Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts: Camp Barnabas

Editor's Note:  This devotion appeared in the September/October 2003 issue Devo'Zine published by Upper Room Ministries.

Camp Barnabas
By Kaylea M. Hutson
We want to send a message: Jesus loves you, and you are special just the way you are.

Nestled in the foothills of southwestern Missouri, Camp Barnabas helps children with serious, chronic illnesses or disabilities experience the joys of summer camp. There they find encouragement and acceptance, and they meet God. At Camp Barnabas, every activity is designed to let campers learn that they are important, regardless of their disabilities.
      Paul and Cyndy Teas founded Camp Barnabas in 1995. Cyndy says that often students come to camp feeling as if they are a burden to their families, and the world tells them that they are not valuable. "We want to send a message: Jesus loves you, and you are special just the way you are," Cyndy says. "We love [the campers] with unconditional love, just as Jesus loves them."
      Outdoor activities, such as sliding down a zip line or weaving through a ropes course, allow campers to experience things they might not otherwise try.
      "Basically we do the same activities [as they do at other camps], but we figure out how to adapt them so that everyone can do them," Cyndy says.
      A pool with a beachside entry allows campers confined to wheelchairs to wheel straight into the water. The pool also features water slides built with ramps, rather than stairs, and an automatic wheelchair lift.       Outside of the water, counselors find creative ways to let students use a rappel tower.
      "Basically the camp gives the kids opportunities to be as much as possible like children without disabilities," explains long-time volunteer Johanna Gordan.
      Johanna says that sporting events and other activities allow campers to develop relationships with volunteers. "They have to trust us in order to see us as friends they can depend on. Then they can look at our lives and see the difference faith makes."
      Throughout the week, campers are matched up with peers who have the same disabilities and with a teenage volunteer. In 2002 the camp boasted more than 1,000 volunteers.
      "We want [the children] to know that God has a plan for every person's life," Cyndy says, "and that every person has a place in this world."
      Siblings are included at Camp Barnabas. They need to hear the message of God's love as much as their brothers or sisters do.
      Twins Julie and Kate Savinske have spent several summers at Barnabas. Julie, who is confined to a wheelchair, says that the camp has given her a place to experience life. At Camp Barnabas, she has also experienced God. "I think [Christianity] sets Camp Barnabas apart," Julie says. "I know that God has a plan for my life."
      Beyond attending as campers, Julie and Kate now participate as volunteers. Kate says her experience has helped her learn to praise God. It has also given her the opportunity to show unconditional love to others. And it may direct her future. Kate hopes to pursue a career in physical therapy or special education so that she can continue to work with children who have disabilities.
      "Camp Barnabas is a gift from God," she says. "You can feel God's love here. Campers have so much fun, and they leave with smiles on their faces."

DIG DEEPER
Read Acts 4:36. Camp Barnabas uses sports and other activities to offer encouragement to children with disabilities. Do you play soccer? baseball? ultimate Frisbee? Do you dance? run? Think of ways to use your sport as an expression of God's love and encouragement.

To learn more about Camp Barnabas or to volunteer, go to www.campbarnabas.org.

Kaylea M. Hutson is a reporter and a photographer for the Lawrence County Record in Mount Vernon, Missouri.

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