Several Australians, a few Americans, and a bunch of Kiwis sat bleary eyed in in an early morning meeting. No this is not a joke…it was the last day of youth camp and the counselors’ meeting was justifiably quiet. Throughout the week, we had spent our days with somewhere around 100 youth between the ages of 11 and 17. We had worshiped together, gotten to know one another, stared at the picturesque scenery, jumped off of a wharf into the bay, kayaked in the ocean, and sent teens barreling down the hill on a 100 meter (about 100 yard) water slide, and stayed up way too late. In short, it had been awesome!
Even better: this camp, located along the beautiful beaches of Parua Bay near Whangarei, was completely free to our campers.
As the week went on our District Superintendent told me the story of how we gained access to this wonderful place, a story that begins with heart-breaking tragedy. Several years ago a young teenager from one of our churches decided to take her own life. As she lay in a coma in the hospital, the hearts of the New Zealand Nazarenes were broken. Dozens of visitors made their way to the hospital to pray and give support. Sadly, the girl never recovered.
Meanwhile, one of the local doctors overheard some of those who had come to visit talking about teenagers in the church of the Nazarene. That particular doctor happened to be affiliated with a local Christian campground that had recently closed down. In an attempt to save the campground, the owners had worked out a deal with the NZ government that would ensure funding for the camp. Basically, the camp would provide week-long holidays for at risk students in New Zealand and the government would foot the bill.
It happens that many of the youth in our Nazarene churches fall within the NZ government definition of “at risk,” so the doctor connected our district to the campground. The relationship is mutually beneficial. We provide a free camp for our teenagers. In turn, the campground is able to boost their summer numbers due to the size of our group which pretty much maxes out the capacity of the campground. It’s a win-win.
For the fourth year in a row Nazarene youth from across the District have gathered to play and to worship and to come to know Jesus. Our prayer is that from among these young people some will be pastors, some will be teachers, and all will be bearers of the gospel in a broken world. We hope and anticipate that the Holy Spirit will move among these youth and begin to change the very fabric or our society. We pray that when teens are hopeless they will be strengthened by Christ—that none of them will feel so lost and alone that suicide seems to be the only answer.
Let me be clear. God did not cause a young girl to commit suicide so that God could bring us a camp. That’s not how it works. I believe God’s heart breaks every time one of God’s children dies, for death is not what God intended.
I do believe however that even in the darkest of days God is still at work. Even when we find ourselves under the shadow of tragedy, Christ has still risen, and the Holy Spirit is still moving among us.
Whether we are bleary eyed at the end of a long week, or sitting in a hospital grieving and asking why death comes, may we remember who it is we serve.
“My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.” –Edward Mote