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My summer experience

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This summer I had quite the wild adventure running a nine week youth mentorship program out of a church. My role has ended there and I am excited about the things that lay ahead. I have some writing to finish that I’m slowly getting to it. This letter (or some version of it – this blog version is quite edited in terms of revealing details and a few specific ‘thank yous’) is being put into this week’s newsletter for the church. Thought I’d share it as I received a lot of prayer support and encouragement from people I know – and many who I do not know – as a summer of my experience and to encourage you about the good work that God did in our midst.  

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Wow – what an incredible adventure the youth program was this summer. I feel quite privileged to have journeyed with these amazing youth, to be trusted with their stories and invited into their lives as they grow as leaders and individuals. I have so many stories to tell, so many precious moments.

It was exciting to see how the Lord added to our numbers – sometimes even daily! We started with a group of three youth who quickly invited their friends. By the second week, we had a group of 14 youth who came almost daily for 9 weeks to the basement of the church and 3 youth who joined in the fun every now and then. Having worked with youth in many settings, this growth and commitment is rather significant. Youth do not tell their friends to come to something in less they are absolutely confident that it is safe to do so. Some of the youth turned down other commitments because they wanted to be here.

We witnessed a quiet group of youth grow into enthusiastic learners, teachers and leaders throughout the summer. We watched as they took risks, trying new things and invited feedback into the experience – and I watched them thrive as they discovered themselves and that they were loved in our group. One common goal this summer was to learn how to cook. So,daily we traveled the world in the industrialized kitchen discovering the joy of cooking together. For most of the youth, this was a new experience and a highlight of each day. 

We journeyed together for four weeks, looking at the biblical concept of covenant and creating our own to make this an environment where we can learn and grow together. We participated in workshops that made us reflect on who we are and built skills that we can take into our lives. One interesting workshop led us to consider how we get our needs of approval met. The workshop leader spoke from his experience of finding those needs met in ourselves, while the majority of our youth find their approval through doing things with others. We all agreed that if we look to others or ourselves for approval, eventually we will be let down. We then had a very interesting conversation about needing to find a different source – my suggestion was Christ, which we explored a little together.

We led Animalia Day Camp with a small group of children. While our numbers were small, the needs were great and we were able to offer much needed attention to each child as well as mentor the youth as they work on their leadership skills, dealing with real time situations. We traveled to several parts of Toronto that the children had not seen before including the Humber Bay Butterfly Park. One of the many highlights of the week was our trip to the zoo during which we marvelled at each creature that we saw, the magnificent colours and beauty, and the intricate details. 

Week six was a rest week for us as we debriefed the day camp experience, prepared for the next few weeks, and relaxed together! Team dynamics are very important when working day in and out with each other. Our rest and ‘wasting time’ were just as important to the summer program as the workshops themselves as they tightened the relationships and allowed for spontaneous conversations and sharing. 

Week seven was our Mad Scientist Day Camp and an opportunity for the youth to continue working on their skills and for us to connect with more children and families in the neighbourhood. Some children returned from the previous day camp and others joined us. Our big adventure for the week was a trip to the Science Centre, however a surprising highlight of the week was the Allen Gardens. What a joy to watch these children discover God’s creation in new ways!

Our last day camp program was definitely a highlight of the summer. In the morning, we ran a high energy vacation Bible school program in which the children learned through songs, Bible stories, crafts, games and other activities the missionary journeys of St. Paul. By the end of the week, 34 children could tell you that God loves them (and you!), recite 5 Bible verses, and tell you why Jesus died on the cross. Each day we filled the sanctuary walls with our prayers of thanksgiving to God. Unlike most vacation Bible School programs I have been a part of, these children were largely from unchurched homes which opened lots of conversations with parents. One boy found a Bible in the house and went searching for Jesus – he came back the following day asking if we could help him! In the afternoon, we were joined by a Christian arts educator for a high quality arts program, exploring all sorts of art mediums.

 Our camping retreat and final week was a pretty awesome time. Many of the youth had not been outside the city let alone camping before. There were times of intense conversation with different small groups. We talked about who we want to be/known for (as opposed to what media/society tell us we are) and how we might live that out. A very beautiful time was sharing what we learned this summer!

I’d like to thank my awesome summer team for the many hours, enthusiasm, creativity and love they poured into this ministry over the nine weeks. We couldn’t have asked for better camp counsellors!

The summer was a beautiful experience and I am grateful to each of you for your love, support, financial givings and encouragement so generously given to me and this ministry. Thank you for your trust of me and your love of youth and children and their families in the area. As I move on to further studies and future ministry, I will cherish the many lessons and blessings from the opportunity.

I continue to pray for you and the good work you have done with me this summer in reaching new families for Christ’s kingdom.

Peace.

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  1. John Sullivan, B.A., M.Div., M.Th., D.Min.
    September 17, 2013 at 5:40 am

    Congratulations and God’s Blessing to you Elizabeth for heading up a most creative summer for the youth of your church! It will stand you in great stead for the future. When I was a student I headed up a summer camp for underprivileged boys. I was a nerd. I knew nothing about sports, but I simply turned to my counselors who had all the gifts necessary and they did a fantastic job. The Superintendent of Home Missions told me that it was the best camp he had seen in forty years, and as a result I was chosen to plant our church in Thorncliffe Park. That was fifty years ago.

    Just reading all the things you accomplished in one summer was a joy, and I can tell from your blog that you were being Christ to those children. I am now 81, but I shall continue to follow you and see what the Lord is going to accomplish through you. If you are anything like I was though you must be physically exhausted. Many blessings on your creative head and loving heart. John Sullivan ( a former SA officer, and still serving a United Church) <

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