In January of this year, Frontier Camp sent its eighth mission team to Jacob’s Well, the first Christian youth camp in Haiti. The FC team of 23 went to train staff, facilitate a day camp, and continue the development of the campus infrastructure and facilities. We praise God and give Him the glory for all of the progress at the camp, especially the fruit of seeing campers come to Christ and grow into staff leading the camp ministry. You can read more about our trip here. We owe a heartfelt “thank you” to the Valcins, their staff, and to all of their ministry supporters. I encourage you all to keep praying for and supporting their ministry in Haiti!
Occasionally I get asked why we “do camp” in Haiti. Are there not more urgent humanitarian aid and construction needs in this impoverished nation? Some (e.g. a U.S. Customs Security Agent) even criticize us for going on missions abroad – “there are plenty of problems right here!” It is true that most of us can’t speak the language well enough to clearly communicate the gospel or even to ask pertinent deeper questions. We are from a “foreign” culture, and don’t have the experience or background to really “walk” in the shoes of the Haitian villagers that we serve with, or to even begin to understand fully the stresses that shape their lives. There is not enough time to effectively bond relationships one on one even if we could communicate and be empathetic. So, why do we run day camps at Jacob’s Well in Haiti on short-term mission trips? I enjoy the opportunity to respond to these questions, because they allow me to share strong convictions about ministry and service.
First, all ministry is ultimately done by individuals, not organizations. Taking a team of young adults and teens into a majority world setting and allowing them to export what they know (camp – playing with kids) gives each member a chance to see that they possess God-given talents and expertise, and that these have immense value. In terms of spiritual formation and growth, there is no substitute for working shoulder to shoulder with an indigenous believer in a spiritual endeavor, especially ministry to children. Learning how to overcome our cultural “control” fixation by having to be flexible and really trust the Lord in terms of planning and scheduling is worth the trip on its own. Furthermore, team members get to experience how God is working in other countries, and they to get to see another part of the body of Christ worshiping and glorifying our God in their own unique way. True joy that is obviously not dependent on circumstances or material possessions is infectious!
Secondly, we conduct camps in Haiti because it is fun! Day camps are fun, and that is what draws the kids in! And in order to have a fun camp, the staff, including the American team, has to have fun as well. Learning to have fun serving others is a valuable life lesson, and that helps team members grow in their own relationship with the Lord as they learn to depend on Him, trust Him, and find their strength in Him in the craziest of situations. Fun transcends the darkness of poverty, voodoo, and the hopelessness enslaving Haiti. It opens doors, and builds bonds that indigenous Christians can grow. In this agrarian culture that lives precariously and primarily off of subsistence farming, young children are not valued until they become viable economic contributors to the family and the surrounding close-knit community (just as it was in Jesus’s day). When American teams came to Jacob’s Well and started playing with the kids, it made a profound impression on the watching adults, and opened doors for the gospel.
Finally, camps facilitate relationships, and relationships are a wonderful platform for fulfilling the mandate of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Just like camps at Frontier Camp, day camps at Jacob’s Well allow kids to hear the Gospel clearly taught. Moreover, those that have a relationship with Jesus Christ are challenged to grow spiritually, and they are surrounded by examples and role models to strive to be like. The first day camps at Jacob’s Well were blessed by a tremendous harvest which has now flowered into fruit that bears more fruit (Matthew 13:23). For example, the impact of these camps didn’t stop with the campers. Campers went home and taught their parents what they had learned, and shortly thereafter the village elders asked for a church to be planted there. That vibrant and growing church is now filled with young believers (many former campers) that now serve as staff for the ongoing Jacob Well Youth Camps. Being involved in a long-term project (through many short-term trips) has allowed us the distinct pleasure of watching all of this unfold as God moves and grows the work. In addition to the camp and church, the village of Tse Guinea is home to a Christian school, much needed community development (clean water and latrines), and medical help (in the form of clinics) as well. Gersan once told me that the village used to resound with the incessant dark pulsing of voodoo drums – being beaten by the children growing up there! Now praise and worship fills the air. This January, in addition to all of the notable progress at the camp itself, one of the greatest blessings for us was to see the empty corner lot near the camp entrance that had until recently housed a voodoo temple. The priest, tired of competing with the spiritual draw of Jacob’s Well, pulled up his stakes and moved on “to find other more profitable work”.
Tangible results abound. Frontier Camp team members come back from our day camp trips with a new spiritual outlook on life. They realize that they are immensely blessed, and have a greater appreciation for the responsibility that our stewardship of the Lord’s “stuff” entails. They learn to hold material possessions loosely, trust God for the big and small things, (those that we think we can control) and to leave the timing to Him. They understand what Paul understood on the Damascus Road – that God doesn’t need our help, but that getting to participate in His Kingdom brings the greatest blessings. So why do camp in Haiti? We do it because God uses camp to change lives – including the lives of the campers! This Easter is a great time to reflect on the fact that we live in a “good Friday” world – broken and full of pain. But we Christians are “Easter people”! Ultimately everything we do needs to be about Jesus Christ. It is His victory over death that gives us the assurance of an eternal hope. Whether in Haiti, or on campus here at Frontier Camp in East Texas, the message that we want to share with the people that the Lord puts in our path is that Jesus loves them and died for them so that they can become “alive” in Him. He is Risen!