Journey’s end

We did it! Responsible for twenty two 13-16 year olds for a week. No one got hurt, no one got lost, and now they’re all home safely. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and at times very moving. It’s taken me nearly a week to recover and as I’ve slowly gotten my body, mind and spirit back to a state of normality I’ve been thinking about why I took this on.

JYF camps were a hugely important part of my teenage years. They were a place to be truly myself, to be accepted for exactly who I was. They were a time of forging new friendships, of falling in the first semblances of love, and of being acknowledge as a person in my own right rather than a ‘child’ or a ‘teenager’.

I want my children to be able to experience this. That’s what first set me on the path of organising a YF camp three years ago, and what motivated me to volunteer to organise this JYF camp. I wanted the community to be strong so they’d have a positive experience when they were old enough to go. I wanted to give something back, to carry on the work of people like Angela Brusse who started JYF camps in New Zealand so many years ago.

That would have been enough, but what I got in return was so much more. Organising and running this camp was a transformative experience. It reinforced my sense of confidence in my leadership abilities. It deepened my admiration and respect for the tireless energy and consummate skill of my partner Bridget, who single handedly coordinated incredible food for 28 people, ran four sessions, and had time to make friends with the JYFs and be there for those that needed her. It took my relationship with the other YF leaders to a different level, and my most heartfelt thanks go to Thomas, Mirjam, Melody and Johnny for sharing this path, and making the camp the incredible experience that it was.

Then there’s the JYFs. I have never met such a beautiful, caring, talented and loving group of young people. They included each other right from the start. No one was left out, everyone was accepted. They constantly bewildered me with their combination of extraordinary insights, humour and intelligence, and their sometimes complete lack of peripheral attention and ability to notice what needed doing in a practical sense. My thanks to those of them that did notice, especially to Luke, Rogan and Daniel for doing the fires in the morning, and to Briar-Rose for always being there when I was exhausted and just needed a hand.

It felt to me like an enormous privilege being allowed to create this environment for them. I found that whenever I trusted them, included them in the decision making, and assumed that they’d act responsibly, they did. Perhaps the greatest surprise for me was that for most of the time I forgot there was such an age gap. They so completely accepted all six of us leaders as peers rather than authority figures. It felt a lot like YF camp, and I sense there’s the possibility that as they grow, some of them will become my lifelong friends.

The theme of the camp was “walking in the light”. I felt like this happened. Not by what we discussed, or the activities we did, but by the way we were able to live together, in joy, love and harmony. I feel richly blessed by this experience, and I will carry the memory of it with me forever.

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