The dining hall was abuzz with excitement as over a hundred kids flocked in for lunch. The sweat dripped off several of them as they took a break from a morning full of hard, physical work outside while a couple dozen others dripped with water after a morning full of hard, mental training in the swimming pool. Friends exchanged stories from the day, telling about the fun they had already even though the day wasn’t even halfway over. It was a beautiful day, and the camp was just as alive as it had been all week.
Meanwhile, a solemn camp director picked up the microphone and said, “Would all those from Indianola please meet with Pastor Dave back at that table right now.”
Oh no. Rest of us looked over at the group nervously as we lined up to get our lunch. Something was not right. Something bad had happened.
The meeting dispersed, and news quickly spread that one of the men from their church had unexpectedly died the night before. Furthermore, he was the father of one of our good friends who had worked at camp for several summers but had decided not to this year. I was devastated, and suddenly lunch no longer appealed to me. Tragedy had struck one family, and thus a church, and thus a camp that was so heavily connected to that church.
That was Thursday of Water and Work Week at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp in 2013. One week later, I left the US to come to Brasil for the first time.
Three years later it is Thursday night of Acampamento Jovens at Acampamento Peniel in Iguatu, Brasil. We had all had a wonderful day full of laughter, sweat, and Bible preaching. After the evening chapel service, we had a hilarious activity in which the campers dressed up like people from movies and TV shows. It was a great way to start the rest of the evening, and when we finished it wasn’t even eleven ‘o clock yet, meaning we still had another 3 hours of free time before they turned off the lights.
But as we wrapped up our evening activity, a solemn program director picked up the microphone and asked everyone from a certain church in Juazeiro to meet with the camp director back at the chapel. Suddenly a hush fell upon all the campers, and concerned looks started to replace the smiles on everyone’s faces.
Something was not right. Something had happened.
As the one group of people had their meeting, everyone else gathered together and heard the same announcement. I did not know exactly what happened, but I could tell from the sudden flow of tears that someone had died. As people started to gather into groups and hug and cry together, I walked by myself to a bench and started praying. Not far away from me, one of the guys I knew wept harder than I have ever heard anyone cry.
A little while later, the other people returned to us, and I found out what had happened. A young man from their church, only 16 years old, had unexpectedly died that day. No one knew yet why his life had come to such an abrupt end, but the lack of knowledge didn’t change the facts. A promising young man and a good friend to many was no longer here.
Almost everyone at camp knew who he was, and even if they didn’t, they still mourned the loss of someone from their fellowship of churches. I helped comfort a few people who came to the bench where I was sitting, but the most I could do was hug them, pray for them, and cry with them.
It was at that moment that I realized another reason why God had brought me to camp that week. To weep with those who wept, and to comfort those who needed comforting.
For three hours we sat there and cried and prayed, and we finally went to bed, some of us unsure of whether we would be able to sleep or not.
The next day we all made our way to breakfast, and we quietly filled our stomachs. From there we all silently crossed the bridge and went to chapel. The shock from the night before had not quite worn off, and a couple people had gone home to be with their church.
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” If that’s true, where was our proverbial joy?
We started to sing, and the smiles started to reappear. One by one, even while faces still glistened with fresh tears, people began to smile again. It was morning, and the joy of the Lord overpowered our sorrow. The camper who had wept so much the night before walked to the podium with a huge smile and encouraged everyone to enjoy camp because that is what his friend would have wanted them all to do.
The speaker gave a great message from Joshua 1, explaining how God encouraged Joshua to continue on even after Moses had died. God’s work was not done and the ministry needed to continue, so Joshua needed to strengthen himself for the task at hand. Likewise, the campers needed to move forward, rely on God’s sovereignty and grace, and continue living life with joy and hope.
After the message we sang some more, and at one point the camp director told everyone to turn to their neighbor and give them a hug. It was then that the smiles started to turn into laughter.
Do you ever wonder why God has placed you in a specific spot like I wondered when I first arrived at camp on Monday of Acampamento Jovens? Perhaps God places you in the lives of some people simply so you can cry with them and comfort them during their time of need. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Crying is good, and sometimes God may put you in a situation so that you can cry along with someone else. Although I don’t think that was the only reason God had me at camp that week, I think it was definitely part of it.
If you think of it, please pray for the family and the church of this young man who so suddenly left our world. None of us knows exactly what the situation is and the impact this has had on those who knew him, but we can still pray, and God will answer.
The rest of that Friday everyone was back to normal, and we ended camp on a high note, complete with more games and festivities. It was absolutely wonderful.
God had won, and joy had come in the morning.