I had the great pleasure of getting to serve at the YoungLives Camp just outside Austin Texas. Young Life is an organiztaion that sets out to reach teenagers with the gospel of Christ by loving on them and building lasting relationships. Scott and I have served for a few years in our local YL group at North Gwinnett, and recently I have begun to explore the possibility of starting a YoungLives group in our area. YoungLives has the same mission as YoungLife, but focuses solely on reaching teen moms and their young children. In order to learn more about YoungLives as an organization, I signed up to visit one of the camps this summer and serve by doing childcare. This was a new venture for me, leaving the kids behind with Lolli and Pop, getting on an airplane alone and flying to Texas to meet up with total strangers and spend a week living, eating and serving with them. I successfully raised my money and set out for an adventure that I knew would be life-changing. I arrived at the airport in Austin, TX a little later than planned because of some plane delays, so I rushed to the shuttle bus and loaded aboard with about 20 other people headed to Camp Buckner. At first, I sat in an awkward silence while I texted back and forth with Scott, but soon, I became intrigued listening to some conversations and joining in the talks about starting clubs, how YLives runs in their area, and why these people were all headed to spend a week serving like myself. I met people from around the US who were all as passionate as I am about sharing the gospel with these young girls and already I knew it was going to be an awesome week. When we arrived at camp we pretty much hit the ground rolling. We had a short meeting together (all 100 something childcare workers) and then we made beds (for the campers who would arrive the next day) and by 11:30 we were finally settling into our own cabins for the night. As leaders we stayed in similar cabins to the girls (which fortunately had AC), but there were about 14 of us to one room and two rooms per cabin. The next morning was busy as we continued to take a few training classes, set up our nurseries and meet our other nursery workers. I was assigned to the Lime nursery which was children ages 14 and 15 months old. We had one "head" leader, Ms. Emily, myself and 5 high school helpers. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon arranging pack n' plays, setting up our changing station and organizing the check in system. It was quite amazing how they had converted a cabin style hotel room into such a functional nursery. We had a huge carpet taped to the floor for playtime, all of the traditional "hotel" items had been moved out and we had 6 pack n' plays, a lot of toys and a few chairs. Every detail from safety outlet covers to changing table cleaners and cubbies for diaper bags was attended to. It was truly amazing how organized and efficient our "work crew" was at getting it all set up. (Work crew is a group of people who are there volunteering just like us, except instead of childcare, they clean laundry, serve food, take out trash, clean up the club room, etc).
About 4:00 we all headed outside the pool area to start greeting our moms and babies. This is quite an experience for anyone who hasn't ever been to a YL camp before. The concept is that we "roll out the red carpet" and treat these moms like queens from the moment they arrive on the property. Some of these moms had travelled with babies from Memphis on airplanes, some had ridden on a charter bus 20 hours from Jacksonville, FL and others had come a mere 2 hours from their hometowns in TX. Either way, we wanted these mommies to feel like they were welcome at camp and that they and their kids would have a week they could never forget. So, the staff at check in radios to us, letting us know our first group is arriving. We all line up where the bus is going to drop the campers and work crew gets ready to carry their luggage. From loud music to cheering, to high fives and snow cones, those mom's definitely felt welcome (and maybe a little scared at first at the overwhelming response we had to their arrival). From then, we just kept welcoming in groups of girls, in 105 degree weather, for 3 hours, with SMILES on our faces!!! I am pretty sure that's the most I have ever sweat in my ENTIRE life!!!
We all made it through that first night, but by the time mommies came at 11:30 to pick up kids, we were beat. It'd been a long day and we were ALL ready to get in our beds. Those poor mommies who had to go back to cabins and try to get a bunch of babies to sleep all night in a strange place after hours of travel, moments of crying, strange faces and new places. I WAS NOT envious of them at this moment, although I must say I did miss my little munchkins A LOT!! Each day was pretty much the same- we went to breakfast, headed to our nurseries and watched babies from 9:30-11:30, headed to lunch and then either had Ride Care or Free Time. Ride care was when the moms went with their groups to do the ropes courses, so we only had 4 of the 12 nurseries open. Our nursery was assigned the first day and we were kind of glad to just have that day done with (it was a lot of watching kids with not a lot of down time). After Ride Care, which ended at 5, we headed to leader dinner and then to our Leader Club which was a great time for us to kick back and enjoy some YL style games, music and hear from various people around the camp about the impact we were having on the moms just because of how much we loved on their babies. After club, we headed back to our nurseries for the evening shift which was from about 7-11:30. Then it was off to bed and start the next day all over again. Each evening was a different night for the mom's- western night, pool olympics, and a kiddie carnival (which they took their kids too and we got to go visit with babies and mommies).
On my one afternoon off, I opted to go experience the BLOB and the huge water slide instead of resting. I had never been to a YL camp when the weather was warm and this was my first time on the blob which is pretty much a huge air bubble on the lake. You sit on the end and someone jumps off the dock and onto the balloon and you are catapulted into the air. It was a lot of fun!!!
Our final morning at camp was incredible. They have something called Say So which is where the moms all gather and say in front of their friends, leaders and children that they too believe this Jesus stuff and that they are ready to accept this gift of salvation. They then file out of the building for the New Believer's walk and each mom is given a Bible. At camp we had about 160 moms and 120 babies. Of those, about 50 mommies participated in the New Believers walk, which to me was just incredible!!!