Two double decker buses, decorated with every colour of the rainbow and packed full of children, awaited us at the top of the street.  We climbed in, escaping the scorching sun, and so began our journey to Suphanburi, Thailand.  This was the start of Camp Zoe!

Three hours later we arrived in the beautiful countryside, surrounded by the biggest tropical plants I’ve ever seen!  Palm leaves as big as a refrigerator…it looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park, but without the dinosaurs of course!  Sixty children from Bangkok and neighbouring cities, almost entirely boys, came running out of the buses ready to start all the Camp craziness. Many of them were retuning to Camp Zoe after being involved in previous years, others, including myself and John, were experiencing it for the first time.

Camp Zoe was started a few years ago by Ark International as part of their overall goal to introduce kids to Jesus and help them to develop their character and leadership qualities.  The camp is aimed at children living in slums, ages eleven to eighteen.  A number of these children are not in school or have limited education and have entered the labour force at a young age in an attempt to help their family’s survival. Many of them are without good mentorship and have been subjected to crime and injustice, lacking important life skills and hope of breaking out of poverty.  Camp Zoe is one of a number of ways that we are helping to bring opportunities, teach life skills, and offer valuable mentorship.  But even more importantly, Camp Zoe is all about bringing children to a life in Jesus!  The name Zoe means life…and that’s exactly what Jesus has for us.  Life in abundance!  Even though the camp lasts only a week, the experience they have with Jesus and with the leaders and other children lasts well beyond the week.

Each morning starts with a breakfast – fried rice, eggs, toast, rice porridge, sometimes noodles, sometimes Spaghetti, and salad.  Yes, these breakfast options may seem a bit peculiar to many, but it is delicious and filling!  Plus, how can you go wrong with fried rice and eggs!? There was this one young boy, chubby cheeks and a shaved head leaving just a small round patch of hair atop his head, and he would spread a thick layer of butter on his toast, both sides…and jam.  Then he would sit down and scrape it off bit by bit, eating the butter and jam and leaving the toast behind.  I quite enjoyed seeing this process.

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After breakfast we all headed to the main meeting room for morning devotions, worship and game time.  I am so used to having to persuade and usher teenagers to engage in small group time that I just assumed it would be the same with these kids.  I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see these young men and women dive into their small groups, laughing and participating in the activities and learning time.  I could see so much hunger for God, and a love of learning.  It was beautiful.  Worship was a similar experience.  Of course we still had a few at the back, unsure of what to do as the music played out, but I could tell that the children were so glad to be there.  We had an AMAZING band led by Danny Brown from Bangkok with us, and they really helped to bring out the joy and fun in worshipping God through song.  The first song was “Mercy is Falling” sung in Thai, and played with a lot of percussion and passion.  The rest of the songs were written in Thai and carried with them the cultural style and sounds of Thailand.  I was in tears seeing everyone jumping and singing and dancing for God!  There was spontaneous breakdancing, conga line dancing, and more traditional Thai style dancing.  There was such a sense of freedom in the room!

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This year the camp’s theme was “Elements”.  The kids were divided into six teams: Water, Earth, Lightning, Stone, Wind and Fire.  Everyday after lunch we played a variety of competitive team games like relay races, water balloon basketball, a scavenger hunt, and anything that involved running and jumping.  It was insanely hot outside…one day was over 40 degrees celsius!!!  So water was a large part of our game time 🙂  And when it came time for free time, the kids made a bee line for the pool, stripping layers as they ran.  Just imagine fifty teenage boys all catapulting and flipping into a pool at the same time…it was like a pool full of hyperactive dolphins!  I really loved my time by the pool because suddenly the language barrier didn’t matter.  All these kids wanted was someone to watch them flip and swim about, high-fiving them and clapping for their accomplishments!  I felt like a happy mother of many watching my kids try to jump higher and swim further than the last time.

I think sometimes we can be like that with God, jumping about and waving “look at me, look at me!”.  We so desire to have someone to clap for us, notice us and smile proudly, high-five us when we do something great or even when we trip and fall into the water.  God gives the best high fives, and He delights in us and all that we do.  It says in Psalm 149:4 that “…the Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with victory.”  What an amazing heavenly Father we have, that He would delight and take pleasure in seeing us live out our lives for Him, and that He brings reward to the humble.  The world rewards the famous and talented, but God is looking for humble hearts…people willing to fall into the pool in their attempt to flip backwards.

Our adventures at Camp Zoe continued.  Dodgeball, basketball, noodles, spicy soup, ice cream, water fights and bike rides.  A very special memory of mine was when this one young boy, shaggy haired with a big toothy cheeky smile, mischievous as ever…invited me for a bike ride.  Because we were communicating through a number of hand gestures, broken English and Thai, and a lot of smiles, I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to watch him ride the bike or ride one of my own.  In fact, it was neither…he wanted me to sit on the back of the bike as he rode the bike.  Now keep in mind he is half my size, as is the bike, and my legs could drag along the ground.  I’m afraid I’m going to break the bike completely, fall off the back, or both.  But this little boy’s kindness and eagerness to play with me, and treat me to a tour on the back of his bike was enough motivation for me to say yes.  So I hopped on the back, held on for dear life and away we went wobbling to and fro.  It was the best ten minutes of my whole week, zipping past other kids, bumping over bridges and swerving under bats as the sun set.  We took turns driving after the first few minutes, be he insisted to drive me…such a gentleman.  I felt like God really used that time to free me from my own mind, and break me out of any worries I had.  It was simply fun, and that was just what I needed 🙂  It’s no wonder that God says we are to enter His Kingdom with the heart of a child (Matthew 18:3).

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On our final night at camp, there was a big campfire, marshmallow roasting, and even a Samoan fire dance from one of our leaders!  It was awesome!!  I felt like we were in the movie “George of the Jungle” in that scene where George and Ursula dance around the fire to the song, “Dela“, completely free of any inhibitions…but without the band of gorillas.  Kids roasted marshmallows on long sticks of bamboo while some of our leaders from Cambodia were dancing by the fire.  Other children chased after their leaders in a game of moonlight tag making circles around the fire.  My personal favourite thing to see was my friend, Golf, teaching a group of kids how to breakdance on the grass.  I could see that they felt so loved and important as they practiced balancing on their heads and flipping about.  The children were led in a prayer to give their hearts to God and follow Him, and with the Thai worship music playing out in the back and heads bowed, I was overwhelmed with God’s presence. Earlier that evening all the leaders were invited to pray over the children as they came forward desiring to follow God and receive freedom in Jesus.  I was in tears again praying for them, asking God to lead them as warriors and mighty men and women of God!  Seeing the pure and simple hunger for God in these children encourages me.  Please join with me in prayer for them, that they would be set apart, leaders in their communities, carrying the good news of Jesus with them to their families and friends!  I pray that they would be like seeds, planted in fertile soil, sending roots deep down into the ground.  I pray that they would be showered with living water and raised up as strong and mighty trees, able to stand firm in any storm.

John and I came across this song while at Camp Zoe, and it fit in so well with the theme of the week and the lyrics really stood out to me.  I feel like these words describe the children I met at camp:

“Oh I’ve been pushed down into the ground
Oh how I have been trampled down
Lord I put my trust in thee
You won’t turn your back on me

Oh I am a seed
Oh I am a seed
I’ve been pushed down into the ground
But i will rise up a tree”

Many of them have been pushed down, trampled on, ignored or hurt.  But with their trust in God, there is purpose and hope found…they are seeds and they will rise in Him!  We’re all seeds….sometimes hurt or tossed aside.  Sometimes pushed down and surrounded by darkness.  Be encouraged that from that place, God’s hand is there and He is our living water and the one that can bring us back to life, and a life greater than we could ever hope for or imagine. Just like a seed has to break free from its shell before it can become a plant, we must let go and surrender our shells to God and allow Him to raise us up.

John and I are back from Camp Zoe, but only for the weekend.  This Monday we are off to India!  We are excited and hopeful of what God has in store for us!  Please join us in praying for the city of Hyderabad…that God would do great and mighty things in the lives of everyone we meet, for favour and protection, and that our group would be bold in faith, and united as sowers of seeds.  God has provided all of our funds and He is making a way for us to go, and I am confident that He is with us in every step of this journey!!  I am so excited for this adventure!!

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I am SOOOO excited for samosas and saris!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

John 12:24

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