As a college student, my diet typically consisted of Ramen noodles, peanut butter, anything microwavable and the occasional fast-food run. And for the most part, not much of my diet has changed.
During the years just after high school, the only person you are concerned about is yourself. Money is tight and your lifestyle reflects the basics of survival. Perhaps you can relate to my experience. I would save just enough quarters for my two loads of clothes at the laundry mat. Sleep revolved around school, friends and whether or not work would allow it. Even personal hygiene takes a backseat to writing papers and social gatherings.
Then I spent a summer at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. The living arrangements were about the same; the counselors lived in dorms. Thankfully, the food improved a thousand times and I actually ate three meals a day.
But then we had our first week of 7- to 9-year-old children, known as Colt Camp. It only lasts four days, but suddenly your world includes 10 little people that are in constant need of attention. Thinking about yourself and your needs takes a back seat. If there was ever a crash course on parenting, Colt Camp would be it. Recently, we had more than 120 colt campers at Echo Ranch, and we needed an extra counselor, so I volunteered.
At 7 years old, this is the first time many of these kids have been away from home. I don't know who is more nervous, the camper or the parents. Moms have told me how difficult it is saying good-bye to their little one for so long.
Homesickness is most frequently experienced during colt camp. Picking them up at the end of the road is a sight to be seen. Alligator and ladybug rain boots are common. Small backpacks, sweatpants, shiny raincoats and runny noses come with the territory. Some kids like to run on the hike around Echo Cove but with so much to look at the pace of many is a slow crawl. My job was to follow in the back of line to keep everyone together and encourage the stragglers.
It is not until all the campers are assigned to a cabin that the real parenting process begins. Learning the name of all 11 campers is the first step. Next is making sure they can find the nearest restroom.
In order to not miss all the fun of camp, kids will delay going to the bathroom. To prevent any "accidents" it's important they know where they can run to in case of emergency. It has been my experience that "accidents" do happen.
Meals are another parent proving ground. As a counselor you really don't have time to sit and enjoy your meal. All of your campers eat differently and you have to make sure they all eat something. Phrases like "finish all your vegetables" and "take one more bite and then you can have dessert" are now flowing out of your mouth.
Parents do their best to pack their little campers' bags with enough clothes to get them through the week. If it were up to the camper, the bag would return home exactly how it left the house. The counselor has to encourage the kids change clothes and shower at least once.
Staying in the cabin means getting up in the middle of the night to help with homesickness and directing campers to the restroom. Why do these kids wake up at 5:30 in morning? After breakfast, we do cabin clean-up to keep the smell down and it gives kids a chance to decorate to win points for their cabin.
At the end of colt camp week I appreciate my parents a whole lot more. But the kids really are the best part about camp. The 7- to 9-year-olds are so full of life and energy. The world is still a big place and they're certain it needs to be explored. Ministry comes in the form of puppets and fun camp songs. The Bible is filled with stories of giants being conquered, a God who knows the number of hairs on your head, and a Savior who loves the world so much that he gave his life to rescue us from sin. I can only hope that Echo Ranch has helped one generation understand the love of God more deeply and helped a new generation experience God's love in a way that is fun and exciting.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.