Thinking Out Loud

April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…


…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

January 18, 2015

Weekend Link List

Dan Phillips thinks that for many these are the doors to the ideal church:

Ziggy - zi_sun_c150111.tif

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

It turns out there are some links that ran at PARSE that we never posted here on Wednesday. So… here’s a weekend edition of the Link List; there are also some fresh links at PARSE you can read by clicking here, including a story about Karen Kingsbury becoming a university professor!

    • He Had Me With The Opening Paragraph – “I’m sitting in a donut shop.  I’ve been here many times and nobody has ever complained about this place, saying, “This donut shop is too donuty.”  It’s a donut shop; so you expect it to be donuty. No one ever said that a sporting event was too sporty, a library too booky, a concert too musicy, an airport too planey, a home too homey, a college too schooly, or a hospital too hospitally. Yet, I hear all the time, ‘That church was too churchy.'” A good reminder of our priorities, though I think you double the ‘t’ in donutty.
    • No I Haven’t Read the Latest Leadership Book, But I’ve Seen the Movie – Now you can actually say that: “We have all heard ‘leaders are readers’ but even though we know it’s true we just don’t have enough time to read the books we really want to. Our passion is to help other pastors and church leaders become more productive and effective. We do that by making short and fun video summaries of leadership books.” You can get that from a new subscription service at Ministry Library.
    • On Vanishing Numbers – Though using only anecdotal evidence, Wil Mancini’s conversations with leaders all seem to point to a single emerging trend: Church attendance is declining because of a decline in the frequency of attendance by members. “What does this mean? Simply that people who used to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.” He then offers some counter-moves churches can consider.
    • Sunday Choices: Church versus Watching the Big Game – “People have been skipping church for centuries. And though we may think we’re busier today than ever before, we should remember that in agricultural societies, harvest season sometimes interfered with attending church to the point congregations would gather for prayer in the fields. Pastors and church leaders expect congregants to miss from time to time due to health reasons, vacation, or occasional conflicts. But skipping church for football rubs pastors the wrong way, perhaps because they sense an inherent competition with the event itself.” Trevin Wax on worship attendance and guilt. (Also, some poll results at CT’s Gleanings page.)
    • Becoming The People We Have Despised – Benjamin Corey: “As I write in my forthcoming book, Christian Outsiders, once we begin to draw our identity from a Christian label instead of Christ himself, we quickly find ourselves in a destructive cycle of needing to police the borders of that label – correcting, chastising, and expelling those who cross outside of the lines the label has drawn. While fundamentalists and Evangelicals do this, progressives do it too – and I find it exhausting to deal with. Progressives do this mainly via the Progressive Twitter Police – folks who are probably well meaning, but have failed to realize they’ve just crossed over into a different kind of fundamentalism.”
    • The Military Model Church – David Murrow: “Have you heard about the church that’s building itself on a military model? It’s led by a general — not a bishop. Their clergy are not referred to as pastors, priests or vicars – instead it’s captain, major, colonel and commander. Officers go through seven years of training and are barred from earning outside income. This church even tells officers whom they can and cannot marry.” Okay, I think we know there is headed, but then he ends with a teaser that leaves me waiting for part two.
    • On Women and Girls Who Don’t Dress for Church When They Dress for Church – “I’m not sure if you’ve ventured into a Forever 21 or Abercrombie and Fitch lately, but being a young woman with a commitment to modesty and purity isn’t easy. Marketers aren’t pushing girls toward the ‘respectable apparel’ that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy but toward the opposite. If the girls in your church are going to live like Christ has called them to in this area, they are going to need reinforcements. Care for her heart, first, through love and Bible study, but then help her give teeth to what she’s learning by venturing with her into the mall with ideas and encouragement.” However, the author says you don’t start with confrontation or with that shopping trip, but rather you start with an open Bible.
    • It’s Not Just Megachurch Pastors – “Clearly, ‘lifestyles of the rich and religious’ doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis. The pontiff has said it ‘breaks my heart’ to see priests and nuns driving the latest-model cars. He’s blasted ‘airport bishops’ who spend more time jet-setting than tending to their flocks. And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the ‘psychology of princes.’ The Vatican fired one such ‘prince’ last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — aka ‘The Bishop of Bling’ — who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad. (Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricey.)” A photo-research story from CNNs revamped religion page.
    • Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Every once in a while I find something online that literally leaves me without words. I waited more than a week wondering what to do with a couple of websites dedicated to help married couples learn the routines of “Domestic Discipline,” where the “Head of Household” (read: husband) disciplines (read: physically) the other partner (read: wife). I offer it to my readers as an internet curiosity first and foremost, and secondly as a glimpse into the world of some (adjective desperately needed here) Christian marriages. Reporting definitely does not imply endorsement.
    • One (really good one) for the road – “24 Things World Christians Wish North American Short-Term Missionaries Would Quit Doing” from the Pathways International blog, Becoming Indigenous.

July 31, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bible for Christmas

We scan the internet so you don’t have to!

Got a suggestion for a link here? Contact me through Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM Eastern on Mondays.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.