Something I looked forward to was church camp. When I was a child, we would all go to a Christian College complete with dorms for everyone to stay in. There was a counselor for every room of kids. The boys bunked in a different building if course.
I remember being in a room with about three other girls. I was talking with them all one night and moved to another girl’s bunk to help her brush her hair. She was trying to brush out soap that she never completely washed out. I didn’t think brushing it would really do the trick, but I wanted to help her anyway. When I took the brush and started to brush her hair, she yelled at me to get away from her and pushed me. I was shocked and confused and went back to my own bed. The other girls commented on how rude she was. To this day, I’m confused at what spawned her aggressive behavior, but I’ll never know.
All churches were assigned a team color and received points for good behavior, and winning games and activities. There were multiple churches to a color. Some teams tried to bribe the camp leaders by painting their nails, doing their hair (badly I might add), and giving them gifts like candy. I don’t know if that actually gained anyone any points. I quickly noticed that the camp seemed to glorify these leaders. Everyone was concerned with pleasing them. But what pushed them to that superstar status was the filming. They ran around with a camera person to film them goofing around and surveying camp activities. Of course as a child, if they’re showing film about actual people in the camp on the big screen in the chapel, it was exciting and made you want the same kind of attention. It was basically bible reality tv. Some campers got a taste of this when they went into the dorms to inspect team decorations.
We lost the dorm decoration contest time and time again. At the last minute, our children’s pastor and counselors would go to the dollar store or some equivalent and pick up streamers and cheap little party decorations, never enough. We would do our best to make our dorms look like presentable, hanging streamers from the bunks, and attempting to get some sort of pattern across the ceiling. I was always disappointed in the lack of planning. In chapel when they revealed the decorations of other teams, they were so much more elaborate! The camera man would follow the camp leaders walking down hallways and slowly opening up dorm rooms revealing the splendor that lie within. The chapel would erupt into thunderous screams when the happy campers recognized their handiwork. My heart would sink a little when the clip was over and our rooms were skipped.
One year at camp, I was depressed. The. Whole Time. It was because of a boy. And probably my sad ass personality. The boy was the senior pastor’s older son Tim, to be specific. He was about three years older than me. I had a huge crush on him and I must have learned that he was into someone else. That week, I felt invisible, ugly, and unimportant. I sulked around wearing a hoodie with the hood over my head. I wanted someone to notice, to take me aside and figure out what was going on with me. I wanted someone to care. But I don’t remember anyone pulling me to the side or tried to figure out what was wrong.
One of the best things about camp was the snack shack. It was loaded with candy. My favorite was the jumbo pixie sticks and the sour baby bottle pops. I had soooo many of those. The girls in my room and I had a drawer filled with candy and snacks. It was our pride and joy. Then one year, they decided to make the snacks healthy. I walked in the snack shack and walked right back out. They were all traitors, every single one of them.
The camp food was pretty good although I only remember the breakfast food. What I could not figure out was why the eggs tasted so bad. I chalked it up to they didn’t know what they were doing. On the very last day of camp, I noticed the salt and pepper shakers on the table. I put some salt and pepper on my eggs and bam! They tasted so good!! Then I was pissed because all I had to do the whole week was put a little salt on my eggs. Then, I was even more pissed, because WHO IN THE HELL DOESN’T PUT SEASONING ON FOOD!
In our little slice of Christianity, there were certain “spiritual gifts” that believers could be blessed with. These included prophecy, dream interpretation, and speaking in tongues. As a person who was interested in the paranormal and magic, I thought these gifts sounded cool. They made someone more powerful, more special. I knew of one person who had the gift of dream interpretation, according to my mother. Her name was Sara Henning. She was married to a tall and funny man named Derek and their son, who was my age, was named John. John was annoying and I didn’t care for him much. He was attention seeking and always trying to hang around girls that were older than him. The older girls loved it, I didn’t. I saw right through the guy. A few times when I shared a dream of mine with my mom, she suggested I call Sara. I think I did once, but I didn’t get much out of it.
At kids camp, they had a special segment of the service for the purpose of praying and receiving the gift of speaking in tongues. I had witnessed believers speaking in tongues at my previous baptist church in Oakland, and in my own home. When my mother felt she or others were under spiritual attack, she would aggressively and loudly pray, practically yelling, in this indecipherable language. Every person had their own unique sound. When I asked my mother what the purpose of speaking in tongues was about, she said it’s a language that only the lord can understand. The devil would not be able to decipher what she was saying. I was confused because she didn’t know what she was saying either. Nevertheless, if it was a magical gift, I wanted in.
It was the night service at kids camp. The house lights were off, the stage lights were on. There was ambient instrumental music playing in the chapel. The camp leaders explained the gift and that we could all receive it if we let the holy spirit in. I raised my hand to receive the gift. Lindy took me up to stand right in front of the stage where dozens of other kids and their leaders stood embraced, with the faces of the leaders pressed to the child’s ear passionately whispering the prayer that would grant them this power. Lindy prayed over me and declared that I had received the gift, but when I opened my mouth to try and speak… nothing. She prayed over me several times, and I felt that nothing was happening. After a few tries we looked each other, weakly smiling and accepted our defeat. We went back to our seats. I don’t remember what exchanges happened then, but next I went back up to the front with one of the adult leaders. Her name was Chell. I knew her and I trusted her. She prayed over me passionately and walked me through the steps of letting the spirit in. She commanded me to speak, any words that came to mind, just speak and let it out! I felt a wave of emotion wash over me and began to cry and blubber incoherent sounds. I had received the gift. We both smiled. I could feel the relief, and I could feel the presence of God. It felt like a heaviness in the air and in my chest. For the rest of the time we were in the chapel, even when we went back and joined our group, the presence of God was with me, I could tell by the feeling I held. It was like I was constantly on the verge of tears. Some other girls shared with me that they also received the gift. We gathered in a circle on our knees around a girl who was was laying on the ground on her side shaking with the power of the lord. We feverishly prayed over her, confident in god and confident in our new found power. Soon it was time for us all to leave. As the camp leaders gathered us near the exit, I looked back at the sea of children, crying, laid out on the floor, hands lifted to the sky, singing, and praying, and I didn’t really want to leave. I had finally tapped into something. As soon as we stepped into the night air, the feeling was gone.
Chell had told me to practice my gift any time I could. Even in the shower. Just say the “words” over and over. I did. I was able to use the words in prayer a few times, but after a while, it just felt silly, and it seemed like it served no real purpose. So what if Satan didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what it meant either, I just made it up. So what was the benefit for me?
Interestingly enough, a few of the camp leaders eventually landed at our church. It seemed like a huge coincidence that out of all the churches, they came to ours. One in particular eventually took control of the youth band. Miss Inette her name was. She was a short woman with thick short black hair and strong features. I was not a fan. She sang loudly, very loudly, as she was a belter with a personality to match. She was extremely confident in her singing ability. The problem was, she was often flat. So while she sang her heart out, you couldn’t help but cringe a little.