Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

The light shines in the darkness (in which I consider the importance of tiki torches and water balloons at middle school camp)

It is 11 pm on the first day of camp as I write this.

The beautifully explosive middle school descent (also known as Day One of Camp) was a smashing success. They are here – all of them, in all their glory. And because they are here – all of them, in all their glory – it seemed wondrously wise to celebrate. Late at night. In the dark. Long after dinner, games, gathering, and discussion.

Because what could be better than a late night celebration (aka obstacle course) in the dark? Look here and see what I mean:

Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)

Can you see it, the wildly energetic celebration of life (extended across one parking lot, two football fields, one patch of woods, a forest path, and a beachfront) right there in the very dark of very darkness? Those blue lights on the left are flashlights, guiding small groups of the larger raucous crowd across a hilly field. Those two lights on the right are tiki torches, also known as The Official Starting Line. There are lots and lots of people there, mingling in the darkness, so ready to take off running. Look.

Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)

There. Do you see them? Masses of middle schoolers, lined up politely and patiently (relatively speaking).

Truth: the world is full of people living in the very dark of very darkness. They run from one light to another, hoping to arrive safely, hoping to find friends along the way, hoping to find something worth living for. Mostly they are hoping to find a place where the light  is more than just a tiny spot of world-centric bobbing and weaving.

They are looking for the only light that satisfies, the only light that pierces the darkest of dark, the only light that is steady and constant and true, the only light that embraces wholly, the only light that breathes love.

They are looking for Jesus, even if they don’t know it yet. And we are desperately hoping to reflect his light in the very dark of very darkness – rather than reflecting ourselves, which is an ever-present danger in a world that celebrates self.

And though the very dark of very darkness can sometimes overwhelm and suffocate, it does not have the last word because
the Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

We are for Jesus. We are for light. And against all reason and rationale, Jesus is for us.

Sing! Shout!  Let the celebration begin!




Here there be octaball (in which I consider beautifully shattered silence)

[Part of a series in which I muse about life at camp.]

Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)
Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)

In 3 hours (180 minutes / 10,800 seconds) masses of middle-schoolers will descend upon this place. And what a magnificent descent it will be. Loud. Energetic. Excited. Boisterous. Caffeinated. Frenetic, some might say.

Glorious, we would say. Because with those masses of middle-schoolers will come life as only middle-schoolers can live it.

And in this place here, those masses of identity-formational stage of life middle-schoolers will (by the grace of God) encounter life as only Jesus can give it.

It is quiet right now. Beautifully, soothingly, breathtakingly quiet – not because all is at rest, but rather because all are at work. A Sabbath kind of work. A worshipping kind of work. A restoring kind of work. The kind of work that is absolutely necessary in order folife on earth to meet life in Christ.

It is quiet here – even in the octaball court. (Which is both miraculous and creepy.) But soon – (wonderfully, excitingly soon) the still silence will be beautifully shattered in a way that only happens at camp.

Be still, my soul – in peace, in thanks, in adoration – and in preparation for the earth-shattering explosion that even now is barreling down the highway in this direction. We await in expectant joy!

The other kids (Michindoh Post 11)

[This post is eleventh of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

Week 3’s campers and leaders have been here for just over 24 hours.

We are already in love. It takes only that long to care about each face, each life, each soul.

We are here because of the hundreds of middle schoolers we will meet and serve this month.

But they are not the only kids we love. There are another 8 kids here for the month, ranging from almost-two (the “almost” is very important) to nine. Their parents serve in a variety of roles – head leader, program team, speaker.

They – as much as anyone on the work staff or the assigned team – reflect the image of God and the love of Jesus to every middle-schooler who spends a week here.

Because God is wondrous and loving and miraculous and caring, our 8 staff kids have gelled into a unified mass of enthusiasm and energy that is beyond delightful. Their personalities and quirks and smiles and jokes and joys (plus eating habits and sleeping schedules) all add up to one big bundle of fabulous awesomeness.

It has the potential to be so many other things. Tiring. Trying. Challenging. Dreadful, even. Throw together 8 young children for a month, living in close quarters, away from all that is familiar, and pretty much anything can happen.

Because of God’s great grace, what has happened here is beautiful and lovely and sweet. If saying goodbye to campers is difficult (and it truly is) then saying goodbye to 8 children that have become collectively “ours” is going to break many a heart.

We are all about the middle-schoolers, to be sure. But like Jesus, we are oh so very glad that the staff children are here, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Michindoh staff kids (Photo: CKirgiss)
Michindoh staff kids, youngest 6 of 8 (Photo: CKirgiss)


They’re Back (Michindoh Post 10)

[This post is tenth of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

It’s a good day. After bidding farewell to Week 2 campers last night, we welcomed Week 3 campers to (what we will do our very best to make) one of the best weeks of their lives.

During the final approach to camp, “best week” may not be writ large on the horizon. Coming from any of the four directions, this is what kids will see in the final few miles:

Heading to camp (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the north (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the south (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the south (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the east (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the east (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the west (Photo: CKirgiss)
From the west (Photo: CKirgiss)

Though each of these views embodies a certain amount of lovely nostalgia and roadside Americana, none of them scream WOOT! WOOT! in middle-school vernacular.

Nor do they radiate AWESOMENESS! in middle-school style.

But the final view before deboarding the bus makes up for whatever might be lacking in the final few miles.

Work Crew welcome (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew welcome (Photo: CKirgiss)


We’re so glad you’re here.

We’ve been waiting for you all day.

We are going to do everything we can to make this the best week of your life.

We are going to do this because someone did the same for us. Because we want to. Because it fills our hearts.

(But mostly because we love Jesus.)

Welcome to camp, everyone. It’s going to be great.

Thou rising moon with praise rejoice (Michindoh Post 5)

[This post is fifth of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

Dateline: Wyldlife at Michindoh, Week 2, Day 1

Today is Day 1, second time over. 350 new campers and leaders. Eight separate welcomes. First round of scheduled rides. First leaders meeting. First all-camp meal. First club. First late-night event.

I’m not responsible for any of it – yet I’m tired just thinking about it.

The second leg of the relay race is difficult. The newness of Week 1, Day 1 is long worn off. The excitement of serving has settled down into the reality of a daily routine. The new friendships and relationships among staff are no longer new.

But these campers don’t know that, and shouldn’t be able to sense that. They deserve all the excitement of the first Day 1, and they will get the added benefit of a seasoned team who already knows the steps to the Day 1 Dance.

We look ahead with excitement. We also look back to learn.

On the last full night of camp Week 1, I saw this miraculous reflection of the moon on a still and sacred lake.

Reflected moon (Photo: CKirgiss)
Reflected moon (Photo: CKirgiss)

I was reminded of what all Believers are called to do: reflect the love and glory of God as clearly and brightly as possible.

Our attitudes and actions reflect only that which we know and love. It seems to me that there are three possible things to reflect – the world, the self, the Lord.

The first is easy. The second is natural. The third is impossible – on our own.

But still, it is our daily call and our lifelong challenge. As Solomon wrote, “As a face is reflected in water so the heart reflects the real person.”

Too often, the real person we reflect includes little of Jesus. Self so happily and naturally takes center stage.

Still, we pray and strive and strain to do this – to reflect Jesus well so that others see his love and grace and life through us (somehow, miraculously, amazingly).

But reflecting Jesus is not the ultimate goal.

If people only see Jesus as reflected in us, they have gained nothing.

The real goal is that people see Jesus himself.

I saw the beautifully reflected moon from a distance, from high up on the bank, behind a grove of trees. The beauty of what I saw drew me forward, one step, two steps, three steps, until I stepped out from under the trees, looked up, and saw this:

Moon (reflected) (Photo: CKirgiss)
Moon (reflected) (Photo: CKirgiss)

The real moon. The source.

We reflect Jesus so that others can see Jesus, period. So that they are drawn forward one step, two steps, three steps, until they step out from behind the trees, look up, and see the Real Thing. The Source. The Lord Jesus Christ, maker of heaven and earth, lover of my soul, saviour of the world.

Whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18
Amen. Amen. And amen.