A remarkable panorama spread out at my feet. The half-kilometre long, spring-fed lake snuggled comfortably in the valley below. Several buildings stood at one end of its shimmering expanse. Companion hills ascended on both sides, crowned by ten white cabins. With shutters swung wide, the cabins appeared to be savouring the temporary lull before they would be knocked about by light-hearted campers. I reflected back five years, to when I had knelt near this spot as an eleven-year-old boy and discovered the true spring of living water—Jesus Christ. Now I leaned in the doorway of the intermediate boys' cabin, anticipating the challenge of sharing my growing faith.
As I watched below, an ancient Dodge coughed its way up the road that led out of the camp, belching blue smoke. It had just deposited our first camper. I could see him making his unsteady ascent on the steps up the hill towards my cabin. Counselling was new to me but camping was an annual ritual for Harley. As a ward of the Children's Aid Society, removed from a physically abusive home, he had been to this camp many times before. His entire being (from his sightless eye to his battered spirit) bore tattoos that could not be dismissed. When he saw me leaning in the doorway, he demanded breathlessly, “You're my counsellor man, eh? Well, you'd better look after me real good!” I assured him that this was our commitment. Already I was beginning to doubt my calling. I could have spent these four weeks harvesting hay on my father's farm—a much easier job. “Ya, well, you'd better look after me good 'cause I've got a glass eye and if it gets lost or broken you'll be in big trouble!”
“No problem! Surely it doesn't come out, does it?”
With a swift “Sure does!” he whipped out his glass eye and stared sightlessly up at me. I slept with the nagging image of me stretched out under the bunks at midnight, looking for Harley's straying eye.
However, it wasn't Harley's eye that made me lose the most sleep those weeks. It was his sleepwalking habit. One night I heard his bunk creak as he left for the john and prayed that this would not be “the night of the eye!” Time passed—too much time! I dragged myself silently into the chilly midnight air and shuffled barefoot across the sandy floor. I looked out the door and the shape I saw silhouetted in the moonlight made my blood chill. There was Harley, hands dangling limply by his side, walking more steadily in his sleep than he ever did when he was awake. I swung open the screen with a force that jolted the whole camp awake and dived towards Harley. I arrived just in time to grab him before he made his next step, which would have taken him careening over the ridge and down 50 metres to the gravel road below!
The emotional tapestry woven throughout my camping years excites me whenever I think back. Many years later, with much experience rolled up in my sleeping bag, I found myself heading north to our church camp. The Northern Ontario lake was larger and the campers were fewer. I sensed that God had a blueprint for our week. My six intermediate boys were full of impish daring and anticipation. They seemed a good lot, not totally unaccustomed to the church-camp scene. The one exception was Colin.
At eleven, his weathered brown eyes blazed when I suggested that we sit on his bed for evening devotions. He had fought hard for the only single bed in the cabin—the one intended for the counsellor. (I was squeezed into a bottom bunk, with springs that reached up through the mattress!) “No way, man. This is my sleeping bag and I don't want you guys in my space!” We made other arrangements. Colin declined to join us but scrutinized us from his comfort zone.
As the days went by, he continued in his resolve to remain remote from anything spiritual. That was, until the day of the haunted mansion—the deserted log house that stood at the edge of the property. The night before we had talked about why the disciples imagined that Christ was a ghost when He came to them walking on the Sea of Galilee. The following afternoon I suggested that we check out the deserted house and see if it was haunted. They thought exploring might be fun but doubted that it would really be haunted. I, however, had conspired with my fellow-counsellor, Kumar, to be our occupant ghost when we arrived.
As we made our way to the cabin in the early evening, the shadows were already gathering. We found a broken window and crawled stealthily inside. Soon the continuous chatter subsided and there was a moment of silence. The eerie serenity was broken by the sound of a chain rattling and a “wooooooo” as the floorboards above our heads creaked. With astounding dexterity, the terrified boys dived out the window, one after the other.
“Awesome man, this place is haunted for sure!” Justin panted as he scrambled out. After a few moments had passed, Danny found a part of a sleeping bag zipper in the grass and announced that there really had to be ghosts. “Look at this zipper, man. It is so huge! Men don't have zippers this big. It's got to be from a ghost!” By now no one was questioning or making fun.
“Enough, you guys,” I said. “The girls slept here last week. What will they say when they hear about us?” The challenge worked. Some minutes later, back inside, the boys had crammed themselves onto the stairs leading to the attic. Michael spoke bravely for all. “Mr. Ghost, we don't think you are real. But if you are, we don't care, 'cause we believe in Jesus and he's stronger than you.” All the same, as Michael pushed the hatch open a crack, another wooooooo sent him and ten ashen boys bowling down the steep steps—like a stampede of turkeys at Thanksgiving. Satisfied that this was enough for one evening, I called forth our phantom ghost. On the walk back to the cabin Colin remained close and announced, “I didn't know this was no religious camp or I wouldn't have come. But maybe, it ain't so awesome. I'll check it out.”
The next few days Colin acted differently. On Sunday, after chapel, he didn't show up for lunch. When we met later, his attitude had changed. He confided simply that he had just given his heart to Jesus Christ.
That night at campfire, Colin shared his new faith with his friends. As we returned to our cabin, he stopped and exclaimed, “Hey guys, look at those stars. You know who made 'em?” We knew and now so did he.
Later, Colin invited us all to squeeze onto his bed for devotions. He mumbled a simple prayer. I was glad that the cabin was lit only by moonlight filtering through the restless leaves outside. I don't hide my tears well.