Words of God

A small black Bible made all the difference for one camper

by Dan Bolin

I didn’t expect to see Pastor Ted* at the funeral home. I knew of no connection between my elderly family friend whose long and significant life had ended well and the pastor whose church had been a mainstay of camp for many seasons.

But then I realized he was leaving, while I was going in. We weren’t headed for the same place—just intersecting in a divine appointment.

His face was solemn and drained.

“Thank you,” he said.

“What for?” I asked.

We stepped into one of the many side rooms filled with overstuffed chairs. He began to unravel a story of pain and hope and Christian camp.

Pastor Ted had just spent the past 45 minutes leading an agonizing funeral for a 25-year-old young man, John, whose life had been cut short through sinful choices and rebellion against God.

In his late teens, he had experimented with drugs, sexual experiences, and a lifestyle that takes much more than it gives. Along the way, Satan’s trap had sprung and his life became little more than a statistic in medical studies.

The pain and misery were not confined to John. His parents were devastated beyond understanding. The fountain of love that springs up within every parent for his or her child gushed stronger than ever but lacked a channel in which to flow. The brother and sister burned with shame and anger, grieving the loss of what had been an ideal family. Grandparents struggled with frustration, bewilderment, and hopelessness. Friends became distant and numb. Church members added his name to prayer lists.

But the pain had been worse in the quiet contemplation of John’s own sleepless nights. God used the agony and lonely reflection to rekindle the spiritual flame that still flickered in his heart. Much like with the biblical Prodigal Son, God drew John to himself through the misery of his sinful life. Coming to his senses and restoring his relationship with God, family, friends, and church couldn’t reverse the devastating consequences of his walk away from God.

But it changed John and Pastor Ted forever. The past six months had been spent developing and deepening his relationship with John who had repented of his sins and returned to his childhood relationship with Christ.

Glimmer of Hope
During their time of deepest pain, John’s parents had met often with Pastor Ted for direction and comfort. In one of those meetings, they had brought a small black Bible that had been given to their son at summer camp. Inside the front cover, a summer staff member had written a brief note commemorating the point at which John had placed his faith in Christ alone. There was a date beneath the inscription and the counselor’s name.

That Bible had provided John’s parents with their only glimmer of hope during the darkest moments of their son’s rebellion. Pastor Ted had struggled with the theological questions that face anyone who works with children and youth. Was the decision authentic? Was John old enough to make a personal decision about faith? Was the decision based merely on emotion or was it rooted in the deepest heart of the young man? Wisely, the pastor had saved the questions for his own ruminations and left the only hope the parents had intact.

During the final months of John’s life, Pastor Ted had ongoing conversations about spiritual issues. With limited time, the young man spent his days deepening his understanding of God and preparing to meet him face to face. Pastor Ted also helped his family and friends anticipate life without John.

During the funeral, Pastor Ted read from the little black summer camp Bible that John’s parents had cherished. There were numerous passages underlined and verses that had obviously affected John’s life in a profound way.

Eternal Impact
“Thank you,” Pastor Ted said again and again. “Thank you for being there at a time when John was tender and open to the gospel, before the addictions of the world got the upper hand in his life. Thank you for providing a simple Bible and counselor’s notation to capture the most significant moment in John’s life and for providing hope for his parents. Thank you for repeating this hundreds and hundreds of time in the lives of children and youth.”

John is but one dramatic example of how God uses summer camp to change lives forever.
Not all stories have happy endings. Some end in side rooms of funeral homes with excruciating pain. But even the death of a 25-year-old man can be swallowed up in victory if Christ’s offer of forgiveness is accepted and a relationship established with Him.

Without a doubt, summer camp is still one of the most effective evangelistic tools in God’s toolbox.

* Names in this article have been changed.

Dan is president of Encouragement FM, a former Christian camp director, and a past board chairman of CCCA. He’s also a camp speaker and consultant.

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