Do you remember your middle school years? All of us dealt with varying degrees of awkwardness, comparison, rejection, and insecurity. Do you remember some of the people who helped you process those grueling feelings and troubling transitional phases?
Recently, I had the joy of meeting with mother and daughter duo, Karoll and Rachel Deaton. We talked about this year’s Winter Camp and the edifying relationships they built while there. Rachel is an 8th grade student who attends Lakewood Christian School (LCS) and has been plugged into the Middle School Ministry (MSM) for two years. Her mom, Karoll, has been serving for nearly six months as an MSM leader of the 7th grade girls. This year, Rachel and Karoll got to experience camp together when Karoll became the small group leader for both the 7th and 8th grade girls at winter camp.
While she originally volunteered to only lead the 7th grade group, none of the 8th grade leaders were able to go and the middle school pastor, Tony Landini, asked if she would be willing to fill in that spot as well. Her response was, “Bring it on. I’ll do it!”
I asked Karoll what encouraged her to volunteer as a leader for Winter Camp. She believes in meeting kids on their level. So, rather than inviting the students into her world, she ventures into theirs. She says, “in order to work with these kids, you have to go where they are.” Which is why she spends so much of her time at their soccer games, dance competitions, and other events which the students are involved in. Because of her investment in their lives, it was natural for her to spend her weekend up at Forest Home.
Karoll is someone who understands the challenges that middle-school students are faced with. “When I see their pain and suffering, I can’t help but say, ‘You know what, I’m ready for battle. These kids belong to the Lord, and we’ve got to grab them and we’ve got to keep them. We’ve got to help them and we’ve got to walk with them…’
While at camp, Karoll always started their time together by reminding the girls that they are one group and that they could “learn from each other and teach one another.” To Rachel, this unity seemed so different from what she was used to. She said, “Sometimes girls don’t share, because we’re like locked up treasure chests waiting to be unlocked and opened.” So often, because of various societal expectations and fears, they feel like they need to keep their inner thoughts hidden.
Camp changed that. The group became a safe place for each member to share their struggles without the fear of judgment. Rachel got to hear the stories of other girls, imagine to what their journeys looked like, and she found encouragement for her own walk with God. She listened to her best friend share things about her life that Rachel had never known before. She also formed a new friendship with a classmate who was usually guarded, but let her walls down at camp and shared her personal journey. Rachel was thrilled that she got to encounter the unity that was taking place at camp.
It wasn’t just their time together in the small group that impacted Rachel. Every day at camp the students attended chapel, where they worshiped together and heard Rich Baker teaching about God’s word. The students also chose short seminars to attend, led by the youth pastors, and it was in one of these seminar sessions where Rachel found clarity on suffering. She wondered how we’re supposed grow in God when we are suffering, and she walked away knowing that suffering is an opportunity to trust God at a deeper level.
As they prepared to leave the mountain, Karoll reminded her group that the enemy wants to deceive and destroy, and so everything they shared at camp about their fears and struggles would be under attack. And she was right. Once home, many of the girls experienced attacks in the very areas where they desired change, but Karoll shared that they are also excited about growing deeper in their relationships with God.
Winter Camp was not meant to be a one-weekend experience, but an opportunity to prepare them for daily Christian living. Karoll believes that camp was like a grand opening for many. Something unprecedented happened, and she is confident that these young students are going to continue being impacted by the truth of God. She is excited for what is happening and to be a part of such a special ministry. She says, “God is leading, the leadership is listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying, and the Spirit is moving.”
The relationships which Karoll, Rachel, and the other young women formed were only possible through their vulnerability. As Rachel mentioned, they shared experiences which they normally wouldn’t share, and that allowed them to build a greater degree of trust with each other. Their group exemplifies a wider truth that as we help people feel safe, we receive a greater opportunity to understand their uniqueness and richness.
Story by: Leigh Suluvale