Jul 4, 2016

The teens are gone, and the kids are taking over!

The last day of camp is always harder than you remember it to be. We woke up on Friday morning knowing that we were going to have to say goodbye to our girls that we had just spent days getting to know and love on. If you kept up with our blog last summer or already know about what Camp Hope does and what the mission is, you know that these kids aren’t always going home to great family lives back in Ogre, Rembate, Janjalgava, or wherever they’ve come from. They go back to their homes where sometimes they might not eat as often as we do at camp, they might share a bed with their 5 other siblings, they might not have easy access to a shower, they might go home as a 13 year old given the responsibility of being the man of the house. It’s tough saying bye, but all we can do is give them hugs and smiles and prayers. So many prayers. Our girls just kept saying, “I don’t want camp to be over, I want to stay here forever” or “I can’t stop crying, this is the worst day ever.” Things like this break my heart, and I’m hugging them with tears down their faces trying to do everything possible to keep ourselves together and keep their spirits up, when really we just want to give in and say “OKAY let’s all just happily stay here together!” The whole morning was filled with a last breakfast and lunch, and hours of running around signing autographs on camp photos, signing t-shirts, taking billions of selfies and pictures, and giving an endless about of hugs and pep talks. But when the bus finally came, the reality set in and we had to say our final goodbyes and get the teenagers on their respected buses back home. All the remaining leaders stood outside the bus on the hill and waved furiously as our kids waved back through the window, and as the bus drove off, we all ran after them throwing water balloons as they smiled and laughed, making sure their last memories of Camp Hope Teen Week 2016 were ones they love to remember.

After our campers left, we also had to say goodbye once again to our wonderfully amazing helpful insane Latvian leaders from the week. My co-leader Laura was somebody who I had met last year at camp, but never got the opportunity to really know until this year when we were assigned cabin 2. Laura, you are just plain awesome. I am in awe of your love of the Lord, of these girls, of life, and I can 100% say that Sarah (our other co-leader from Virginia) could not imagine this week without you. You translated for us, took charge when you felt you needed to, let us take charge when we felt we needed to, and you just plain killed it with our girls. Everything you did and the way you lived you every day in front of them didn’t go unnoticed. You are truly a woman of God and I am so #blessed to be a Bumblecat with you.

WOW I was so blessed this week by Ilze. Not only was her English incredible but she has such palpable passion for The Lord. The last discussion night (the crying night) she felt that God was calling her to sing a song that she had written for Him and it was one of the most incredible moments I had ever witnessed. She used her beautiful gift to sing to these girls about God’s love and hope and they all loved it. We had so many together and got through so many frustrating moments and I know that my other co-leader, Elizabeth, would agree that we couldn’t imagine this week without you. You showed our girls Jesus through your actions and love and I will always be so thankful for that.

We spent our day off at Silmaci doing whatever the heck we wanted. We slept, ate, slept more, swam, sauna’d, slept, SLEPT IN… it was perfect. We were so sad to see our Latvian leaders off, but it was made better when 4 new Virginian’s and a whole new crew of Latvian’s came driving up the hill to camp. This week’s crew of Latvians is practically a whole new group of people for us. Usually I feel like we know a decent amount of Latvian’s here, but when they began getting out of the car, I felt like I was in a whole new world… and I loved it. NEW FRIENDS! And I think we might have scared them away in the first 10 minutes we were so excited.

Saturday, our little break ended and turned into a day of complete chaos, the kids came to camp. Just like last year, the kids got off the bus and Silmaci literally turned into a free-for-all land taken over by little children. This week, Gable has a group of 7 girls who are 7 and 8 years old, three of which were in my group last year, so when they came off the bus and started running towards me for a hug, I literally FREAKED OUT! So stinking cute. Some of these kids showed up to camp with literally only the clothes on their backs, that’s it. We had each kid a hygiene bag as they check in along with their tiny Camp Hope t-shirts, and for some, we take to a little “closet” of clothes that have been donated to us. For some, these could be the only new clothes and shoes they get for a very long time, so they really feel special when they get to pick our a new pair of shoes or a new dress.

On the older side, I (Olivia) have 10 and 11 year olds. I decided that I wanted to get to know new girls this year which I’m so excited about because I only know one of them from last year! However, when my campers from last year came running towards me after they got off the bus my heart shattered in the best way. These kids love in such a beautiful way and I can’t believe I get to be a part of it. God is so, so good.

We split up and all went to our separate cabins, Gable in cabin 1 – The Candy Girlz, Olivia in cabin 4 – The Symphony Girls (they chose this name themselves-apparently very passionate about music!). Cabin 1 was a site to see for our girls with pink streamers and balloons hanging from the ceiling – they screamed their high pitch noises as they ran in to choose which bed would be theirs.  The same in Olivia’s cabin, I could hear their screams from cabins away. These kids seriously love being here, seeing all these new people, meeting with the Latvian and American staff. We may not be able to speak or understand each other, but a hug speaks more words than you could possibly imagine. This is one of my (Olivia) favorite parts of doing camp with a language barrier. There’s no way you can be shy and communicate anything so all the walls go down almost immediately. In a way we all dread that kids week means endless piggy back rides but I wouldn’t have it any other way honestly. We do everything we can to let our actions show God’s love and I don’t know any better way to do it than to walk to meeting holding a camper on your back and worship while holding the hands of two little girls.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t even imagine being awake any longer, these kids literally tired me out. Sleep sounded absolutely amazing, for the morning was just the beginning of possibly the longest day of our lives, the first full day of kids camp 2016!!!!

And what a first day it was!! It came roaring in with the youngest boys escaping their cabins during the staff meeting. They jumped from their balcony and wandered toward the water as we watched from a higher deck-eventually sending help their way. (By the way have we mentioned our amazing band?! There are so many people who have a huge hand in this camp that don’t receive nearly enough recognition and the worship band is just a small part of all those amazing people. God has blessed us with an incredible support system.) Meals are always a crazy affair as we seat all our kids and run back and forth with giant trays full of food and drinks, but wow I love taking care of these kids. We went off to our first morning meeting with full stomachs and we worshipped and received a short message from James. At this point the dreaded rain was coming in fast. I know God’s plan is so much greater than ours but dang it we really prayed for no rain!! And yikes did it rain. We rushed back to our cabins and the next hours were leaders scrambling to find ways to entertain campers. Gable used her fabulous face painting skills to entertain many campers everywhere and Olivia stuck with her modest nail painting ability and escorts to gaga ball. Swimming (freezing cold!!! This is what Texas winter feels like people!), crafts, and dance/music were all crazy with everyone trying to work with or around the rain but the kids all had a blast. It’s times like today where I see that we really do worry too much. These kids are just so happy to be here and God has it all taken care of-down pours of rain don’t come close to stopping him. Big Game arrived with a lot of very excited campers. My girls were so into the activity and I could see the group bonding right before my eyes. Group bonding means God has answered another prayer! Yay Him! Getting to know these girls has been such a blessing. They are insane and hyper and they love to hang on you but they have such a love for camp and for their leaders and it’s so incredible. I’m already dreading the goodbyes. Dinner time meant avoiding wet tables and planning our outfits for that nights meeting. This year our coordinators decided to recognize the fact that we would be at camp on a Sunday so they told us to get dressed up and blinged out and to get ready for a celebration. I LOVE this!! Sunday worship and fellowship is such an amazing opportunity and it should be a celebration! With the wind whipping around the tent we had a dance party in our princess crowns and bow ties and we were all smiling the entire time. 

Jul 1, 2016

Day 3 & 4 of Teen Week!!

Wednesday we woke up to yet another amazing breakfast from our camp cooks, have we mentioned how FLIPPING DELICIOUS all of our meals have been. There’s always some sort of potato dish (Olivia’s fav) and cucumber-tomato salad (Gable’s fav), along with a hefty portion of meat, cheese, and bread, and topped off at the end with some sort of amazingly colorful fruity dessert. It’s crazy to sit there and watch these kids scarf down this food like they haven’t eaten in days. You can really tell that they’re so thankful for everything that they are receiving, that they are getting 3 meals a day and even a mid-day snack. It warms my heart to hear one of the toughest boys at camp scream “LABU-APETĪTI” before every meal and hear the booming “PALDIES” in return. After breakfast, we all went to our cabins to come up with what do to for todays theme day – Your Favorite Profession. My (Gable’s) girls took this theme VERY seriously, really considering their future and the way that they wanted to live their lives, and decided that we would all be very happy ladies being professional sleepers. It was genius. We all made eye-masks and carried our pillows around all day so we could take little naps whenever we pleased. On another serious note my (Olivia’s) girls were all crayons. I spent most of breakfast fashioning different colored cones to their heads while they ate and tried to pretend that the crayon idea wasn’t brilliant. My co-leader Elizabeth, made a sign that said our job was to help kids color and we marched off to morning meeting.

Water day is a highly anticipated part of camp. The set up begins during breakfast so all morning the kids are buzzing about what’s to come. The girls love to act apprehensive about water day but as soon as the games begin they’re all in. Our stellar games planner had set up four stations; slip-n-slide, belly soccer, paddle boat racing, and a very challenging (both emotionally and physically) game where you lay on the ground and hold a bucket of water with your feet as a team. The slip-n-slide can cause a lot of damage (shout out to Gable’s massive forearm bruise-pretty sick bro) but is usually rootin-tootin good time YEEHAW! After all the stations were completed, the whole camp participated in a water balloon fight, girls against guys of course. The water fight was 10 minutes of absolute insanity as the entire camp ran around a soccer field throwing water balloons at each other with zero regards for the rules. 10 out of 10 would recommend. Dinner was a ravenous affair with all of us drained from the day and getting the girls energized for meeting was tough but we did it.

That morning Karlis had preached about David, how he was such an underdog and totally not the kind of man that people would think would be called by God to be a king. Karlis has really been emphasizing that “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” This really hits home to us. Both of us know that we aren't what you would call "qualified", we have so many imperfections, and a huge point of our discussion times were to help our girls realize that just because we’re from a place like America doesn’t mean that our live are perfect or easy. These kids struggle daily with things that we haven’t ever even thought about, and sometimes they feel helpless, but just because they might sometimes feel that way, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of being loved or worthy of being called by God. At the evening meeting, Karlis spoke more in depth about who Jesus was and what being a Christian means. He brought out a huge rope, and used a visual metaphor that Francis Chan, a popular American pastor, uses. Basically there is a tiny portion of rope representing our time here on earth, and the rest of the rope which seemed to never end, was the rest of our eternal life that we gain by accepting Jesus and that he died for our sins.

Gable: My group discussions haven’t been very serious so far this week, mostly about random things, sometimes repeating more in depth about what Karlis had talked about in the meetings. But tonight, I think there was a little bit of a yearning to learn more about being a child of God. I had been praying that God would be able to give my girls some good questions, and that he would help me be able to answer them. And I’m thankful he answered my prayers because my girls asked really really tough questions. Why do people suffer, why do people rape other people, what does being a Christian mean. One girl even told me that she was confused and that she believed that Heaven existed but Hell didn’t because God would never want to send us to Hell if he loved us. It's really scary answering things like this to these kids, because you never know how they're going to take it and what they're going to learn. What if I mess something up or say something wrong? I believe God was using this opportunity to teach me how he can speak through me. I’m not the type to pull out scripture, and I get really nervous talking about these types of things sometimes, but I did my best to explain to my girls that the the world is full of suffering and pain, but when we become Christians and accept Christ, we will have an eternity of life without pain and suffering in heaven. I even got to hear my girls pray a little bit out loud, even if it was just a simple “God, thank you for Hope Camp.” I continue to pray that my group continues to ask questions and seek answers, to be curious about becoming a Christian and what they have to do to accept Jesus into their hearts.

Olivia: In my group we have some girls who will answer the questions that Karlis gives us but most of them stick to themselves. On Wednesday night we asked our girls how they would feel if God called them on a mission and one of my girls responded by saying that it would really help to boost her self esteem. She said that if God believed that she could do something she would believe in herself so much more and think more highly of herself. It was really cool to hear her say that if God called her to a mission she would feel honored by the call and believe that she was worth more because of it. Last night was a very emotional night for my group. My Latvian leader, Ilze informed me that during the sermon my girls told her that they were ready to share their life story. I think it’s really interesting that the girls felt so called to do this without being prompted at all. Ilze said that she wasn’t going to translate during the talk so I was prepared to not understand what was going on but I really wasn’t prepared for my reaction. One of my girls started talking about her life and almost immediately started crying and I was overcome with sadness and couldn’t help but shed tears. After two of my girls shared their stories they asked me why I was crying if I didn’t understand what they were saying and I responded, “You cry, I cry.” I hate that they have anything to cry about. This time was rough and very emotional but I now have a bond with these girls that I didn’t have before. We all cried and hugged and confessed and I will never forget that night.

So yeah, yesterday was an emotional rollercoaster, starting with a day full of games and fun, followed by a powerful message and discussion time full of really difficult questions and tears, but the end of the night was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced – we had a crazy mad sweaty dance party. Watching these kids evolve over these 5 days is mind-blowing and heart-changing. Day 1 they hardly would even stand up to sing the worship songs, but tonight, I didn’t see one person sitting down. And not only that, everybody was right in front of the stage screaming singing and dancing their faces off like they were front row at a concert… praising the Lord. It gives me goose-bumps even thinking about how fun and amazing last night was. The feeling that I had while praising Him and dancing with my campers is a feeling I wish I could have forever. Absolute overwhelming joy. 

Jun 29, 2016

Day 1 & 2 of Teen Camp

The airport is such a happier place when you’re picking people up instead of leaving!! We completed our team by picking up 19 Virginians from the airport. After intercepting some jet-lagged and eager friends, we loaded up the bus and drove to camp. Peace out Riga, we're headed to camp! We spent the rest of the day getting ready for camp and testing out the waters, meaning we jumped in the lake as soon as we could since it was a “scorching” 85 degrees here. Silmaci is just as gorgeous as we remember with 12 cabins for us and the kids, a huge dining room for all of our meals, all of which involve some sort of potatoes, and an unbelievably beautiful lake with paddle boats and a trampoline for hours of entertainment.

After a full nights rest and the permission to sleep in, our American/British team of 23 prepared for our Latvian friends to arrive. We got crafts together, set up tents, organized our Camp Hope t-shirts, and cleaned and decorated our cabins. The Latvian team of about 25 finally arrived around 7 on Sunday night and we hugged and greeted them all like we hadn’t seen them in years. It’s always fun getting to see these crazy people. We all caught up, had a meeting all together on the roof of the main cabin, and watched a huge thunderstorm come in as we prayed for our campers safety and for their hearts to be opened as they head to camp.

The teens finally arrived on Monday at 2 after hours of anticipation. We had been doing some last minute preparations all morning and when someone jumped around the corner saying that the first bus had arrived, we all bolted for the driveway. This was it, it was happening, and we were nervous. It’s hard to describe the feeling you have as your jumping up and down and waving at an incoming bus full of the campers that you’ve spent weeks praying for. There were enthusiastic reunions and introductions all around. After a fairly organized distribution of name tags and t-shirts, every group had all their campers, every camper had a bed, and there was an energy in the air that only God could provide. The afternoon was filled with a camp meeting where we worshiped by singing and dancing with the band, and then we had a big game that got everyone out of their shell and had us all running crazy all over camp. We had to go around the campsite completing tasks to “earn a watergun fill” from the lake, and find targets covered in toilet paper to shoot to reveal a letter. In the end, you had to unscramble all the letters to make a word. Our teams both lost so we still have no clue what it said but we had a blast doing it all. We then had some allotted time to come up with a team name and skit to represent that name. This is one of my favorite things to do at the start of camp because I think it helps to give the campers a bonding common ground before they get started with the weeks activities.

My (Gable’s) team this week is a group of seven 14-15 year old girls, two of which have never been to Camp Hope before, and some who have been coming up to eight years! God is so good, he gave me a group of girls who loves cats J so we decided our team name would be Bumblecats… half bumble-bee, half cat - makes sense right? We are having so much fun playing games, singing Twenty-one Pilots, One Direction and Justin Bieber, and coloring in our coloring books – it’s only the second full day of camp and I can already see these girls starting to open up and get more comfortable with each other and with me and my other leaders!

Next door to Gable’s cabin are my (Olivia’s) sweet Ice Cream Hunters! Yes, that is our team name. I have been blessed to have six 14-15 year olds. Three of them have been coming for years which I love because some other group leaders can tell me all about them and we can see how much they have changed since the year before. I am absolutely loving getting to know this group of girls. They have fun and crazy personalities that I relate to perfectly. During free time yesterday we spent an hour braiding each others hair, painting nails, and talking about boys-the best bonding time. We have discussion time after each sermon and to be honest, it’s difficult to get them to focus but when they do they truly blow me away. Yesterday we talked about how we would feel if God called us on a mission and one of my girls said it would give her confidence to know that God believed in her to do something so special. I can’t wait to see what God does for these girls the rest of the week.

Yesterday was our first full day of camp. The staff met early in the morning to pray over our sleeping campers to have energy and happiness for the long day of playing gaga ball, swimming, making super fashionable leather bracelets at crafts, learning this years dance, and also learning the Camp Hope song in Spanish (this past January we had the very first Camp Hope Costa Rica!!) The kids love getting their minds off everything going on and getting to run around having fun with their friends, meeting new Latvian leaders, and jumping all over the crazy weird Americans. After dinner, we walked across to the other side of the lake for evening meeting, where Karlis preached about Moses and how God used him. Our girls are so sweet and are having so much fun making new friends, I just pray that they can open their minds this week in these meetings and discussions. In one of our discussions, we began talking about the stories that Karlis has been preaching from the Bible about Abraham and Moses, and some of our girls said that they don’t believe what is written because “anybody can write anything in a book.” It was a struggle to explain to them that yeah that can be true, but a huge part of being a Christian is exactly that. Anybody could write anything, but to believe the bible you have to be faithful and believe that the words of God are true. Prayers for our girls to open their hearts and that they feel encouraged to ask us these tough challenging questions, and that we as leaders are given the words through God to help teach them and share our experiences with them.

After dinner we had a night game where James made us get tied together as a team with zip-ties and run around the campsite searching for camp leaders to earn glow-sticks by answering questions correctly. So many bugs, so many kids running into each other getting tangled and having so much fun. But the game completely exhausted all of us, and after a MUCH needed shower, we headed to sleep to prepare for our second full day, which is every kid here’s favorite…ŪDENS DIENA! WATER DAY!!!!!!!!!! Yaaaaas.

So yeah, that’s about it and Valters says Hi!