Changing Perceptions One Church Camp at a Time

We are headed off to Centrifuge Church Camp this morning.  We love church camp and I have lots to tell you about when we get back – church camp and a job, too! Today, I am just going to re-post the blog I wrote after our first trip to Centrifuge three years ago. Pay special attention to the adult sponsor who owns a business. We are looking forward to an awesome week!

Originally Posted July 3, 2012

Changing Perceptions One Church Camp at a Time
I now have my first Centrifuge Church Camp behind me. To my husband and our Calvary kids: You are right. It was super awesome. Twenty years ago when Jonathan first went to Centrifuge camp, we didn’t have Rachel. In the first four moves of our life together as we searched for a church, we weren’t looking for children’s/youth ministries much less an inclusive church for Rachel. That all changed when she entered our lives. Since 1st grade, Rachel has been going to overnight camps. Since moving to the KC area, I’ve always gone to camp as a leader. Church and church camp are definitely not exempt when it comes to needing to learn how to be inclusive. Usually, it is not intentional but it still happens and it stings whether it is intentional or not. I’ve watched kids be alienated by the actions of other children in the church. Worse yet, I’ve seen adults allow it to happen. Though ashamed to admit it, until Rachel came along I was probably not as alert to this as I should have been. At one camp I cried myself to sleep after Rachel was the only child in her group left out of a talent act. I put that behind me and pressed on because I knew I had to trudge on for Rachel and for the bigger picture.

So this year it is off to Centrifuge. This is a longer camp and facilitated by staff outside of our church. I completed a “special attention” form to give them a heads up that a young lady with Down syndrome would be there and how they might help her (10 seconds to process requests, extra help finding a chapter in a book in the Bible and writing down notes and this is best addressed with a peer helper). Camp was a huge success and not just for Rachel but for everyone. Rachel managed to give a dissertation on respect at their first Bible study session. The leader came to me and I told him he needed to treat her like the other kids, pull her aside and gently discuss not monopolizing the conversation and letting adults deal with such issues. Apparently, Rachel perceived someone was disrespectful. To my knowledge she only had one incident where she was separated from her class but God provided. To the rescue was her friend, babysitter, protector and cheerleader Julia. Julia appropriately scolded the group and leader for not knowing where she was. As plain as she has ever told us anything, Rachel told us that she learned in Bible study that we should pursue God and He pursues us because He loves us and wants us to be happy. So far so good I say.

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I’m not exactly sure what happened, but five different girls came to me after the first Bible study session and told me a girl from another church was mean to Rachel. Got in her face and Rachel cried. They said they didn’t think Rachel did anything but she (Rachel) thought she had and she tried to apologize and the girl started snapping her fingers in her face. Now, I wasn’t sure the “evil eye” would be appropriate here but it didn’t matter. One of our shy, quiet girls intervened and told the young lady that this was not acceptable behavior. This young lady told me that she remembered from Sunday school that when God commands us to do something it doesn’t matter if we are shy and timid, we have to do it. She did. There were no more problems.

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Rachel participated in everything: all recreation, worship, (kudos to SoloFlight), the soccer track and drama track. She was in the drama portion of the final worship activity. She entered the belly flop contest and with the coaxing and assurance of her Julia and her new friend Tanner, she belly-flopped not once but twice and was declared the winner. The other top finishers were gracious. Rachel was brave. The crowd was chanting Rachel. She was energized.

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Three of the adults on the trip who did not really know Rachel prior to the trip told me several times how impressed they were with her. They also commented on how well our kids did with Rachel. “She is just one of them.” That was true this week. The kids her age treated her like one of the gang. The older kids are always good with Rachel. She loves them and they love her. They have a kind of maternal sense it seems. They want to protect her and love on her, and they tell me they learn from her. Of course I take every opportunity to educate and lobby for inclusion. One of our adult sponsors owns a business and she told me she was pretty sure Rachel could work at their business when she is older. She just offered this up – no interrogating from me. I told her she had no idea how much that meant to me. I don’t know if it will happen but just the insight that she had into Rachel and that she is able.

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Several FugeCamp staffers told me how much they loved Rachel and a couple of them seemed a bit surprised when they said, “She did great. She did everything. She just did what the other kids did.” I piped in and said, “of course she did. She has always been included.” A bit of pride and a bit of sadness. Sad because those comments are an indicator of the low expectations for kids with Down syndrome and developmental disabilities. I know they didn’t mean it that way. I knew they meant it in the nicest way and most the most complementary intent. I know if I didn’t have Rachel I would not see the world as I do. So I pushed the sadness away and reminded myself that for last week and for this day, we continue to change perceptions. This time, one church camp at a time.
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Thanks to the Blue Valley Baptist youth who were the best group of kids I have ever had, and that includes a bus breakdown on a HOT day! That is saying a lot because I’ve had some good kids in my journey (and some stinkers!). Thanks to our incredible church staff, the adult sponsors who have brightened my world, and the FugeCamp staff. You rocked and have endeared yourselves to one young lady named Rachel and her momma! To God be the Glory for all the great things you will do in His name.

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