Last week our church youth participated in Centrifuge (Fuge) Camp on the campus of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. Fuge Camps have been around for about 30 years and are operated under the umbrella of Lifeway Student Ministries. In short Lifeway is the name of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ministries. This particular camp focuses on Bible Study and personal growth for middle and high school students. This is Rachel’s third year to participate in this camp with her friends. Rachel goes to church, Sunday school and to social activities with the students from our church. They know Rachel. They include Rachel.They look out for Rachel. I see no reason why Rachel wouldn’t go to camp with her friends. Fuge brings together students from multiple churches in multiple states.The camp staff is composed of college students and young adults. It is a an awesome week.
My husband and I volunteer in the youth ministry of our church, Blue Valley Baptist. Each year we both go to camp as adult sponsors. It is a week we look forward to as much as the students. During the course of last week, I had a few observations I would like to share. First is mealtime. Rachel is almost always the last one to get through the line and to the table. Even though the table was crowded, the girls always made room for her and helped her if she needed hep with her tray. They did this for other kids and not just Rachel. Rachel is perfectly capable of managing the lunch line, drinks, etc. She has learned this at school but this is a different environment. A little help from her friends goes a long way.
At Fuge the students are divided in to Bible study and recreation groups. They are with their general age group and mixed with students they know and don’t know. They also choose two different tract times that focus on interest area activities. No surprise that Rachel chose drama and interpretive sign. Oh how I wish we had a creative movement/interpretive sign group at our church or nearby in which Rachel could participate! Since camp it on a college campus, the groups disperse to various buildings and venues. I don’t worry though because I know that our students and the staff will help Rachel find her way.
Rachel’s Bible study and recreation leader was a young woman named Lauren. I always try to chat with people who will be teaching or leading Rachel – even at church camp and community activities. My conversation is basically that she can do the same things as the other students so treat her the same as others. It may take her a little longer to process what you say to her and if you have concerns please let me know. I didn’t have the chance to catch her leader prior to the first Bible study. Between worship and Bible study on our first full day I talked with her. This is what she said. “The kids from your church seem to be tuned in to Rachel. They seemed to know if she needed help and when she didn’t. She’s great and they’re great!” I agree. She then wanted to know if we had any limitations for recreation. I told her we wanted Rachel to participate just like the other students. A few years ago I found her sitting during recreation. When she saw me headed her way, she headed back to the group. I inquired and the leader simply didn’t know. He thought she might have a heart condition. No, she has a “I don’t like to sweat condition,” I responded.
The final night at camp we have something called Mega Relays. Mega is crazy night of outdoor messy relay games. It rocks. We love it. They do this thing called amoeba where all the team (25 plus students) run across the field together. Rachel’s little legs have a hard time keeping up and she fell down in this event. The kids helped her up and she went on though. Then, I saw Gabby. Gabby is one of our seniors. She came over and helped Rachel through the remainder of the games. Rachel needed a little help. Gabby saw this and without anyone telling her, she stepped up and made it so Rachel could participate in a more meaningful way. I will miss Gabby next year but I trust that God has someone else who will step up and be there if Rachel needs them. I also envision Gabby’s future of making a difference in this world. She has a quiet, behind the scenes, servant heart and wants to be a nurse.
While my immediate point is that this is inclusion done right and done well, there is a bigger point. I hope those who encountered Rachel at camp will see those who are differently-abled as more capable and as friends. Maybe they will be the ones who call and invite her to do something. I believe that inclusion in the church and community are equally if not more important than the school. School has an end point but the church and community are where we will live and thrive. Connections there will also equate to jobs, friendships, housing and quality of life. Our children’s minister in Memphis always said it is not about Rachel. It is about what God wants to teach all or us and each of us. She is right.
So yes, I do think church camp inclusion is important and not just for Rachel.