Two years ago, some friends approached my (then) boyfriend (now husband) and me about volunteering at a kids’ summer camp for a week. At that time, we were planning on going to South Africa on a mission trip, so we weren’t particularly sold on the idea. We wanted to go somewhere else and help spread the Word of God—hopefully make a difference in the world. We didn’t see how volunteering at some camp just a few miles away would make a very big contribution. So, we were a little iffy.
Then, through a series of events, the mission trip fell through, and we ultimately ended up saying, “Yes, we’ll volunteer at your camp… we suppose.”
But this wasn’t any ordinary camp. Sure, it was a Christian camp for kids to learn about Jesus. There were cabins, swimming in the lake, rock climbing and of course, teams that battled it out on the baseball field. But these kiddos were different.
In one way or another, all of them had spent time in the foster care system.
The camp was different in a lot of ways, too. There were more staff and counselors than there were children. There were lots of little rules you wouldn’t normally have at camp. There was extra training for how to work with children who had been in their situations. While it was similar to every other camp out there, it was also extremely unique.
So that first year, reluctantly, tentatively, apprehensively, my husband and I signed up to serve as camp counselors. We weren’t really sure about what we were getting ourselves into, and looking back now, there was absolutely no way we could have prepared.
But boy, did that camp change our lives. Suddenly, we were able to see firsthand the unconditional love of Jesus Christ radically transforming lives before our very eyes. We saw the painful pasts of innocent children, and how those who were supposed to love them the most, had hurt them the most. We watched as a week of fun and games turned into so much more—a week of childhood for kids who had already lived very adult lives.
That first week opened our eyes to the magnitude of human sin in the world, and its effects on the purest souls. But, more than anything, it opened our eyes to how powerful, incredible and awe-inspiring the love of Jesus Christ is.
So often, children who have experienced trauma love drastically differently from children who haven’t. When a child has been abandoned, hurt, or abused and never fully loved properly, it changes how they react to someone who shows them love.
Rather than leaning into the love, more often than not, they lean away. They run away, push back, act out, tell you they hate you, try to test your limits, all just to see if you’ll be like everyone else in their lives and abandon them. Their trust has been so radically broken so often, that virtually none of it is left anymore. So they don’t trust you. They don’t dare trust. Because the moment they start to feel something for you, they’re afraid that you’ll leave them.
My husband and I experienced this firsthand our first year at camp. Shortly after, I decided to mentor a young girl during the school year who was in the same program.
At first, things got off to a rocky start. She was naughty, acted out, didn’t listen and never, ever ran out of energy. I spent the majority of our time together just trying to contain her, and keep her from running away from me in public places. The times we did spend together, I had to force myself to go. I was exhausted, crushed and felt like our relationship was going nowhere.
Nevertheless, I knew she needed someone there. She needed someone who would continue to love her, no matter how difficult she was and how much she pushed back. She, like so many other kids in her situation, just needed one person to make a difference.
So, with God giving me strength every step of the way, I kept showing up. I kept on loving her. I kept being that person for her, no matter how difficult it was.
And the fruitfulness from that relationship has flourished more than I could have ever possibly imagined. Not only does she behave better, but she opens up more. She trusts me, has let me into her life and we have grown closer together than I thought possible. Our time together has blossomed into a beautiful, true, loving bond. We shifted from me trying to contain her, to truly loving her like my little sister.
My husband and I gladly and excitedly returned back to camp the following year, ready to see God’s transformative work once again. And once again, we were not disappointed. There were the same challenges, same struggles, same issues, but so much more grace, joy and love as kids had the opportunity to truly be kids for a week.
Since having these experiences, my heart for children who have been through trauma and gone through the foster care system has continued to expand.
Oftentimes, children in the system are the most difficult, most hurting, most lost little boys and girls. But they are not damaged goods. They love differently because their trust has been broken. But when you continue to come back, continue to be their friend, continue to show them love, those barriers are broken down, and they let you into their little hearts with all the trust and love that they can muster.
I am so glad my husband and I didn’t go on that mission trip two years ago, but instead found a mission right here at home. Without it, I never would have met the most amazing, beautiful, loving children. Kids in foster care may love differently, but it only takes one person—and a whole lot of Jesus—to show them that they are loved.
If you want to learn more about the organization I’m involved with and donate to support foster care children in your community, click here.