Julisa: Unexpected Blessings

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Last week, I was dancing with the 5 to 6 year olds group, when a little girl looked at me and said, “You’re sweating.” I told her “I know,” wiped the sweat on my shirt, and kept dancing. She kept looking at me though. Finally, she went over to my stuff, grabbed my sweat rag, and tried to hand it to me. I had a kid on both arms, so I couldn’t really grab it. She saw that and proceeded to wipe the sweat off of me. I was going to tell her that she didn’t have to do that, but then I remembered that someone once told me when you decline someone’s help you are declining the opportunity for that person to bless you.

At the end of the day, everyone, campers and workers alike, get cool-pops. They are so refreshing and the kids love them. But I can’t tell you how many times I have declined a cool pop being offered to me from both the helpers and the campers. I regret not taking those opportunities to let our kids and volunteers bless me in that way. 

I get blessed daily when the kids see me and ask, “Are we’re dancing today” or “What are we dancing to today,” or when they make song suggestions. I love their anticipation and excitement! I also love it when volunteers ask me, “How do you have so much energy?” I respond by giving God the glory because honestly, without Him, I would not be able to teach dance for two hours straight. Just to keep it real. God gives me energy to share with the kids, and they give that energy right back to me. I am hoping for a day when one of the kids will ask me how I stay so energized, so that I can give God the glory and share the Gospel with that kid. Keep me in your prayers on that request.

From being offered a cool-pop to a kid wiping sweat off of my brow, working at Summer Bible Camp is an opportunity to be blessed and allow others to bless me. I’m so grateful for John, D-lo, all of the interns, TeenLeaders, and volunteers at each camp that help make SBC so great!

 “I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5  

Janie: Trials or Blessings?

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I have had the privilege of working with the teenage girls this summer. I have been so blessed to get to know them with all their unique personalities and their stories. Although our group can be the most difficult to get to know, I’ve come to know something that outweighs all the attitude and the drama: their hearts. The more I’ve gotten to know where some of them have come from, the more I am amazed by them. 

This past year for me personally has been one of those, what I like to call, “faith don’t fail me now” kind of years. At the end of last year I remember praying that this year God would fill my life with His blessings and favor. In my mind at the time what I thought blessings and favor meant was that everything would go right, without any hardships, and would be full of happiness. And let me tell you, that has not exactly been the case, but rather it has had its fair share of trials, heartbreak, and hardships. So you can imagine I was left with the question, why?  

Romans 5:3-5 answers that question so clearly, “More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because Gods love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I have come to know that when trials come that they are actually blessings. Though they may cause pain and hurt for a season, that season will eventually pass. God promises that when tests and trials come he will be with us and our faith will be stronger, but most importantly, He will be glorified (1 Peter 1:6-7). 

We always tell the kids that salvation is a gift freely given, but it’s our choice to receive it. We always have a choice. We have the choice to hate or to love, to let bitterness take root or forgive, to be prideful or humble ourselves, or to stay in the dark or enter into the light. 

One thing that always brings me joy when I am at Light of the Village is that you never see people not smiling. Although trials come, and darkness surrounds, there is always something to smile or laugh about. I’ve never been in a place that there is such an abundance of joy. When I see my girls laughing and joking with each other it doesn’t just bring joy to my heart, I know that it brings joy to the Father’s heart. I prayed that this summer God would make an impact on these girls through me, but really, they’ve left an impact on me. I have never met a more beautiful, hilarious, strong, and courageous group of young ladies than these girls, and I am forever blessed by them. I pray that through this summer Bible camp they will know deep in their hearts that they are unconditionally loved by God, that they will have the eyes to see God moving in their lives, the ears to hear Him speaking, and the hearts to receive His love and grace for each one of them. 

Pilar: Learning to Lean

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Working with LOV’s new camp, Camp Faith, is beautifully enlightening. I know it sounds cliche but these kids have taught me more than I could ever imagine me teaching them. The 4,5&6 year olds are amazing. Me and Jellybean (my teen leader) re-named them the Baby Beans; it fits them perfectly. They are tiny, sweet, and fun to play with. 🙂 I told Morgan I feel like I’m getting paid to be a mom. Sometimes I feel like the kids are actually mine. They have taught me how to show unconditional love. The kids have moved me to a place where I can let go and trust God more. Every morning we register kids, which means every morning there is a possibility for a new set of kids. On an average day there are about 32 kids…that’s a lot of 4,5&6 years olds!!!! At first I was scared that the numbers would effect my effectiveness; then God whispered, “Lean on Me,” and I listened. As the numbers fluctuate, my heart remains steady, and the Baby Beans continue to show me the love of Christ. I truly thank John, D-lo and Morgan for giving me this opportunity. I love this job with all my heart.

Rebekah: Home is Where the Heart Is

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This past year was my last year in high school and therefore held a lot of changes and chaos. But as I went through hardships and successes, one thing remained constant in my mind: Light of the Village. I was absolutely determined to come back. 

You see, last summer I went on my youth group’s annual mission trip and expected it to be like every other one I had been on. I would go, help people, worship, bond with my youth group, and then come home and enjoy the rest of my summer with my family, rarely ever thinking about the trip again. It’s sad, but true. But that didn’t happen this time. This time, when I had signed up to work with kids, I was thrown a curve ball. I was told that I was needed to work with the 12-17 year old girls because I was one of the older ones in the group, a small let down from the cute and tiny kids I was used to working with. But nonetheless, I quickly got over it. That is, untiI I was told that this particular group of girls gets in, not only verbal fights, but physical fights too. At that point in time, I started having feelings of worry and doubt. I was told these girls were full of attitude and probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me. This just made getting every girl to break out of her shell and be my best friend, a personal challenge for me. 

Despite all of the statistics we received about Prichard, AL, I felt an overwhelming feeling of safety and comfort as our van full of m-fugers (mission fugers) pulled up. I was greeted with tight hugs and never ending piggy back rides as I first stepped onto the grounds of the place that would forever change my life. That week, I went out of my way to climb over the walls of stubbornness and distrust the girls had built between us as I made a fool out of myself in dance class and refused be the only one smiling out of the group. At the end of the week, I had befriended and bonded with the girls, getting to as many of them as I could. I was so filled with this need to make every one of them know they are beautiful, special, and loved. But it was my last day that I will never forget. “A”, a six year old girl whom I spent every free time available with, sat with some of the girls in my group and me before we were supposed to leave. She was so upset that I was leaving that she wouldn’t even look at me. Holding back tears, I told her that she shouldn’t worry and that I would come back. I turned to all of the girls, telling them I would be back to see them because I loved them all so much. I guess they were all so used to m-fugers coming for a week and never coming back that only when “A” finally looked up at me, held her tiny pinkie finger up and said “Promise?”, did the other girls meet my gaze again. Locking pinkie fingers with that little girl lit a flame in me. I knew the Lord was calling me to be here, and I would come back to Light of the Village no matter what.

All year, “A’s” name, along with three other girls names’, stayed on my mirror as a reminder to pray for them and all the other kids and helpers at Light of the Village. And when the time came for me to go back this summer as an intern, I was bursting with excitement. This time, I had REQUESTED the older girls! Stepping back on those grounds felt like coming home. That craving to be so close to God that He consumed me, was fulfilled. I had never felt so comfortable in my own skin and so genuinely happy.

This summer couldn’t have gone better, unless I were able to stay longer than three weeks. I have learned more about my Savior and more about myself than I ever expected. I came wanting to teach these wonderful girls, and they ended up teaching me! I have made a family at this wonderful, God-filled place I now call home, and I feel almost home sick without it. But I know my time at Light of the Village isn’t over. I will be back to spread the love of Christ and be with my LOV family. God’s light is truly shining in this place, and I am honored to be a part of the work being done here.

J.T.: From Broken to Beautiful

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Summers at camp have always been interesting to me. In the summer of 1991, God was leading me to vocational Christian ministry, and He used my time as a camp counselor to teach me and lead me where He desired. Two months after camp, I had my first church position and a new girlfriend. The church was one of the five I have now served. The girlfriend is now my wife of 20 years. Great summer! 

Fast forward to 2013. God is still using camp to teach me. I remember the verse that struck me twenty-two years ago at camp. Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” At the time, I needed the advice to be still. The first two verses of Psalm 46 speak of trusting God even though the mountains fall into the sea. Pretty tumultuous. That speaks to the circumstances that have surrounded my family lately. We have witnessed a few mountains tumbling and have had to cling to God’s ever-present help in trouble. This summer, God has been urging me to be still and hear Him in the midst of the tumult.

Days at the Light of the Village can be tumultuous. I am convinced that we have no “normal day” on Baldwin Drive! I have seen many things, often unexpected, in my time on campus. Whether it’s a news crew, a new church helping out, M-Fuge friends coming and going, or just new folks coming by to see what’s happening at LOV, there is always something new, something different, or something unexpected. I guess that’s why John always says that we need to be flexible.

That is really what God is asking us to be. He wants us to be flexible. We are to be bendable and shapeable in His hands. He is the potter; we are the clay. If we aren’t flexible, He can’t make us into what He wants us to be. Interestingly enough, when a potter has clay that has hardened or misshaped, the only choice is to break it. Then he can use the ground up mistake to recreate good moldable clay. Maybe that’s why camp was so good for me back in 1991. God took the brokenness that preceded that summer, and shaped me during that summer to make me what He wanted me to be. Perhaps that is also why God wanted me to be here in 2013. Flexibility in the midst of tumultuous times, that is what He wants for me. 

What is He asking you to do? Where are you a little too unbending to His will? Are things going too smoothly in your life? Watch out for the tumult. Know that when it comes (and it will come) He wants to be your rock when the mountains fall into the sea. Know that He wants to use your brokenness to recast you into what He desires. He desires your flexibility. He will mold you and shape you into His will. That’s where I want to be. I hope that is where you want to be as well.

Trevor: Let Him do a Higher Work

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As anyone who has worked with me can tell you, I am severely ADHD. Whether it’s trying to pay attention during a staff meeting at LOV or just trying to stay focused while I’m on the job, I tend to easily get sidetracked by the smallest things. To make matters worse, my ADHD acts up more as the day goes on. So my ability to stay focused is at its weakest during Summer Bible Camp hours. Having the attention span of a chipmunk while dealing with young children is a recipe for disaster.

At the same time, I feel that as every day goes by and I grow stronger in the Lord, I am able to better control myself and to actually stay committed to the task at hand. With both the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of my friends and the people who work with me, I am able to fight off the urge to goof off and to stay focused to what I need to do (whether it’s working at LOV, being a responsible student at South, etc.). This also helps me to be more submissive to God’s will, which in turn allows Him to work through me to become more of the kind of person that He wants me to be. Regardless of what happens to me though, it is never through my own power; it is all to the glory of God.

This last week at LOV, we talked about the parable of the sower and the seeds, found in Matthew 13:3-8. In this parable, Jesus taught that a farmer was out in his fields planting seeds on various different types of terrain. Some of the seeds were planted along the path, some were planted on rocky soil, some were planted in soil covered with thorns/weeds, and finally, some were planted in good soil. As time went on, the seeds that fell on the path were eaten by birds. The seeds that fell on the rocks grew quickly but died when the sun came up and scorched them. The seeds the fell on the weedy ground were choked out. But the seeds that fell on good soil thrived and survived when times got tough. The point of Jesus’ story is that He is the farmer, the seeds are the Gospel, and the soil is how we react to hearing it.

Although this passage comes from the Gospel of Matthew, I immediately thought of a passage from Philippians as soon as I heard this. In this passage, Paul is thanking and congratulating the church at Philippi for their faith in the Lord and their obedience to His will: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).

These verses remind me that regardless of anything that goes on in my life, whether it’s good or bad, we must always be focused on the ultimate goal: becoming what God has called us to be. Even though we all have our own personal goals that we strive to achieve and obstacles to overcome, we must always be aware that God created us to fulfill a specific purpose, or a “higher-work” (I got the title of my blog post from the Katy Perry song “Baby, You’re A Firework” after hearing other popular songs redone with Christian lyrics at the puppet show last week).

Since I started going to LOV to help with the after-school program and now with Summer Bible Camp, I’ve felt that by helping teach the 4-6 year olds about what God wants them to be, I am slowly starting to realize what God wants me to be. Although the lessons that we teach them are relatively easy for kids at that age to understand, there is always a deeper meaning that applies to everyone. Regardless of whether you’re a little tyke and full of life or an adult who’s seen it all, we can do all things through Christ and His power.  

Kathryn: Choosing Joy

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This past weekend I was very excited to head to the bay to watch a bayside sunset. It is probably my favorite way to spend quiet time with my creator. I love nothing more than to sit in front of a glorious sunset, breathe in the smells, look at the colors, hear the wind, and feel the cool of the night beginning. There is just something about it that completely puts me in the mindset to sit in awe and wonder of my Lord. This particular evening as I was sitting, out of nowhere big, nasty stormy clouds rolled in. They were magnificently terrifying and quickly stole the bright colors of the sky. It was as if ugly black clouds were invading the bright orange sky. The brightness of the light was being choked out and my sunset was strangled away by the stormy atmosphere. Honestly I was pretty annoyed because I felt God led me to watch that particular sunset. It wasn’t until later God revealed the significance and the truth in this evening.

God spoke to me through this. He showed me that is what happens when the darkness of doubt, worry, frustration, and stress creep into my life, and I allow them to stay. Pretty soon the glorious display of light is covered up and not much is on display anymore. So often I get overwhelmed when darkness invades the Light that is within me. I forget the battle is not mine to fight. The victory is already won. It was won 2000 years ago when an innocent man was nailed to a cross for me.

In Camp this past week we studied the parable of the farmer planting seeds. In the story the farmer plants seeds in soil that chokes, snares, and malnourishes.  In all these situations the seeds fight for life but do not prosper until the farmer finally plants the seeds in good soil. It is not until then that the seeds can grow easily, and to their fullest potential. Jesus instructs us how we want to make our hearts a good place for God’s word to grow. Our hearts need to be the good soil.  But, so often I forget to pluck the weeds of frustration, worry, doubt, stress, and anxiety.  I let the storm clouds sneak in, and I let the weeds choke out the good. However, we can choose Christ. We can choose Joy. We can look to God instead of the overwhelming surroundings that occur at Summer Bible Camp and in everyday life.

Matthew 13:3-8 “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Even when I have forgotten to plan a game, when I get stood up on an appointment, when a student doesn’t listen, when a helper misunderstands my instructions, I can choose Joy. When insults are being fired from an angry camper in time out, I CAN CHOOSE JOY. Because JOY wins. Joy wins because Jesus won. I don’t have to be overwhelmed by the darkness. I can turn from the stress, the anxiety, the let-downs, the weakness, and the insecurities because Christ has already won I don’t have to worry.

So today I choose Joy. Stress LOST. Anxiety LOST. Pride LOST. I never felt such Joy. My heart is still overwhelmed by the unthinkable Joy. I am never going back! Because when darkness started to sneak in, I looked to the Light. Finding the Joy, focusing on Christ, and remembering why I am here kept my storm clouds out today. I am here to shine God’s light to bring him Glory. I can choose Joy to stay bright, and so can you. Looking to Christ, the everlasting LIGHT, that is the way to keep the storm clouds at bay, and that is the way the good soil stays fertile. That is the way I found Joy.

Gabrielle: The Joy of Giving

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Many people believe ministry is a one-way street. Followers of Christ go out into the community and help serve others, whether it be feeding the homeless, visiting the elderly, or working at a children’s summer camp. I have found this to be untrue; ministry is just as much a blessing to those who serve as it is to those who are being served.

“You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

I love this verse because it is so true. When we give of ourselves, we WILL be blessed in return. Many people mistakenly believe we will be repaid with some monetary reward or physical thing, that if we help others, God will bless us with riches or make everything go well in our lives. While we may be rewarded monetarily, I believe one of the best blessings is being able to hear a child share how she as become closer to Christ and how she reads her Bible and prays daily, or to see a kid smile simply because you’re playing with him and have let him know that he is important and has worth. Some blessings are not seen but are felt in the spirit. When we serve others, the Lord gives us a joy that is indescribable. It is not a sense of pride or accomplishment God gives us, but just a pure and simple cheerfulness just knowing someone’s life has been impacted because of His love. When we are focused on others’ needs, we have less time to worry about ourselves and our problems, which are many times meaningless compared to others. Narcissism and focus on self brings us down because it is not what God intended. His true desire is for us to put our neighbors above ourselves. Some days, we may be too tired or worn to feel like helping others- it’s too hot outside or it’s not what exactly what we feel called to do. But I have seen that every time I’ve ever felt like that, I have walked away feeling renewed and so thankful for the experience.

Light of the Village has truly been a blessing to me. I love being able to get up four days a week and share the love of Christ with these precious children. I look forward to it daily, and it makes me happy knowing a difference has been made in so many lives because of this ministry. Being a part of LOV has made this one of my best summers yet- not because every single moment is perfect, but because seeing individual lives being changed by Jesus Christ is a beautiful and wonderful thing to witness.

Erik: Taking My Training Wheels Off

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Have I ever told you I’m not a morning person? Ask my family and friends, and they can definitely confirm that this is the truth. Interestingly enough, however, I have been waking up by nine every morning for the past three weeks. If you ask my loved ones they will tell you this is a big deal. This is because I love sleep, and once I close my eyes I do not look forward to opening them. Light of the Village and their Summer Bible Camp, however, has stirred something inside of me that gets me up in the morning. Correction, it is not LOV, but the Holy Spirit that truly gives me the energy I need to start the day. I just know that this energy is given to me because of Summer Bible Camp and its cause, which I am now a part of. This cause is to help at-risk children in Alabama Village and other areas of Prichard.

If you’re not familiar with Light of the Village and their summer program I can summarize it like this. Light of the Village is Christ’s house and our home. Some might find this explanation confusing, but to the children that come to LOV it speaks volumes. Many of these children live in homes where food, power, and even water are not always provided for them. Even worse, however, is that almost all of these children lack a full family unit, meaning they live with a single parent or another guardian. Therefore, Light of the Village has truly become these children’s new home. Having lost my father at a young age I understand what it is like to live in a broken home. While I might not have been in the exact same situation as these kids, I can definitely empathize. Because of this, I feel a special connection to both my 7-11 year-old boys (The All Stars) and the rest of the children at LOV.

Week three is officially over, and with it I have experienced new things both good and bad. With only three weeks having gone by, I still have a long way to go in gaining the respect and complete trust of my group of boys. In the mean time, however, with the help of my fellow intern JT, I am learning. JT is ten times more qualified then I, is humble in spirit, and allows me to play a major part in mentoring and watching over our kids. This humble and kindhearted nature is not just found in my fellow intern, but in nearly everyone I have had the pleasure to work with at LOV. This common element alone is enough to show me that the spirit of God is truly with us at Light of the Village. I am proud to say that I am working with a team that is truly Christian and genuine and who I hope to be like.

So how can we as Christians be a positive influence to these kids? By allowing Christ and His light to shine through us and all that we do. This can be done through things as simple as an affectionate hug or giving a child a treat. These children come to Summer Bible Camp seeking love, attention, and a safe environment. We as Christians should give it to them along with God’s words of wisdom. Many believe it is their job to bring these kids to salvation; however, this is an incorrect way of viewing things. Only God through Christ’s sacrifice and love can save these kids. It is just our responsibility as children of the one true King to be the messenger that lets His light and salvation shine through. God Bless and may you all continue to have the Holy Spirit flow through you and everything you do! 

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