“We look forward to camp all year long, and hype it up every single week in church, so expectations are high.” – Steven Huffine, seven-year camper, two-year staffer and current camp nurse.
This is the mindset of students and churches as they pass through the gates of Crossings Ministries camps. Kaylah Zerihun, a long time camper, staffer, and now intern, says that opening day is like “coming to the Olympics.” While opening day might not be as extravagant as the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the energy is quite similar. Students immediately run to the nine-square court or the gagaball pit; the things they have been waiting to do since they boarded the bus and left camp the year before. From the second students step off of the bus until they return to their cabins for the night, the feeling in the air is that of excitement, of a beginning of another week of unforgettable moments, incredible fun, and supernatural life change like nothing they have ever seen.
The weight of these expectations is not lost on the staff who are responsible for making camp happen. Most of our staff experienced camp as a student and know the level of hype that is a gold standard at Crossings.
“I was very nervous my first summer. After going to camp for so long, I had put staff on such a pedestal, and I knew had to live up to expectations.” – Steven Huffine
Students know what to expect when it comes to the energy of summer staffers. Despite the heavy responsibility of opening day, staffers share in the students’ excitement for the beginning of a week filled with opportunity.
“Week one, day one is the first time it becomes real. After that, you become more excited because you know the possibilities and the amazing things that could be in store.” – Hannah Wilson, a fourth-year summer staffer.
“I am so incredibly excited because we have prepared so much for this day and I am excited to finally carry out our training. But I cannot wait to give Jesus to children who are going through so much.” – Penny Hobbs, a first-year summer staffer.
“Opening day is like Christmas, except for that it happens ten times in one summer.” – Olivia Robertson, a third-year summer staffer.
Although Opening Day is mostly a celebration, carrying out Opening Day is more challenging than it seems, and like Christmas time, it is a tall order to meet expectations every single camp session.
“Clopening” is a term very familiar with Crossings staff. A “clopening” is a day in which a group of students leaves for home in the morning, and the summer staff is responsible for cleaning the entire property. After lunch, the camp is reset to welcome in another group of hundreds of students in a matter of hours. When the next group of churches arrives the staff must greet them with open arms as if it were the first day of the summer. These days require the staff to say goodbye to a group of students in which they have invested a week of their summer and a piece of their hearts. Then, they have to turn around in a matter of hours and be ready mentally, physically, and spiritually to welcome another group of students into their hearts later that night. When lined up back to back (to back to back), these weeks can make it difficult to find the energy to give students the experience they deserve when they drive through our gates. Although the camp resets relatively quickly, it is much more difficult to recover as a human being. Nights of little sleep and the emotional weight of caring for dozens of students do not leave along with the buses of students on a Clopening Day.
As a camper, I always dreamed of being in a yellow shirt, screaming at children who came from across the country, encouraging students to get as excited as I would be for an unforgettable week at my favorite place in the world: Crossings Cedarmore. Last summer, that dream became a reality on the first day of camp. Years of pent up excitement were released, and I spent the first three hours of my time with students jumping up and down, screaming my head off and getting children out of their “cool jackets,” encouraging them to be themselves for a fantastic week of camp. I could not wait for the next bus of students to come so that I could help get another group of students ready to have the best week of their lives. By week four, this excitement for Opening Day began to dwindle.
After three clopenings in a row, I became physically and spiritually drained, and clopening days continued to take my energy. I began to dread the physical exertion of opening day and even looked for opportunities to pass off the job of the “hype team” to other staffers. I wanted to take a job that required less of me. I wanted to be out of the eyes of the students that I did not want to see me tired and drained. Fortunately, my fellow staffers reminded me of my duty to serve. It is strange to think that yelling, screaming, and dancing around is a way to serve. Yet, at Crossings it is. I know that hyping kids up on the first day is not going to change their lives. But, it is going to help initiate a relationship that will lead to a conversation that will hopefully lead to their lives being changed. Drained and with a poor attitude, I returned to the hype team to greet students and encourage them to have an attitude I was faking myself. At this moment, the walkie-talkie went off signaling the first church was coming down the hill.
At this moment, something came over me, and I felt brand new. Like the first day of camp, before I was exhausted and tired of hyping up hundreds of students as they ran off of their buses and began their long-anticipated week of camp. The Holy Spirit washed over me and reminded me that an entire church of students had just arrived and I had the chance to give an incredible camp experience, to show love, and most importantly to tell about the saving grace of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 says:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
We are jars of clay. We are imperfect, fragile, and temporary. But we are also crafted by the Creator in his image, unique and loved, and most of all, if we are believers we are filled with treasure. This treasure is the Holy Spirit, God within us, and he gives us the strength to live the to which he has called us.
We are not suffering the way that Paul and the early church suffered. We are not being persecuted and killed for our faith here at Crossings. In fact, we are obligated in our job descriptions to encourage one another in the faith and pick up our sisters and brothers when the struggles of life begin to take over. But when our frail bodies lose the comforts to which they are accustomed, we start to lose heart and lose sight of the incredible reality that God has chosen us as believers to participate in his perfect plan and to be filled with his joy and satisfaction. When these moments of weakness come, what is important is not what strength that we can muster up from our empty tanks, but that we have the one who is all powerful living inside of us, willing and joyful to give us his strength.
Clopening Days are like Christmas. Staffers are gifted every Clopening with an unmistakable reminder that what God has put forward for us is too grand, too difficult, and too demanding for any of us to do on our own power. When the first church enters the gates, the power of the Holy Spirit permeates the air, the staff is rejuvenated, and the spectacle that is Opening Day begins once again.