Almost everyone looks nervous when they reach the top of the fifty-foot tall Upward Tower, but this guy was different. This was not simple anxiety from being out of his comfort zone. This was paralyzing fear. I could see it in his eyes.
Immediately my demeanor shifted from casual joking to calm reassurance, hoping to encourage the 11-year-old boy that he was safe. As I transferred him from one safety line to the other, I asked him for his name. At first he didn’t reply. My voice was being drowned out by the inward commotion of fear in his mind. I knelt down in front of him to make eye contact and asked him again.
“Jaharri,” he said.
We would be waiting several minutes for another climber to make it to the top of the tower before I could hook Jaharri up to the zip line, so I sat down on the deck of the tower and invited him to join me. There I shifted the conversation from the tower to other topics like home, sports, and school. I shared a story about my own childhood, and Jaharri began to relax and smile. Soon, he was chatting away about his little sister and her tricycle.
Before too long, another climber arrived, and it was time for the zip line. As I hooked Jaharri up to the 300-foot ride, I tried to gauge his anxiety.
I made eye contact once again and said, “Jaharri, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” He nodded.
Then I counted to three and shouted “Go!”
Without hesitation, Jaharri, scooted off the platform. The scared child I’d met just a few minutes ago was gone, and Jaharri discovered that he was braver than he realized.
What happened? It wasn’t that Jaharri gained a better understanding of tensile strength or the laws of physics. Rather, in those few moments, a relationship was built, and Jaharri knew he could trust me.
This is why camp ministry works. It’s not just the activities or even the chapel services. It’s the relationship that is built during the camp week. Relationships build trust, and trust opens the door for ministry. Every shared meal, every fun activity, every bedtime story, and every quiet moment of prayer works toward that same goal. And, when the time is right, we introduce the campers to the most influential relationship they will every know--the relationship with Jesus Christ.