Last Sunday we woke up early and packed our things for the week. We spent the morning with the Infrastructure team (Infra) loading the bus with the stuff we would need for camp: tents, speakers, shovels, tarps, games. After a couple of hours, we finally loaded everything, and I took a seat next to my buddy, Manolo, and we left Lima, headed for the desert and the beach.
After staring out the window and sleeping through the second half of the the three hour bus ride, we pulled into the YMCA owned camp. The parking lot was at the top of a huge bluff, and far below was the beach. We unloaded as fast as we could, piling everything at the top of the stairs. Then the work began. About fourteen of us began carrying all our camp equipment down the beach. One hundred and ninety stairs. Up and down, and up and down. In the desert heat.
Eventually we grew smart and formed a fire brigade system, passing items a few at a time. But by then my legs were shaking. It took us the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon to move everything down those stairs, and the rest of the evening to set up all the tents. I was good and tired. I didn't even care that I was sleeping on sand.
The next morning, Cristian and I got up, and joined the others in finishing setting up awnings. After breakfast we set up a couple storage tents, and then began work on setting up the first game: Defend Your Leader, a classic Young Life camp game. The Infra boss, Alex, asked Cristian and I to dig a hole down by the water to make a small pool for the obstacle course. We asked the Program team where exactly they wanted it, and set to work. We finished work on the hole around 2:00 pm, lunch time. But when we got back to the beach after lunch, the hole was gone. The water had completely filled it in. There wasn't a mark in the sand where it had been.
We started hole number two. About half way through our second hole, Cristian's phone rang. Christen had been in an accident back in Lima. Immediately, Cristian dropped his shovel and left.
So, there I was. The only gringo, the only English speaker, digging a hole on a Peruvian beach. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried, if I said I wasn't scared. But I knew the Infra team would take care of me. Not long after, Alex came and explained what had happened to Christen. She had been driving the van and hit another car. She'd broken the windshield with her head, but he said she'd be fine. But Cristian was staying with her.
Alex joined me in my man made sandbox within a sandbox and helped me finish the second hole. And then the water poured in. As we watched our second hole fill in with sand, we moved even farther up the beach, and dug our third hole. About that time the rest of the teams were arriving, so we had a little more help, but it was only day two, and I'd already had enough sand for a week.
That night the kids arrived, and were full of energy. It was good to see their excitement, and to see how well Young Life has standardized camping. It was like they were following the Woodleaf script. That was a real comfort. But still, I was very alone that first night, trying just to follow the flow. I ended up falling asleep in club, and heading to bed early.
The next day, right after breakfast, we gathered the kids together to head out on the caminata, the hike. The YMCA staff led the kids on a hike along the coast, exploring all sorts of sea caves and natural swimming pools. It was a lot of fun, and I'm so glad I got to join them on that adventure. On a couple of the beaches we walked along, there were dozens of palm sized crabs, bright red, scattered across the sand. The kids took off running, chasing them, but were afraid to touch them. I was able to corner a couple against a rock, and succeeded in picking one up without getting pinched. It was then that I realized I could handle this week, that I wasn't alone. As the kids gathered around and made jokes about eating the crab, and asking to hold it, I knew I had made about a dozen friends.
That afternoon we all played on the beach, getting covered in sand playing volleyball, and swimming in the ocean. One of my new friends, eleven-year-old Emilio, asked me to take him out in the water. He couldn't swim. So I walked out with him, but about the time we joined the spontaneous dance party in the sea, people started heading for the shore as fast as they could. I soon realized why. My legs started to itch. And then they started stinging. When Emilio and I got to shore, I kept hearing the word malagua. Jellyfish. We'd all been stung.
So we opened the showers early and spent the rest of the day on the sand. I was lucky. My wounds weren't so bad and didn't hurt after a few hours. Others had pretty large welts. But everyone had pretty good attitudes about it. It was, in a way, a great experience to share with these kids. Afterwards, I grabbed my guitar and sat in the sand with the kids--David, Marcelo, Pedro, Cesar, and several others--and sang Young Life songs that they had heard on the radio.
Wednesday morning we woke up at 5:00 am. We had a long hike ahead of us through the sand dunes of the desert on the other side of the highway. We got the kids out of bed and ready to go pretty quickly and headed out to sandboard. It's what you do when you want to go sledding but live in the desert. It was loads of fun, and great to see the kids try something new. However, soon the sun came up and the sand grew hot. I had taken off my shoes so that I could walk easier through the shifting sands, and could tell it was getting hotter by the minute. On the way back to camp, I made sure to stop and put my shoes back on, and to thank God that I don't live in the middle of a desert like that.
Infra spent the rest of the morning putting up more awnings so that the kids had places to sit in the sand out of the sun. Later we helped with some of the games. But mostly, Wednesday was really. The kids were all pretty tired. So were we.
That evening, after club, we set up the fair. We had several games that we had brought. It was a very typical Woodleaf scene, with kids trying to earn money or tickets at different games in order to smear shaving cream on their leaders' faces. One of the games was called Haz reir al Indio. Make the Indian Laugh. Chiki, the leader of the program team, asked me to be the Indian. My Spanish had improved greatly throughout the week, but they figured I still didn't understand Peruvian humor. And they were right. So the idea was that kids had to make me laugh using only facial expressions. It was loads of fun, and ended up becoming the main attraction. I'm proud to say I only laughed twice.
Thursday morning was slow as well. The kids all slept in, and after a later breakfast played games down by the water. After gathering some of the Infra stuff that was no longer needed, I joined the kids in their games. I learned how to play Peruvian Ultimate Frisbee. Basically, it's Ultimate Frisbee with hula hoops as goals. And no rules. Go ahead, run with the Frisbee--but you'll probably get tackled, or sand thrown in your face. Lot's of fun. I can't wait to play it in the States.
That evening we spent a lot of time together sitting in the sand, taking pictures down by the water, and reliving the week. At club that night, Christ's love was communicated clearly through the message of the cross. Afterward we set up a bonfire on the beach. To do so, we dug another three holes. The water came up within ten meters of our tents before the tide went out again. Luckily, I avoided those holes, and helped gather wood instead.
That night, the Work Crew team shared their testimonies during the bonfire. Manolo shared about the pain of his parents' divorce, and how Young Life and Christ's love had helped him through that. It was really powerful for the campers to hear real stories from their peers.
This morning, Friday, we woke up early and Infra began taking down tents and hauling gear back up the one hundred and ninety steps to the parking lot. I was glad to be heading home, to have a mattress rather than a bed of sand, and meals that weren't so rushed. But I also knew I'd miss our life there on the beach. I began to realize I may not see several of these kids again. And my heart broke a little.
But while we were tearing down the last tent, I heard a familiar sound. It was the sound of a Say So, a time at the end of camp when new Christians are given the opportunity to stand up and declare their new faith to their friends. I stopped work, and ran to where I could see the club area. I couldn't believe the number of kids that were standing up. And among them, I saw my friend Emilio. That made it worth it. That was worth the bruised and blistered palm I had after digging three holes in the sand. That was worth getting stung by a jellyfish. That was worth feeling like an outsider. That was worth sleeping in the sand. It was worth it all to see those kids standing up and declaring that they had given their lives to Christ.
Now, I'm back at the apartment. After two showers, I can still see places where sand is caked to my arms and feet. Probably my back, too. When I got back, I found out that Christen had had to go to the hospital today. Something about swelling on her brain. I don't know much, and don't have a phone right now. I can't find anyone that will tell me plainly in simple Spanish or can communicate what happened well enough in English. But Cristian is with her. Thank you for your prayers this week. Now, I ask you to pray for Christen, that God would bring healing to her.
Tonight, I'm spending some much needed time alone, answering emails, and resting. And washing off the sand.