By Aaron E. Ziebarth, Executive Director Joy El Camps and Retreats
Devon* was a middle school camper. It was obvious that he was troubled. He wasn’t fitting in with the other boys in his cabin group. As the week went on he began to call them names and pick on them; a cloud of tension surrounded him. His counselors were concerned for him, but he wanted nothing to do with them. They wanted to find out if there were any concerns or troubles that he was facing. But he wouldn’t talk at all.
They weren’t able to reach his heart. They pleaded with him, and told him his antagonistic efforts toward the other campers needed to stop. Devon met with the program director. The program director told him in no uncertain terms that this behavior needed to stop. Discipline measures were put into place. But it didn’t stop! It escalated.
Eventually Devon punched one of the other boys in the cabin. This meant immediate expulsion.
Devon’s parents were called and told that they needed to come and pick him up. It would be several hours until they could make it.
When I became aware of the situation I said Devon could join me for the remainder of the day. I have a couch in my office. I began to talk with Devon but he wasn’t interested in talking so I gave him a book with instructions to read it.
I invited Devon to join me at the staff table for lunch. For some reason the staff was being served a special lunch. I could tell that Devon felt very privileged to get the special meal. (I certainly didn’t want to reward him for his behavior, but I did want him to see that Jesus loved him.)
At the end of the meal he told me how much he enjoyed the meal. I smiled and said that I enjoyed having him at my table. Little was said from him the remainder of the day as he sat in silence on my office couch. I prayed with him a couple times and he seemed grateful. As the afternoon lengthened his hostility seem to melt away. He willingly completed whatever office task I requested.
When his parents arrived to pick him up, little was said. Even the most unobservant person could tell they were obviously frustrated by the consequences of his behavior. I didn’t regret sending him home. He was disrupting other campers and his misbehavior needed to be addressed. I did feel badly that he hadn’t had a life-changing experience.
The Lord reminded me that, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6), and that, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). I prayed that Devon would see the love of God through this discipline and that it would produce a peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Yet I wondered if I would ever see Devon again . . . it seemed very unlikely.
Eight months later I was shopping at WalMart. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone seemed to be following me, and that he was watching me more than the product on the shelves. I glanced and saw the back of his head. It wasn’t familiar to me, so I continued on, seeking to be aware of my surroundings. Eventually the person approached me and asked, “Do you remember me?”
Although his face looked familiar, I reluctantly admitted that I couldn’t place him or remember his name. And then he began to tell me the whole story. He shared with great detail how he had spent the day with me in my office and how he enjoyed the meal that we had at the staff table.
A big smile came across his face. He was excited to tell me that he had changed. God got his attention when he was sent home from camp, a place where he really wanted to be. After hearing about his growth, I affirmed him, prayed and reminded him he was welcome at Joy El Camps and Retreats.
Devon came to camp the next summer. He was a model camper who regularly reached out to the other campers in his cabin. Since then, I have often wondered, what would happen if we hadn’t send him home? Yes, it is true, discipline is a great means of training.
*Not his real name. Photo does not represent people in the story.
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