural, but I had no idea it would be this rural.  As I drove through the hollers and little country lanes on the way to the camp, I passed numerous collapsing barns, muddy driveways and groups of children without shoes.

Country stores with rustic Coke signs.  Lightning-shattered trees.  Ancient and peeling billboards that hadn’t been cared for since the 1960s.  You get the idea. Civilization was far away.

The camp was just as rustic, with few of the normal amenities that you would see in the average campground.   I was staying in a clapboard cabin with some of the teen boys, while the girls were assigned to a rectangular unpainted 1bbb cement-block structure on the other side of the grounds.  Our cabin consisted of pinewood bunk beds, a bare bulb and ancient heating.  The entire campsite’s buildings were – I kid you not – dating back to the pre-World War 2 era.  With no improvements, I might add.

“Howdy, howdy, Brother Zockoll,” grinned Bentley, the camp director as he pumped my hand enthusiastically.  “It is so good to have you in our parts, surely it is.”  He showed me around to the various parts of the camp we would be using the most.  “Now, I just want to tell you that the mothers and daddies will be coming and observing throughout the day.  They’re most interested in the camp goings-on.”  He did indeed refer to these teens’ parents as “mothers and daddies” with no embarrassment.  In fact, I saw some of the biggest teen boys – large enough to play NFL football – refer to their parent as “daddy” quite often during the week.    Bentley was a treat to be around.  His demeanor was relaxed and simple, the same manner I saw all of the folks, adult and teens alike, throughout my stay.

Each evening I spoke in a coarse log-pole pavilion that had rough-hewn pews embedded in inch-deep sawdust.  I felt like an itinerant preacher of Abe Lincoln’s day.  And you know?  It was fun.  The folks joined with the teens each evening for a time of my sharing the Scriptures with them, and these downhome people responded with a simple and deep conviction to see God’s Work being done in their lives and in the lives of their children.

However, there were some hitches along the way.

One night about midnight I awoke with a screaming headache that was pounding my face into shreds.  On a bunk halfway across the cabin I could hear a boy gagging and heaving.  Staggering, I followed the wretching sounds in the dark and shook the boy’s shoulder.  “Rusty?” I called to him while clutching my head.  “You okay?”

He groaned.  “My stomach.  I’m soooo sick.”

At the very time he said that, I felt a wave of nausea hit me.  I could barely hold back.  Whatever Rusty had, I had also, and there was only one thing to do.  “Quick,” I grabbed his shoulder and pulled.  “Get outside.”

We both slammed open the screen door and stumbled down the steps. Rusty fell to the left as I crumpled to the right.  We vomited repeatedly onto the grass, holding our heads gingerly and moaning with the pain.

“Doc Zock, it’s been many a moon since I felt this lowly,” sighed Rusty as he shook his head carefully.

I found out that the cabin they had assigned to us was laced with black mold across the ceiling.  Our movements in the cabin had caused it to settle down on us and fill our sinuses.  Some of the other boys complained of headaches, but thankfully nobody else endured the vomitous night that Rusty and I had suffered.

We recovered sufficiently to engage in the next day’s activities.  I was not only the speaker for this camp – I also ran all of the activities, and I delighted in doing so.  Our activities included devotional times and Bible study Q & A sessions, we also had beach ball volleyball on a leveled sand pile, Tug of War over a mud pit, and Capture the Flag in the woods.  The students were exhausted but happy.

“Bentley, Bentley,” called Alyssa.  “Come on, man, git us goin’ in a game of Red Rover.”  The other teens cheered while Bentley blew his whistle and smiled at the same time.

While they congregated with Bentley it was time for me to have my regular Parents Meeting in the pavilion, a daily chat time that Bentley had arranged.  The folks were eagerly awaiting my assessment of the camp week.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a wonderful time so far,” I said.  The parents nodded.  “I’ve seen your sons and daughters get involved in apologetics, debates, Bible study, even preaching a bit.  They are an energetic bunch of teens who love the Lord and want to serve Him,”  I continued.  “And now it’s time to take something back to their school.  I want to show you how they can start a powerful outreach in your community, by working together and utilizing these ideas that I want to show you…”

I then spent the next ten minutes talking about the formation of community prayer groups, neighborhood outreaches, Bible studies in homes, leadership training.  I was enthusiastic and emotional;  these teens could really make a difference in the region.  This group had the potential

…I was met by silence and blank stares.

It was so noticeable that I paused in my presentation.  “I’m getting an unusual response here,” I ventured.  “Could you tell me why you’re looking at me that way.  Some of you are shaking your head – why?”

What the parents then said stunned me.

A red-haired lady spoke up plainly and politely.  “Um, well, preacher, that’s all well and good, but you don’t understand…”

She looked down, coughed, and then spoke up.

“…our children aren’t smart.  They can’t do things like this.  Our children are just not intelligent like you think.”  Several parents sadly and solemnly nodded their heads.

“They just don’t have the brains to do these things,” added another mother.

I stood there, staring at them.

And I said something I have never said before.

“You have offended me, parents,” I said.  “You’ve offended your children.  God has given your children the spirit of love and of power and of a sound mind!  I am upset that you would ever think this about your kids.  Ladies and gentlemen, those young ones are God’s creation and they are capable of fulfilling the Scriptural claim of I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”

I took a pause to catch my breath and calm down.

Some of the parents lowered their eyes.

“Listen, I won’t debate you on this,” I said.  “I’ll show you what your children can do.”  The folks looked up and raised their eyebrows.  “There is an outreach festival project that usually takes two days to prepare.”  I stepped towards the side of the platform.  “I’ll show that your teens can pull it together in one hour.”

A father shrugged his shoulders.  “We’re out at a camp.  They don’t have the stuff they need – the materials for somethin’ like this.”

“That’s my point,” I said.  “With the few resources that they have, these teens will need to use creativity and intellect in order to pull off a mini-festival for you.  Go on, now, go take a walk for an hour,” I shooed them out the back of the pavilion, “and set your stopwatches.  Sixty minutes from now, meet us in the main dining hall.”

“Well, okay, preacher…” said a father.  “I got some coffee in a Thermos…”

I ran to meet the teens and gave them the challenge.  Their eyes lit up and their grins widened.

“You have about fifty minutes left,” I cried.  “Use what resources you have.  Now go!”

The teens broke into a run.

At the top of the hour, the parents met me at the front door of the dining hall.

“Welcome to a sample of a neighborhood outreach – a festival for the whole street,” I said.  “This was made entirely by your children – I helped not a bit.  They were given no assistance nor any materials.  This is to give you an idea of what your teens can do if they are put to the test.”  I threw the door open and the teens greeted their parents with cheers and shouts.  The inside of the dining hall was one big celebration.

One group of girls had made a pasteboard Ball Toss with animals drawn on the cardboard.  They had taken mascara and painted their noses to look like puppy noses.  Another boy had rifled through the dumpster and made a doghouse, complete with a middle schooler playing the part of a pit bull, leaping out and snarling.

“Hey, come to the fair!” shouted a large green mascot.  “Lookit me!”  Rusty had zipped himself in his sleeping bag up to his neck and portrayed himself as Carl the Caterpillar.  He wore a green ski cap and his face was slathered with green paint – I don’t know where they got the paint and I didn’t want to know.

It was loud.  It was rowdy.  It was great.

In the far corner was a barn with fencing around it.. The barn was knee high and made out of tree branches.  A ring toss was also constructed from boughs from the nearby forest.  In another corner the teens had taken the Tug of War rope and were playing Double Dutch, inviting parents to join.  Some of them did.

Another group of teens were singing songs from the fifties in a makeshift barbershop quartet.

The place was alive with excitement and energy.  Bentley was jumping around, grinning and giving me a thumbs-up.  A father accepted a handful of Lifesavers from a Candy Vendor-teen.  Dad looked at me, shook his head and winked.

The red-haired lady approached me and shouted above all the noise.  “I wuz gonna say you did it, preacher, but I know that’s wrong.” She pointed to the teens.  “They did it.”  She paused and shook her head.  “No, that’s not right.  God did it.”  She turned towards me.  “Guess I learned a lesson, didn’t I?”

Now that’s the kind of teaching I most enjoy.

 

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4 Comments
  1. MargieLou Hall permalink

    Wow, what a blessing.

  2. What a warm, amazing story and an example of how little we take advantage of God’s abundance.

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