Wednesday, June 24, 2015

[Admin note: web access from now until we get set up in Cape Town Sunday will be unpredictable. I’m posting what I have and will take whatever opportunities I have to get you further info. Expect something late Sunday or early Monday our time at the latest. (Cape Town is 6 hours later than EDT.)]

Camp!

And it begins with a Great Experiment: God & I Time, or personal devotions. We’re going to ask 55 children to sit quietly by themselves, read and meditate on the Scripture, and pray.

And it works. We lay out the expectations—there’s a sheet of paper with Psalm 42, and another sheet with some study questions for verses 1-3—and especially the need for quiet so everyone can think without distraction. We send the older children out onto the lawn, one team on one side, and the other on the other, and the leaders walking around to be available to answer questions. Amber takes the little ones out a distance away for a brief devotional and then play time. Jessica takes the 3 Standard 3 girls, and I take the 3 boys, inside the Big House for a time of directed work on the study questions. When I finish with them, I send them out to join the others on the lawn to pray and to work on their memory verses.

So all of the children are here, and quiet reigns over the campus. I’m amazed and overjoyed at how well it’s working.

There are issues, of course. Most of the kids are focusing more on memorizing Psalm 42 to get points for their team, and there are some who are sitting glumly and doing nothing. But they’re not being distractions. And perhaps a few are meditating on the material and actually pursuing a relationship with God. At least we’ve pointed them in that direction.

After chai at 10, it’s time for the first hike. We’ll do the faster climb today, the east ridge. I tell the kids to stay with the group—a greater waste of time was never perpetrated on humankind—and out the walk-in gate we go. By the time I get through the gate and look up, half a dozen of the children are halfway up the ridge. They’re climbing in sandals, flip-flops, some of them barefoot, and this is a rocky ridge covered with grass and desert brush and cactus. These kids are just mountain goats.

01 hike 127 (6) 01 hike 127 (5) 01 hike 127 (4)

We crest the ridge in just 10 or 15 minutes and then work north toward some large rocks that give a good view of the landscape in all directions. After clambering around there and taking photos, we work our way down the far side of the ridge toward a second, smaller ridge just to the east. I’m halfway down when I hear a child crying behind me. I turn to see Anthony, one of the 5-year-olds, standing at a 10-foot drop and crying.

Yikes. We left one of the little ones behind. We’re gonna have to change that part of the system. I run back up, working my way toward him from the left while one of the older boys, Kazungu, works around to the right. Anthony has the good sense to stay put. I get there first, and he runs to me and hangs on tight, crying. As I begin to work my way awkwardly back down over the rocks and brush, Kazungu arrives, takes Anthony on his back, and scampers down the hill. I make a mental note to take him aside later for a word of appreciation and commendation.

Between the two ridges, Charity, Kyla, Emily, and Jess decide to head back with the little ones, who are getting tired. They skirt the south end of the ridge to avoid more climbing. We learn later that along the way they pass the home of the aunt of one of the Tumaini house mamas, who invites them in for a visit. As a result, they get back after the rest of us, which makes us briefly uncomfortable.

01 hike 127 (7) 01 hike 127 (3) 01 hike 127 (2)

We head up the second ridge, which is lower than the first. I stop about halfway up to rest for a bit, and as a result I lose the rest of the group. I finish the climb by myself, and find myself at the top in a clearing with a pile of rocks. But no one anywhere. I can hear some kids but can’t get a sense of which direction the sound is coming from. After a bit I see a lone Shadi village woman carrying a load of firewood on her head. She doesn’t see me, and I watch in wonder at the places people will go to do their daily chores.

I hear Abeli’s air horn summoning everyone back for Bible time, and I figure the rest of the group must have headed back down already, so I work my way down, skirting the south end of the first ridge as the earlier group did. A few hundred yards from Tumaini I hear footsteps behind me, and 3 of the boys coming running up. Turns out I’m ahead of the main group—I have no idea how that happened—and we’re the first ones back. The rest follow in short order, with the little ones and their escorts bringing up the rear several minutes later.

All back, all safe, despite everything. That event would have given coordinators of American elementary school field trips nightmares, but this isn’t America, and everything comes out fine.

We rehydrate while the children are having their Bible lesson from Abeli. Lunch is couscous with a Mediterranean vegetable mixture that all of us but Gershon love. Gershon has an issue with vegetables.

The activity competition time starts at 3. It’s a series of relays, first just running, then walking with a cup of water on your head. Boys, then girls, then younger, then older. We’re thrilled to see that the kids are into the competition; they’re cheering their teammates on, making a lot of noise, and competing actively.

So the first day of camp is successful far beyond our expectations. The children have really cooperated with the program, participating in everything from God and I Time to competitive games. I’m particularly impressed with the team kids; they’ve planned and executed well, each carrying out his role effectively and with high spirits. I’m impressed.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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