I don’t know what to do with the altar calls. We edge close to the conclusion of the first camp, a loud and buoyant group of preteens having spent a handful of days slipping across a rec field and clumsily learning where to find 1 John in their Bibles.
We edge close to the conclusion and we are in the time appointed for worship. I’m nervous. There’s much about this that unsettles me, the line between emotional manipulation and legitimate conversion at this age can be a thin one.
We edge close to the conclusion and I ask a few of my friends to pray, I call over to my fellow writers at Deeper Story, a praying people, and shakily type, “It’s the last night of camp 1 here at preteen camp. I have complex emotions about conversion in these settings, but I do know I lean hard into ‘little ones to Him belong’ and the prophecy of Joel that the children would know God. In our varying places of understanding on altar calls and Jesus prayers, pray for the hearts of the children to know God.”
I’m in and out of the building, which they call the Tabernacle, throughout the service. Camera out, at the ready, I am tasked to record the movement of God in this place; I am responsible for the cooperative memory of the His presence here.
I circle round a side door, back again, and on a fifth pass I see a child and sponsor, I hear a fragment of their conversation, and a pang hits my heart. Something seems a bit pushed in the moment, something seems off.
It’s all seeming, though, not surety, and it’s not my place. I bundle this thought into another and another as I enter into the space of the Tabernacle again and I hear the melodies of children praising God and I hear, as if against my ear, Do you trust me?
He doesn’t speak much to me these days, not like this. I paused in the foyer for a half-minute, considering the tile. Speckled with brown swirl from the dirt. The dirt He made us from. And it’s the dirt, the dirt He made us from, that makes me murmur, “Yes.”
Then trust Me.
I leave the child and the sponsor. I walk back into the Tabernacle. I carry my own baggage, my own misunderstanding, my own need for things to be just so, and bring it past the tent of meeting, into the Presence.
At worship the night before, I watched a boy---a sponsor, he'd be in high school---charismatically speaking during the lyrics of one of the songs.
Maybe tongues, though unlikely, but furtive prayer to say the least. I beheld him a long time, watched him slip to knees when the song changed to something slow. I was him once. Nearly a half decade ago, perhaps less. I was him.
I don't cry much during these sorts of songs anymore.
I don't normally lift my hands.
But I cry during the liturgy; I cry during the moment we say we lift up our hearts. I cry, want to fall to my knees, want to pray those charismatic prayers, because it's the same feeling, it's the same movement of the same Love, just expressed in a different way.
(And we fight over this, terribly. We fight over prayer.)
I don't believe where I am at present is better in a superlative sense, but that it is better in that God saw fit to move me this direction. He might never move this other boy, this looking-for-roots child of the same God praying his own way. I don't know. Maybe he'll hold a red book someday of Common Prayer, too, like me.
Maybe he'll heal the sick and pray in tongues.
We edge close to the conclusion and they’re giving the altar call. The children spill out. The children follow Christ out to the place beyond and I wonder if they can know, if they can glimpse what all this means, what I can’t even glimpse or know myself for He is too great, too much.
That prayer I sent out to those good friends, those praying friends, sticks in my heart.
Let the children know God. I don’t know what to pray. Let the children know God.
I’m headed back to my room to start editing the film, the commissioned memory, when a distinctive voice stalls me.
I look over my shoulder, recognize the young sponsor I gave a ride the first day of camp, who had a camper go missing and whom I drove around in circles until he found him. The young sponsor who had assured me, to my raised eyebrows, that they “had just had a big-ass talk about being places on time.”
It was this sponsor, three days later, sitting under a willow tree talking to that same boy he had been searching for the first day about the crucified Christ.
I am undone.
The boy who was lost the first day of camp, being found on the last.
My heart catches in my throat and I’m want to choke on the beauty; it is too much to hold.
So this is trust.
Please forgive a bit of sporadic engagement with you this week. I'm away shooting video and photos for the Baptist association's amazing preteen camp. However, spotty WIFI turned into no WIFI and I'm iPad and iPhone 3G-dependent. If that. It is the woods, y'all. What this means aside from not aways being able to respond well to you here is also that I'm not always able to hop over and read your words, your blog. Looking forward to catching up and, thank you all in advance, for being patient with my inbox response time.