This was my fourth year at Grace and Peace Community Church and I was embraced with love and warmth from the moment we were picked up from the airport. This welcome continues to be the same every year and yet the beauty of it never fails to overwhelm me. We are constantly showered with this love and support throughout our trips each year. Although we are there to serve God by serving at summer camp, I don’t feel that I could ever give more than I get in return through the experiences I share whilst in Philadelphia. To be welcomed so lovingly into a family home is beyond a blessing and has provided so many cherished memories over the years. It is impossible to sum up in words the kindness and generosity expressed by the whole church community at Grace and Peace.
One of the many blessings of Grace and Peace is the array of diversity that is so evident throughout the church community. God created us a diverse people and a church that truly welcomes every individual regardless of their appearance, background or status within society is the kind of church that I think God would be most overjoyed with. On our final Sunday together this year we sang “O Praise the Name” and I think this will be an experience that will stay with me for life. What a privilege to worship God so fervently with a church overflowing with praise; the closest taste of heaven I’ve ever experienced and what a joy to be a part of it.
The very essence of Grace and Peace is reflected so wonderfully through summer camp. Only because of the love that is poured upon us by the church community are we able to serve the kids so passionately. And only because of the love that God has for us can any one of us encounter such love. Camp is full of grace, second chances and more grace; as we are reminded that there is nothing we could say to a kid that God could not say to us. How humbling to know that we too are just as sinful and in need of God’s grace as the most difficult kid at camp. Kids are more aware and astute than they are often given credit for and therefore the environment of camp can make all the difference. The respect and trust that we gain as counsellors or teachers places us in a position of responsibility, kids learn behaviours through others so we ought to model Christ in our words and actions. I have witnessed and experienced first-hand such a caring, considerate and loving attitude radiate through many kids at camp; from asking how someone is recovering from sickness, to looking out for a friend that is upset, to praying for healing and restoration of friends and family. Again, this is not of our own merit as teachers or counsellors, it is merely possible through God.
Not only do we invest in the kids at summer camp, but reaching out to their families in the community is held at high importance. Grace and Peace recognises the value of establishing and sustaining long term relationships, particularly for those families without a church background. To witness non church going kids and their parents walk into their first ever church service on a Sunday morning is a beautiful moment.
This year as Joe led devotions each morning before camp, he emphasised the importance of a healthy balance between vulnerability and authority. To be vulnerable is to expose yourself to meaningful risk and to have authority is to be able to take meaningful action. To be a healthy combination of both is to be the most effective servant for God in furthering his Kingdom. There is one lesson in particular that I was challenged, yet encouraged by throughout camp this year. That is, that we can only realise our complete dependence on God when we recognise that we can’t do this alone, to be weak is to be strong in the Lord. This is something to remember not only on the most difficult days but also on the good days, the days that we forget our dependence on God.
I was reminded this year that we weren’t created for ourselves but rather we were created to give glory to God. This is a statement that speaks a thousand words, a statement that should alter the way I live every day of my life and a statement exclaimed by a 5-year-old child whom God chose to use in order to remind me of a simple truth of the gospel. I think most of all God has taught me throughout summer camp over the years to never underestimate how He can work in and through young children. In Luke 18:15-17 God demonstrates the immense value that He places on children; in order to become more Christ-like we too need to reflect this attitude in our daily lives.
The memories are endless. The stories are endless. The lessons that I’ve learnt are endless. It is true to say that Grace and Peace Community Church, Philadelphia has become a second home to me (as I’m reminded of a 4-year-old gleefully sharing with me that she loved spending her birthday at summer camp because this church felt like home to her – what a sweet proclamation). Most importantly, God has become bigger in my life as result of this opportunity to engage with such a God-loving community who are not afraid to acknowledge their sin and their need for a greater God.
By Claire Acheson