It wasn’t that long ago that we were packing up for Camp David Southeast Asia and praying for all the details- including birthday gifts for all the campers registered! Now as I sit down to write out all that God did, my heart is overwhelmed with God’s goodness.
This new camp went so much better than we hoped! We had 106 campers and almost 50 staff! Thirty-eight children heard the Gospel for their very first time and trusted Christ! Twelve children were baptized (the first children baptized in that region in years).
The second night of camp I sat on the roof of the church talking with our in-country contact *Lois. We were both so excited about how well the camp was going. All the way down to the teams being on time for all of their eight rotations in a country where it is normal to be an hour or so late for everything. It was then that I heard about the fears that Lois and *Pastor Sam had as they prepared for camp, I admitted my own fears as well. Fears we all were willing to embrace because of what God might do.
Look what God did:
- We feared we wouldn’t have enough staff (volunteering for a week was unheard of in this country) – God blessed us with nearly 50 volunteer staff!
- We feared that wives and daughters would not be able to come as counselors (way outside of cultural norms) – We were blessed with 3 women counselors for each of the girls’ teams (a total of 12 women)!
- We feared we wouldn’t be able to find the kids and that they would not come – We had 106 campers!
- We feared the Hindu neighbor’s relatives might call the police in retaliation – The Hindu neighbor’s four children came to camp! (their father was in prison partially because of the testimony of the pastor). A least one of the neighbors’ children trusted Jesus as his Savior and asked to be baptized!
- I feared our team would be flagged at customs and sent back to America because we were evangelizing (which has happened to others) – When we got to customs that day we walked right past the X-Ray machines with fourteen 50 pound boxes and suitcases loaded with camp supplies!
- I feared I wouldn’t be able to go because I came down with Malaria two weeks before we left (it normally takes 10 days to get back to 80% strength) – Our children’s pastor anointed me with oil and in just two days I was in church with my hands in the air worshiping God!
- I feared I wouldn’t have the funds for the trip, having only two weeks to raise $6,600 for Daniel and I after our Uganda trip – God provided half of the funds while we were on our way to Uganda and the other half three days before we left for Asia!
This was our second trip to Southeast Asia, but our first camp. We were blessed with a really good team. Reuben and Daniel had both been to Southeast Asia before and had also worked at camp for quite a few summers. Reuben lead team building and was our worship leader and Daniel designed the photo albums. This was Adam’s first international trip and he did an amazing job as the Program Director and helping everywhere he could.
Lois has been serving children in Asia for several years and had also served on staff at Camp David of the Ozarks. Because she is already in Asia she was able to do several trainings with the staff before camp, which added so much to the camp experience. Prior to camp, only two of the 20 counselors had ever shared the gospel or taught the Bible, or even worked with children.
The first day of camp as the precious children with their dark brown eyes began to arrive, I held my breath. We started with maybe 20 kids. Would they all come? To keep the kids busy we started a game of elbow tag…and the kids kept coming. We ended up with 106 campers; 90 of them were children of prisoners and the rest were foster kids.
God had really moved in the heart of the church because our Asian staff consisted of fathers, mothers, college students and more – all with a heart to share the love of Christ with this very special group of children. In this part of Asia, there is a caste system and it is assumed you will be what your parents were. Children of prisoners land at the bottom of the heap with the thought that if you treat them badly enough at least they will be a poor thief and get caught! But here was the church serving these children and treating them like God’s treasures.The pastor told me later that he had never seen the members of the church so eager to serve.
We were holding the camp on the very ground what had been used for many sacrifices to the gods and was considered cursed. After the pastor moved there and the curse was lifted, Hindus had moved in around the church and threatened the pastor with harm if he did not move. The pastor stood firm in his faith in God. On the night of the Talent Show our humble pastor left the gates open and even set out chairs for the Hindu neighbors to sit and watch. The neighbors had never seen so much joy and excitement- with no alcohol involved! At the Talent Show many of the children sang songs to Jesus, or quoted memory verses they had learned that week and two of the boys teams did gospel skits. One night, after we taught a lesson on how God has perfected praise out of the mouths of children to silence the enemy, we shouted “Hallelujah” at the top of our voices to the North, South, East, and West!
One counselor shared that He really didn’t think his Lions Team (6-8 year old boys) would have any interest in spiritual matters and he figured he would be more or less babysitting the whole week. But the first night his campers peppered him with questions about God, they were like little sponges. Later in the week his Lions team looked at him with their brown eyes and told him they were not smart enough to learn Bible verses; most of them really struggled in school. God spoke through that counselor who told his campers since they were followers of Christ now the Bible says they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength. The boys believed it! The last day and a half the boys memorized 7 verses each. They went from being last place in the Junior Cabin Team Challenge to being the winners.
The Lions team started talking about baptism and the boys said that if they got baptized they would need to stop lying, and cussing and fighting. Again their counselor challenged them that they could do all things through Christ. The boys believed it, made a commitment to stop doing all these things and by the end of the week their counselor believed it too because it all stopped!
For the girl counselors, camp was an extra special gift. This was a rare opportunity for them to share their faith. One counselor who was a mother shared how she grew up Hindu and came to faith in Christ later in her life. She had always wanted to share her faith with younger children and camp was a huge answer to her prayers. Wednesday morning at the 5:30 meeting one morning one of our girl counselors arrived with this bright smile on her face. Her eyes sparkled as she told us how she shared the gospel with her girls the night before and how amazing it was because God gave her just the right words to speak to her girls.
In the weeks since camp ended, the children started attending the churches that were part of the camp and God has continued to minister to children through these church congregations. Thank you all for your prayers and support of the Camp David ministry that helped make Camp David Southeast Asia possible. You brought a lot of joy and hope to children of prisoners in Asia.
*Names changed for safety
Benjamin A. Smith
Founder and Director