I spent most of last week dressed as Noah: tunic, cloak, itchy wig and a staff. The staff was perhaps confusing, some people saw me and thought I was Moses or just a crazy lost shepherd.
The reason I dressed like this was that I had the privilege to join eleven Penn State Berks students and one professor on a trip to the northern Pennsylvania town of Nanticoke where we did a day camp for kids in the area. This day camp is called Camp Noah, a project of Lutheran Social Services which has been done all over the country in recent years. Camp Noah happens in places that have recently experienced a natural disaster. The goal is to help children: to help them have fun, express themselves and emotionally process their experience.
A professor at Penn State Berks, Dr. Jayne Leh, had been a part of Camp Noah through her church for years. She realized it would be a perfect project for education majors, giving them an opportunity to teach outside the classroom. Most of the students on the trip were either education or psychology majors.
The way I look at it, we had a team of ringers: a bunch of college students with the energy to keep up with the crazy elementary students in the camp all week long. They were a fantastic group and did a phenomenal job.
They also made the news:
But they did get tired. On Wednesday Jayne and I decided to have a worship service as a way of unwinding and re-centering on God. Going into the week I had no idea on the beliefs or religions of the students in this group. As far as I knew, they had been told it was a Christian-based camp, but they were going because they wanted to help children (and perhaps get something nice on their resume).
By midweek I had learned that most of them had grown up in Christian churches. In the description of David Kinnaman, you might say they are nomads: Christians who believe but for whatever reason are not active in church, they have drifted away. Not all of them fit that description- some are active in church and some would not call themselves Christians. But most could be called nomads.
For me it was an interesting experience leading a worship service with a group of students I was not entirely sure were at all into this sort of thing. I talked about how the primary reason I am a Christian is that I find Jesus so compelling. Christianity redefines who God is because the clearest picture of the Christian God is Jesus dying on a cross. We have a God who suffers with us, who can identify with us in our weakness. Along with that, Jesus spent his entire ministry welcoming the outsiders, those who had been told they were not good enough.
As I explained the Lord’s Supper my point was simple: Jesus offers himself, his body and blood in the form of bread and wine, his love and grace, to any and all who come. You do not need to have your life together, to have all the right beliefs or actions, prior to partaking.
After the worship service on Wednesday we made it through two more days of camp and then headed home. I had a blast with the kids and with the PSU students. It is weeks like these that remind me why I went into full-time campus ministry in the first place – college students are people who are a joy to be around. Each of them remains in my prayers. I pray they have a desire to pursue truth. I pray they fall in love with the Jesus who I find so absolutely compelling.
Finally, the kids asked me a lot of questions as Noah. This is another reason why I like working with college students. You can sit down with college students and have a discussion about a tough question in regards to God or the Bible. Within this discussion there is space for lots of abstract thinking, throwing out ideas and chatting back and forth. When a kid asks you a question they want a quick black and white answer. I found it incredibly challenging.
I guess getting all these questions from children was good practice for what will happen when my child starts asking constant questions pretty soon!