If a semester of leadership training and working with the kids wasn’t enough to show me why this program is called Wyldlife, camp certainly did the trick. I thought the kids were crazy when they dipped socks in the ice cream gutter and used them to whip one another at our Hunger Games-style end of the year party. But that was nothing.
To be fair, I had a warning. From one of the kids, actually. I wish I could tell you his name, but I probably shouldn’t. I will tell you this, though…his name does NOT fit his personality. It’s like the little Chihuahua named Killer or the big, buff guy called Teddy. It’s just a little comical. I’ll call this kid Teddy for the sake of the story, but ask me his real name later if you want to know.
ANYWAY, Teddy gave me a good and proper warning about Wyldlife camp as he held a cooler of ice water over my head at the Hunger Games party. I begged and begged him not to dump it on me, and he looked down at me (I’m pretty sure he’s at least a little taller than me, but either way, his attitude was definitely one of looking down, not up), and he laughed a little. “You’re going to have to toughen up before camp, you know,” he said.
“I know! I know!” I agreed, begging a little. “I will!”
“It’s going to be way worse than cold water at camp,” he added. “It’ll be Mountain Dew or mud or something even worse.” I nodded vigorously as he lowered the cooler. “Just wait,” he mumbled as he walked away. I let out the breath I’d been holding. Phew.
Three months later, I cheered with the other girls as Teddy climbed the High Five at camp. We hadn’t been at Rockbridge for ten minutes, but he was already harnessed up and making his way to the top of the wobbly wooden pole. I watched in amazement as he balanced on top, scooted around til he was facing front, and jumped off, high fiving the dangling glove as he fell (attached to the rope, of course). Doubting that any of my girls would want to do the High Five, I turned around. Just before I walked away, though, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Teddy holding out his helmet and harness. “You’re next,” he said with a smile. “Newbie hazing.”
Wishing I wasn’t such a wimp, I put on the gear, all the while trying to think of a clever excuse to get me out of the climb. Unable to think of anything, I shouted the commands to the staff below and grabbed the first handhold.
“I can see the fear in your eyes!” shouted Shawn, another leader, from the crowd of onlookers. Thanks, Shawn. That really helps.
Climbing the pole wasn’t too hard, but once I got to the top, I quickly realized that I did not have the balance or skill to stand on top and jump for the glove. I counted to three, jumped, and let the ropes lower me down, hoping Teddy would be satisfied that I’d at least climbed up. He wasn’t.
“Failure,” he whispered. “I don’t think you’re going to make it.” But a little while later, he gave me another chance. “Now you have to do the Screamer,” he said. And I want you to pull the cord.”
The Screamer wasn’t that bad, just a giant swing. It was actually really fun, and I didn’t even mind pulling the string that released us once we got to the top. As we got off, I hoped Teddy wouldn’t use my loud screaming as a reason to make me do something else.
“Acceptable?” I asked.
“Acceptable,” he agreed. But it wasn’t over yet.
The whole week was more of the same. At the carnival, he gave me a pie to the face which actually covered most of my upper body (hair included) in sticky cool whip. And that was after I’d just gotten soaked in the dunking booth. I gave him piggy back rides. And I didn’t even tattle when his little friends dumped their ice creams on my head. It was all in good fun.
But the worst by far was the mud. Apparently this is a yearly thing at Wyldlife camp. They bring in a bunch of dirt and mix it with water until they have a gooey, nasty mud pit for everyone to play in. Except, for some reason, the mud didn’t smell so good this year. Actually, that’s a major understatement. It smelled TERRIBLE. Like manure… or worse. And of course, as a leader, I’d been given lots of instructions about the mud pit: “You’ve got to dive in or your kids won’t want to play in it. Go crazy. Have fun. Roll in it. Get your kids to come in with you.” Great.
As I walked to the mud pit with my girls, we could smell it before we could see it. “Aren’t you girls excited?!” I screamed, all the while dreading the next half hour. “This is going to be awesome!” And by awesome, I mean, nasty, gross, miserable, and disgusting… “Let’s go!” But if you don’t want to, it’s okay. I’ll gladly take you back to the cabin. “Hurry up! Dive in!” Or don’t. I won’t blame you at all if you decide to pass on this one. In fact, I’d love to sit with you and watch everyone else.
I picked up a piece of mud, dying on the inside, I feel like I’m holding POOP!, and threw it at one of the girls. She threw some back and hit the back of my shirt. Okay, not so bad. I can throw a little bit, get hit a few times, and be done. I scooped up another wad of mud but never got around to throwing it. Because in the corner of my eye, I saw Teddy.
He ran at me full force and knocked me straight over. But knocking me down in the mud wasn’t nearly good enough. He ROLLED me in it, coated my hair in it, and made sure I had plenty on my face as well. Grossest day EVER! I can deal with mud, but this smells SOOO BADDDD! I smiled at Teddy. Okay, you got me. Am I initiated yet!? I don’t think you’re going to top this one! With a look of satisfaction, he turned to go tackle his friends. Can I be done now? Nope, the games had just begun, and I spent the next hour or so learning that I will never ever understand why pigs like to roll in the mud. Ew.
After that, Teddy mostly left me alone. I still got the looks. He made it evident that, while I might officially be a Wyldlife leader, I was still a pretty pathetic one. But it didn’t bother me too much. I was busy with my girls. Really busy. Helping girls with everything from boy stalking (their term, not mine) to dealing with absent or addicted fathers, Melissa and I had our hands full.
It didn’t matter that we were busy, though. Or tired. Or dirty. Or hazed by Teddy and friends. I still loved every minute of camp. Because it was so amazing to be a part of this group of leaders that was just pouring out Christ’s love on these kids.
It was a beautiful thing to see leaders all over camp meeting with kids one on one on the last day. It was incredible to know that each of these kids was being challenged to consider the message of the gospel. Each had a leader who had loved and prayed for them all week, if not the whole YEAR before, and not a single one would leave camp without an opportunity to “turn their chair around,” to start a relationship with God. And looking around camp, I knew that many of the kids would leave transformed.
After club that night, Josh had the kids go outside in silence for 10 minutes to reflect on what they’d heard. And at the end of that time, something incredible happened. I wasn’t there, but I heard about it later. Here’s my secondhand account:
As soon as the train whistle sounded to call the kids back into club, Teddy ran up to Stephen. “I have to tell you something,” he whispered excitedly.
“What?” asked Stephen, eyebrow raised with curiosity.
“I’m in!” Teddy exlaimed.
“Yeah. I’m in. It’s all true. I believe it. So what’s next?”
I didn’t get to have such an exciting conversation with any of my girls, but that’s OKAY. Teddy has been coming to Wyldlife for ages, and we’re just now seeing the results. So who knows what’s going to happen with my girls down the road, with Maury River Middle School, where Wyldlife will be starting up its own club this year, or with the kids I haven’t met but already love? I dunno what’s going to happen. But I agree with Teddy. I’m in. Even if it gets a little WYLD.
*Photos coming soon*