For the past week, I was with 70 teenagers at a camp called Salkehatchie.
The camp was started by a man named John Culp, who met a group of nuns ministering to impoverished communities in South Carolina. These women had a mission to educate and help provide as an extension of God's love to all people.
John came and spoke to our group and told some of his story. About how he saw this effort and wanted to bridge the gap between kids in the suburbs and people who lived in the legacy of slavery and often had been left by family who had gone up North to find jobs.
So he started a Methodist camp for youth that eventually became known as Salkehatchie, named after a nearby river, by his wife. I was impressed by the "why" of what the camps accomplish: "Many of our neighbors in South Carolina live in homes needing repair, and Jesus has called us to love our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37). South Carolina United Methodist Youth need to experience Christian servant hood. And he said to all, 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' " (Luke 9:23)
So here we are at this camp telling God that we will give all of who we are. We might not know what the need will be. We do not know what the homes and the families will need, but we're going to go out there and love these people both spiritually and practically by fixing up their homes -- many with holes so big in the floor that raccoons could climb in; and with roofs in such need of repair, that they bow down into molded troughs about to break. We are going to help people, many of whom who have suffered greatly in their lives from lost husbands, lost eyesight, lost children, lost incomes, and sometimes lost hope in the future.
Each year I pray that our youth will connect with the mission. I've found that the young people who sacrifice all week and see what kind of difference can be made with a fresh coat of paint and a new roof, and a lot of hugs, are in tears by the end of the week. The fact is, these kids get as muche experience as the families do. The host families are in tears because they realize somebody cares. The youth are in tears because they had never realized how little people can live on, and the people they were sometimes afraid of -- due to a difference in culture and lack of understanding -- are warm, loving people with hopes and dreams just like them. And I am in tears because I see God working in everybody.
The third night of the camp, I was alone in the sanctuary of Main Street United Methodist in Dillon with God. Underneath their huge cross, I knelt at the altar and prayed to see lives transformed. I've begun to see it happen.
Last year we brought five youth to Salkehatchie, and they were nervous. Their parents didn't know much about the camp. We all took a risk and jumped into the mission, and they came back with a glow on their faces. They saw how some paint, shingles and plywood -- with prayer and good intentions -- can spark new life. Their muscles ached from the work, but their lives had begun a new course, one not marked by selfishness, but with a fresh desire to reach out and get beyond the bubble.
I felt my heart moved, and we returned this year with twice the number of teens. It is as simple as "loving your neighbor as you love yourself." Why? Because God loves you, and we can return that act by caring for others.
Simple, sweet, and it will continue to change the world one kind act at a time until we are with God himself. I pray that your mission will begin now. God is with you, let's go.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.