Let me tell you about my week …
It was very late at night. We had no light. We had just run as fast as we could from Pharaoh, who had just lost his son to the Angel of Death in a thick cloud of smoke. We heard his wife wailing. We saw the livestock die. We saw the water turn to blood. But finally, he let us go. So we ran. We ran to the water’s edge as he chased us. Moses came and stood before us, me and 60 others. We were trapped. We were pinned against a wall of rushing water with the Egyptian army behind us. Moses stood in front of us, faced the wall of water, and raised his staff yelling “Don’t be afraid! Stand your ground, and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today. The Lord will fight for you and all you have to do is keep still.” As he lowered his staff, the water also simultaneously lowered and subsequently vanished. The campers, the team, and I walked across on dry ground; Pharaoh did not. Our fears were drowned.
When we got to the other side of the make-shift Red Sea/bridge to the base of the O. P. Smith Lodge and Dining Hall at Aldersgate Camp, we were so excited to be liberated that we all burst forth in song! We were singing so loud and so passionately that it sounded like we were screaming the lyrics: “You split the sea so I could walk right through it! Our fears were drowned in perfect love! You rescued me so I could stand and sing, ‘I am a Child of God!’ I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God!”
That’s right. That happened. Essentially every night of my past week at Aldersgate Camp was like this. In fact, every first week of July for me since 2004 has been like this at a special week of summer camp called “Leisure Ministries.”
The purpose of Leisure Ministries is to empower, encourage, train, teach, and grow young Christians to be able to share the good news of Christ through their every day and “leisure” activities. We want to equip youth to be able to be missionaries in their own community, to able to go back home and tell others about Christ and love on others through fun, invitational, and meaningful ways. At the beginning of the week of LM, campers get to choose which “major” they would like to be in for the week. Major time is a group that they get to choose to spend the week with and they always involve a certain topic, activity, or single unifying theme. Our majors this past year were “sports”, “drama”, “outdoor adventure”, and “global justice”. Each day, they also get to choose a “minor” time. These minor times are chances for campers to get a break from their major and try something new or learn a new skill. Some of the minors this year included “Understanding the Creation Story and Science”, dance, hiking, “Global Justice,” and puppets (led by me of course!).
During the week, the Leisure Ministries campers got to experience the Bible in a whole new way. The theme of Leisure Ministries is on a four-year cycle. The first year focuses on Genesis – Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch), the second year focuses on Joshua – Malachi (the history and story of Israel), the third year focuses on the Matthew-John (Gospels), and the fourth year focuses on Acts-Revelation (early church and end times).
This year was the first year in the four year rotation so we focused on the first five books of the Bible including creation, the fall, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Moses, and Joshua. As part of making the Bible come alive every year, we always have a “drama and experience major” which focuses on creating dramas from the Bible stories and bringing the scripture to life throughout the day and throughout the various community and worship times. During this week, together as a camp we experienced and witnessed the the creation of the universe, the fall of humanity, the promise to and life of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rachel, Rebecca, and Jacob, the incredible story of Joseph, slavery in Egypt, the liberation of the slaves, the Exodus, and the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant. These stories were presented in a very powerful way through both the Leisure Ministries volunteer staff and the Aldersgate Camp staff and the campers themselves.
I have led this camp for the last eight years, since 2012, and for the last seven years with my friend and ministry partner, Jeremy Arnold. But the legacy of Leisure Ministries goes back further than that.
Leisure Ministries was started in 1984 by my dad, Mark D. Walz, Lee Padgett, Wayne Garvey, and Art Logue. Leisure Ministries is a totally different, dynamic, refreshing, transforming encounter with God that may change you forever. The idea for this camp called “Leisure Ministries” came from the United Methodist SEJ (Southeast Jurisdiction) Leisure Recreation Lab at Camp Sumatanga in Alabama. The ideas and activities that these “Leisure Labs” produced the introduction of the traditional Aldersgate folk dancing and songs, dramas, storytelling workshops, and puppets (a LM tradition). This week of camp is not only important to me because of the history connected my father, but because the nature of the kids and future leaders that come through it and with whom I get to experience Christ. Over the past eight years, I have been fortunate enough to be the dean (leader) of the week of camp for the kids whose parents had my father as their dean when they were LM campers themselves! I’ve been able to meet people who were campers when my dad led this very same camp in the late 1980s. This is a legacy. I can’t even name all the people I have come to know and love through LM. There are too many to count. I continue to do this camp because of not only the stories that come to life but because of the stories we hear. Stories of kids afraid to be themselves and be who they want to be that feel welcomed and loved, stories of kids ready to end their lives that find meaning and purpose, stories of kids with no friends or family that find community and a family, stories of kids that become youth pastors and pastors and missionaries, stories of kids that then become a part of Aldersgate Staff or the LM Team, stories of kids that hurt themselves just to stop feeling anything that are released from these bondages and pain. The list goes on.
This past week I got to meet and remeet and spend time with so many kids and future leaders from all around the state of Kentucky in all different stages of life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Kids from all walk of life: pastor’s kids, refugees, under-resourced kids, future famous singers, future famous authors, kids who sometimes find themselves in situations they never thought they’d be in, kids from troubled homes, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, cool kids and weirdos (like me) and kids who will surely one day lead this camp.
I am so grateful for everyone who makes this camp possible every year, from the permanent staff and the part-time and summer staff of Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center, to the Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church staff, to St. Luke United Methodist Church, to Michelle Arnold and Jeremy Arnold, and to every single one of the LM and Aldersgate Staff AND volunteers (even one day volunteers) past and present who have ever had a hand in Leisure Ministries all the way back to 1987. You all should have seen the “camper surveys” that we were reading! We’ve received letters and notes that make this so meaningful and worth all of this. Lives were dedicated and re-dedicated. Campers were called into ministry. Kids found community, family, welcoming friends, and churches. Kids found God, found themselves, found life, found purpose. What a legacy.