What is FriendsCamp, anyway? And why did we spend weeks planning for a quick trip to Brazil and a weekend of church camp with adults?
FriendsCamp is one of those events that is so much more than the sum of its parts. You know how sometimes you leave a lunch with a friend or an evening with family and you feel that warm glow? It’s not so much what was said or done, but all of it together combined to make something really special, heartwarming, and memorable.
FriendsCamp in Natal, Brazil, was that way this year. Some of us went to the campgrounds on Monday to scope out the situation and see where various events could happen. That helped tremendously in our planning the rest of the week as we prepared, organized what we’d brought, and purchased what else we needed. Our team was Heather and her children Cassidy, 18, and Nathan, 16; Miranda with her daughter Rashelle, 12; two team members unrelated to others, Chelsey, 30, and Titus, 32; my husband Steve and me.
By Friday morning, we were eager to get to camp. We stayed at the church building long enough to have a devotional time of singing, scripture, and prayer. Gina led a sample lesson, because all the adults representing Let’s Start Talking would be leading a small group for four discussions. Then we packed into our rented van not only our luggage and supplies but also tons of food and equipment the cooks would need there.
After about 45 minutes, we arrived and started setting up. We’d made numerous signs so no one would wonder what any area or building was for; the signs explained. From “Welcome” to “Boys’ Bunks ↑” to “Snack Shack,” our signs helped both campers and workers navigate around the camp.
By the time campers started arriving around 5, we were ready for them. They were a good mix of readers from the previous nine weeks of lessons, friends they brought with them, and local church members. The purpose of the camp was to bring these groups together so they could continue to enjoy relationships after the Americans left.
Heather and Chelsey womaned the registration desk and were fantastic. They made everyone feel so welcome and also distributed name tags in various colors so our teams were already determined. The sign-in page included interest in being in the Talent Show, too, and everyone was encouraged to fill out a Balloon-O-Gram.
Dinner came first, since campers kept trickling in. After a short meeting of welcome, we got everyone to mix and mingle with our Balloon-O-Grams. Previously, we had put in a balloon a paper telling our favorite color, food, and sport. Now we got balloons, popped them, and searched for the owner of those preferences. It was a wild and crazy time!
Then we had our first small group discussion. All four were based on questions Jesus asked. The first one was “Why are you afraid?” The questions at other times were “Do you want to be healed?” “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” and “Who do men say that I am?” All fostered excellent discussion. The campers took the sessions very seriously.
Then the Wacky Olympics fun began. Each of the eight teams was given a piece of muslin, a dowel rod, and permanent fabric markers. They determined the fictional names of their countries and designed flags. Some even came up with a cheer for their country. Then Franciney, husband of the missionary Cris, led an Olympic march around the camp, holding high his paper Olympic torch that Nathan had made as Nathan broadcast the Olympic Fanfare.
The next day after breakfast, our morning mixer was “Do you love your neighbor?” We sat in a large circle with one person left without a seat. That person went to someone and said, “Do you love your neighbor?” If the answer was yes, the people seated on either side of that person would swap seats and the standing person tried to grab one of their seats.
If the answer was no, then the standing person said, “So who do you love?” The answer might have been “people wearing green,” or “people over 30,” or even “all people.” The more people who qualified, the greater the madhouse as everyone scrambled for a different seat. The person left standing would go through the whole routine again. It was great fun for everyone—even those who got a little bit injured by over-zealous participants.
After our second small group, we had various activities with large parachutes. No winners or losers—just fun to follow Heather’s directions, especially when they had to swap places going underneath the parachute.
After lunch, we began our Wacky Olympics. Our events were:
- Hammer Throw (ping pong balls taped to string)
- Discus Throw (Chinet paper plates)
- Human Knot (joining right hands and then left hands in the middle of a circle and untangling to a full circle without letting go)
- Tower Stack (designing a tower using mini-marshmallows and spaghetti)
- Synchronized Swimming (out of the water—acting the motions of swim teams)
- Water Balloon Toss (Kept stepping back to throw, last team with balloons was first place)
- Pool Push (pushing a beach ball down the pool without using hands)
We awarded points for the top five in each category, so the winner was obvious if you were paying attention to the chart. After dinner, teams were awarded the bronze, silver, and gold medallions they had earned in our own Olympics.
We did give everyone some free time after our Olympics competitions. They could swim, do crafts, play games that were around camp, such as ping pong or tetherball, jump on the trampoline, or take naps. Many used that time to shower and freshen up.
After the awards ceremony came the Talent Show—emceed by Franciney and Rafael—a Brazilian comedy team, as it turned out. We had 14 entries ranging from a 3-year-old and her parents who sang “Baby Shark” to guitarists to duets by various combinations to a fabulous dance by another Cris and her husband, Jefferson. (I remember the beginning of their romance at a FriendsCamp four years ago!)
Then we all adjourned to the parking lot for a bonfire and S’Mores. In Natal, Brazil, neither Hershey bars, graham crackers, nor marshmallows can be purchased, so the S’Mores were quite a hit. Those who had been to previous FriendsCamps had been looking forward to this for weeks.
On Sunday, we had our last small group session and then our Sunday worship service. Josh led singing, Jefferson led the Lord’s Supper, and Steve spoke. He had the Good Samaritan story read from Luke 10:25-37 in both English and Portuguese and drew out the idea that we had all been neighbors that weekend and should carry that attitude out into our families and workplaces.
Words I heard to describe our weekend were awesome, powerful, amazing, inspiring, marvelous, and intriguing. I’d like to think our visitors were intrigued by the love they saw from the Christians there, that they were intrigued by our stories of Jesus and his power, and that they were intrigued that Christians would come all the way from the United States both to have fun and to teach them about Jesus.
A friend of a reader was a philosophy major who came with the idea that all world religions have common truths that all can agree on. By the time he left, he was interested in learning more about “this Jesus.”
One reader had said from the beginning that he thought Americans were cold and distant and didn’t like people like him, but by the time he left we had clearly won him over. He hugged us, insisted on pictures, and seemed hesitant to leave at all!
I thank God and praise him for so much about this FriendsCamp! Our team worked together beautifully and each person was incredibly helpful and resourceful. The LST team that had been there for six weeks pitched in and helped in every way. The local Christians came and mixed and met and mingled just as we’d hoped. The camp was beautiful and accommodating. The food prepared by the local Christians was delicious. Most of all, we could see and feel God at work. What could be better than that?
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21