Story by Holly Poole
Royal Family Kids Camp may look like the camps we all remember from our childhood. Our days are filled with bug-spray clouds, camp-food tummy aches, trying to decide if we really needed sunscreen, realizing later that we did need sunscreen, jumping off everything (seriously, everything), yelling team chants, singing songs, playing games, sleeping on bunkbeds that create earthquakes when you move in your sleep. It all looks pretty normal, but it’s so far from that—what is happening here is extraordinarily special. Royal Family Kids Camp is so much more than camp, but an opportunity for hurting children to enter into an atmosphere of love, safety, and encouragement. It is a chance for them to be treated as children, in all of the innocence and pureness that they were meant to possess.
If you are unaware of what Royal Family Kids camp is, the short description is that it is a camp for children in the foster care system. If you are a member of The Harbor Church, you’ve no doubt heard about RFK and know what it is, but may not know the gravity of all of it. When telling people that I was going to be a counselor at this camp, most often I got this response: “wow, that’s so cool.” Yes, it is “cool,” but what is happening here is so much bigger than “cool”—it’s critical to these kids. I believe there is an urgent call for the church to be protectors and advocates of God’s children. This begins with the awareness that the situations surrounding these children in the foster care system are severe and their needs are urgent. Here are some statistics from the Royal Family Kids organization webpage about foster children:
But let’s look beyond statistics. I’m going to try to paint a picture of the experiences I had at Royal Family Kids Camp, the goodness of God, how He loves through us, and restoration of innocence.
On day 1, we were set to leave for camp and I was overwhelmed by chaos. I had a crazy week, I felt unprepared for camp in both physical and mental capacities, and overall, I felt incapable of accomplishing the mission that I was set out to do. During the RFK commissioning service, I felt God speak to me strongly that this week had nothing to do with me or my abilities. Instead, it was simply about being available and allowing Him to love through me. It is an honor and a blessing to be used in this way.
As soon as we arrived at camp, all of my fears and concerns were replaced with such great anticipation as we prepared the campground for these campers. I received the names of my campers and became overwhelmed by the goodness of God to see that one of the girls whose name I had prayed over and connected to would be one of my campers. I saw that His hand was on my life and on the lives of these children and it filled me with so much joy. On the day that the campers were set to arrive, the counselors and staff waited all morning in nervous anticipation, eager to meet our campers. In my lifetime, I had never looked forward to anything more than seeing the children connected to the names that I had been praying for. As soon as I met both of my girls, I loved them both dearly.
In that moment, my love for them was very emotional. As the week progressed, I began to see a lot of different ways that love can be practical.
One of the things that the kids loved to do is hangout by the pond before or after mealtimes and throw gravel into the pond. Why? Because children like to do things like throw rocks into ponds, and these children aren’t accustomed to being allowed to be children. Love is so simple. Love is allowing children to be children and throw gravel into a pond.
Being with some of the youngest of the girls at camp (six and seven-years-old), there were some really cool things that I got to see. One of the most exciting things for me was watching my campers as they ventured from being scared of swimming in the lake to fearlessly jumping into the water from great heights. Their courage truly inspired me. I loved having the opportunity to (unwillingly) jump off a 20 foot platform with my little six-year-old camper and not only tell her to be brave—but stand with her. It was a powerful moment for both of us. She later showed me a bracelet that she received at camp that said “be brave” and asked if it would make her braver. I was able to tell her how God makes us brave. For the rest of the week I was able to teach her about prayer and a God that is always there to support us.
The entire week was all about fun and hope. We never focused on their troubles but rather averted their thoughts towards enjoying the present. On the last night, however, I saw a glimpse into the hurt inside the lives of these children. I am guilty of expecting that these children were too young to understand what John was saying when he talked about the hurts in their lives and a God that could heal them. I often told them to pay attention and stop playing during the service. I did not expect that I would look over and see my two little campers with tears streaming down their faces as they related to the words that he spoke. I am guilty of thinking that these girls are so young that they do not understand what is going on in their lives, but they do. What they don’t fully understand, they still know how it makes them feel. They only know how to say how they feel in ways such as “bad,” or “not good.” My two girls held my hands and began telling me in childlike words about their grown-up situations. They may not fully understand it all but what they feel is the same pain that anyone else would feel in those situations—they just don’t know how to say it like we do. It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to see a six and seven-year-old holding such deep hurt and shame that was brought on them by big people that have blemished their innocence and tainted their perception of love.
The innocence of a child is such a beautiful thing, to see such beautiful children live a life deprived of this innocence is heart-breaking. At this time, I was able to teach tell these children about a God that fills our hearts with things that are "good." I was able to tell them that there is no guarantee that things won't be bad sometimes, but God is always there for us and He loves us with a pure love. I prayed with them individually as they asked God to be with them and make them brave. These are the moments that make this camp more than just a “cool” thing—this is when you realize that the needs of these children require urgent care by something more powerful than counseling or any medication. These children need the love of God and they need us to be the example of that love.
To learn more about Royal Family Kids camp and the work that they are doing in the lives of foster children click here.
To read a story from last year’s camp click here.