What Am I Doing Here?!

As the hot afternoon sun beat down on my face, I slowly made my way past the lake to the iconic white walking bridge that separated the tabernaculo from the refetorio. It was actually a beautiful, calm day. Compared to the heat that my family and friends were experiencing back in Iowa, 80+ degrees with no humidity was quite nice. Only a few hours had passed, and I found myself at a place that I was only vaguely familiar with, and I wasn’t quite sure why I was there. Then again, I knew that God wanted me there, and that was enough to satisfy me. I told myself, “Smile Joshua. God wants you here.” But for how long?

My sister happened to cross paths with me on the bridge. How thankful I was that she was there too! Not just because she spoke good English, but because there were two of us in the same situation and we could help each other along. As she got within hearing distance, I quietly said, “I don’t know if I’ll come back next week. I’m happy to be here, but I thought we would be doing something. I like camping, but I didn’t come here to just be a camper. So if they don’t need us next week…” Jamie quickly responded, “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.” We think the same way almost all the time, so there was no reason for us to carry on the discussion any further. “Okay, we’ll see,” I said, and we continued onto wherever we each were headed.

Thus began my first of three weeks at Acampamento Peniel. Three years ago I stopped by the camp with Pastor Jim Leonard on our way from Fortaleza to Crato. He gave me a quick tour of the place, but nothing was going on. I remember looking at the open-faced cabins and thinking, “I don’t know if I would want to camp here. The mosquitoes would be so bad.” Kkkkkkk…my American attitude was on full display between me and God at that time. Instead I spent three days at camp on Treasure Island that summer, sleeping in an identical cabin, but on an island that was too far away from the mainland for mosquitoes to even get to.

Climbing Up a MountainFast forward to 2016 and I was going to actually sleep in one of those cabins with all the mosquitoes. But that was okay! Prior to making the trip down here this summer, I knew I would be spending a week at camp, and I was excitedly anticipating it. I was going to be on staff for the week, helping out with activities and…well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but I would be doing something!

That anticipation quickly faded into confusion after I arrived at camp and quickly discovered that Jamie and I were only going to be campers. Campers?! I camped as long as they would let me camp at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp back at home, and the oldest I could go was 18…that was 8 summers ago! I get to be a normal camper again? For some people that might be exciting. For me…well, I wasn’t sure what to think. Why did God bring me here just to camp for a week?

That night during supper, the director for the week came over to me and asked if he could eat with me. While we ate, two things came up during our conversation. “I don’t know where our speaker is. If he doesn’t show up, I have to be ready to speak.” Fortunately for him, the speaker eventually showed up in time to speak at chapel that evening. But as we ate, the director also said, “So you like to take pictures?” “Sim! It’s one of my favorite things to do!” Then I silently prayed, “Please, ask me to take pictures for this week. Please, ask me to take pictures.” I finished my food. He finished my food. We went to chapel. He never asked me to take pictures, and I was pretty disappointed.

I was so tired that evening that I could barely stay awake during the service. It might have been a little easier if it was in English, but regardless, I was ready to sleep when the service ended. I headed back to my cabin, rolled into my hammock, and fell asleep praying that God would have someone ask me to take pictures during the week. After all, after an 8-year sabbatical, I couldn’t remember anymore how to be a camper…especially in a different hemisphere!

Me and friends – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Loud music from the tabernaculo woke me up the next morning around 6:30. Ugh…I didn’t want to get up. My hammock was so comfortable. By the way, I love hammocks. It’s a shame that there aren’t more places to hang them in the US like there are down here. It’s a shame that we use beds with mattresses at camp when hammocks are so much cheaper and easier to use…and way more comfortable. Anyway, I finally rolled out of my airborne sleeping bag, got ready for the day, and went down to breakfast.

I got in line for breakfast and soaked in the early morning sights around me as I neared the food. “Can you do me a favor?” I looked at the director and answered, “Sure.” He continued, “I need you to take pictures of everything that happens each day so we can show them in chapel at night.”

Wait, isn’t that exactly what I asked God for?!

Thus began the rest of not just one fun-filled week of camp, but two…and eventually three. Thousands of pictures later, I have no doubt as to why God sent me to camp, and it had to do with much more than just photography. Unlike Jamie, I’m not going to be able to condense my camp experience down to only one blog post, so I’ll have to spread it out a little.

As God showed me, life will not always go as I expect or even as I want it to. Sometimes I will be confused, many times I will be stretched, and always I will have to be flexible. But when God has a plan in mind, nothing can stop him, and God knew exactly what he wanted to do with me that week as a “camper.” It was a wonderful blessing to be the camp photographer, a job I had for four summers at IRBC from 2009-2012. It was also fun to be a camper again.

What was I doing there? Serving God as only God knew how 🙂