Our guest blogger this week is Kalene West. Kalene lives in Topeka, KS and attends the Topeka Community of Christ. Kalene grew up going to Catholic services as well as Community of Christ worship when her grandmother would take her. When she was 14 years old she decided to join Community of Christ as a member after an experience at Racine campgrounds in Southern Missouri. Camps have been a major part of Kalene's spiritual life and continue to be when she attends Reunion at Camp Chihowa. She looks forward to being a part of the community formed at Chihowa during family camp and is going to share her experiences with you today.
Attending camp has always been special for me! There I experience joy, fun activities, and the love of being in community with others. It is also where I meet God reflecting on my own spiritual journey. When I was 14 it was during a campfire, prayer circle where I first felt that quiet, peaceful connection to God. It was that spirit that transformed me. In that campfire experience I felt the need and desire to join Community of Christ. I talked with my father about the experience and he supported my decision to be baptized. I have never regretted my decision to further my discipleship in the Community of Christ since. This is just one of many campfire experiences I have had. Campfires are special because I get to sing and I love singing! I also get to hear all the sounds of nature. They are also special because they set the mood for the spirit to work within our hearts and souls.
Some of you may not know, but I was born with a small eye condition which resulted in me being blind and unable to see. Yes I would love to be able to see God's beautiful creation but I also recognize the benefit from the immense love shown to me through this disability. I believe I will see all of God's beauty in heaven. The School for the Blind in Kansas City helped me learn how to get around and learn about the world. It is through my eye condition that I have encountered and experienced the ongoing gift of love through others. I encounter this love even more when I am at camp.
The camping experience has continued to be instrumental in furthering my relationship with God. I now attend Camp Chihowa near Perry, KS. It is here where I experience the breath of God moving through my life through the community and love formed. I love reunion and wait patiently each year for this experience because of the variety of things that connect me.
Camp Chihowa has become a special place for me because of the amazing people I have met. Each year I am surprised at the love present and the kind acts of people to assist me. Because of the uneven ground and unknown environment I often have to remain close to the main lodge. However people go out of their way to walk with me. I remember two years ago 8 youth took me on a long walk around the campgrounds where I was able to get to know them and what is going on in their lives. This was the highlight of the week for me as they took the time to be with me. I also love going to sit by the peace pole and hear the chimes near it.
The morning prayer group is also something that stands out for me. Though its just a small group that likes to get up early, we have strength as we pray for the needs of the people and camp each morning. It is among this sacred space and people that I experience the spirit moving. Camp also has helped me form strong prayer partners that continue throughout the year until we connect in person again the following year.
Other highlights of camp for me are the talent show when I get to read braille and learn about the gifts of others. I also love going to class and participating in Don't Forget the Lyrics, hymn addition. It is in the variety of experiences throughout the week that I find God being fully present and alive with us.
I believe the community formed at reunion is as close to Zion as we can get. People need each other and throughout the week we recognize that need. We collectively allow ourselves to connect at a deeper level with one another and move ourselves out of the way so God can work. It's a week of fun, its a week of relaxation, but more importantly its a week of renewal. Its a week to allow God to be fully present in our lives not just individually but communally. I invite all of you to come to reunion this year and experience this Zionic community. I promise you won't regret it.
Our guest blogger this week is Janelle Hilger-Kopshinsky. Janelle lives with her family in Olathe and began volunteering at Camp Hope in 2008 and now serves as Chair of Camp SIBsational for KyMel, Inc. a non-profit whose goal is to provide connecting experiences for families on the cancer journey. She is a licensed, clinical social worker and works as a prevention response specialist within several educational, for-profit and non-profit community agencies in Kansas. She likes to binge novels and sporting events while living across the street from family and laughing with her husband, Dan. Some of her favorite things include travel, all things KyMel, “outdoorsy” backyard adventures, and a satisfying cup of warm coffee.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Craig, for offering the opportunity to reflect and share “aloud” some of my personal experiences and in particular a “community gem” that remains an oasis for many children and families on the cancer journey.
Over the most recent weeks, along with the world, I have been reflecting on the mysteries of strengths available throughout life and beyond. This particular moment in time for me, has lifted up God’s strength in my life-noticeably found in the relationships that “I do life with” (a common phrase from Mark LoMurray, founder of Sources of Strength) such as family and friends, chosen family, mentors and guides and available communities. My spirituality is frequently strengthened through these relationships and is especially present TODAY as our world navigates into the unknown, a common certainty of living.
There is a parable in my faith community about the “Growing Seed” and a life that grows in stages and reaches fullness at the time of the harvest. Human beings have work to do in this process but the seed ripens “of its own accord.” "Growth is a process and God is the source.” This particular parable and lesson, from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd helps me (and likely many others within faith communities) contemplate, explore and fall in love with life itself and to appreciate the strengths within each of us, as well as all around us.
A spiritual place for me that I would like to spend a little time sharing more about today, is the community found within KyMel,Inc; whose goal is to provide connecting experiences for families on the cancer journey. I hold this special place with DEEP REGARD in my heart, for the community impacts and ripples of hope witnessed within our families and campers, supporters and volunteers. Their beautiful and unique stories make up our cherished history.
What started as a “special place beyond the rainbow” in 1983 continues to nourish the lives of so many. In particular, the invitation to appreciate the stages of life and the stories of hope available at any given moment is etched into our existence. Although our organization and camps; CampHope and Camp SIBsational, are not “religious” in nature and these sentiments reflect my personal, spiritual journey, some of our traditions, practices and cultures are spiritual in origin- as they honor going through devastating circumstances, together and connecting ourselves to things greater than reality, as we uphold in shear appreciation the gift of life.
Camp Hope began as a dream of a special individual who wanted to give children with cancer a safe haven in the summer to be kids, a camp of their own. In 1983, Donna Brown, “Ma” Donna, established the first Camp Hope in partnership with the American Cancer Society. Her vision was inspired over time as a parent of two children with cancer. Even though her son, Kyle, died in 1971 from a brain tumor and her daughter, Melani, in 1984 from leukemia, she never gave up hope for a camp for kids with cancer to become a reality and out of resiliency, Camp Hope was created and continues to take place each summer. To read more about our history, please visit our website.
Knowing that the diagnosis of cancer affects the entire family, in 2019 Camp SIBsational was created for the siblings of children with cancer. Oftentimes siblings can feel scared, neglected, guilty and even jealous. While these are all normal emotions, they can make many siblings feel isolated. Camp SIBsational provides those siblings a fun experience with peers who also understand how they are feeling better than anybody else. While not a therapeutic camp, SIBsational has mental health professionals on hand at all times to help if needed. If you would love to hear more about this camping experience, we welcome you to contact us at any time.
Open to youth 5 to 17, free of charge, and 100% volunteer operated, Camp Hope in Claflin, Kansas and Camp SIBsational in Elmdale, Kansas (and the over 150 volunteers giving countless hours annually to ensure Camp Hope, Camp SIBsational and KyMel can remain a “home away from home” for our campers) continue to celebrate and appreciate the small-to-great moments offered in this world and for me, personally lends to a deeper understanding that God’s strength is in us, with us and all around us.
Janelle, thank you for sharing about these camps and the incredible impact they have on kids. I appreciate your willingness to vulnerably share about your spirituality and life experiences as we are all made better for it.
This week the goal is for us to share about Camp Hope and Camp SIBsational with someone else and if you feel compelled donate or go to their website and volunteer.
Our summer camp exploration continues this week with guest blogger Ashley Fields. Ashley is the Director of Camp Courage. She began as a member of the clean-up crew in 1999 which eventually progressed to counselor. Ashley grew up in Stewartsville, MO. She attended college at the University of Central Missouri, where she obtained a Master of Science in Communication Disorders. Since 2008 she worked for the North Kansas City School District in the early childhood special education setting. In January 2015, she completed her Doctorate of Education with an emphasis in Special Education. Through all this, Ashley has always made Camp Courage a priority. Ashley enjoys spending her time with her husband and three children, as well as cooking and serving the community with her church Platte Woods United Methodist. Ashley credits Camp Courage for influencing her entire life, including her career and faith. She loves to share Camp Courage with others because she knows the joy it brings to all.
“The camp for fun. The courage to care.” This is the motto for Camp Courage. The first sentence is one that applies to all summer camps! Like many camps, Camp Courage has lots of fun things to do including fishing, swimming, games, dances, and special events. We have campers jumping out of their cars on arrival day with excitement and joy on their faces. What makes Camp Courage unique is that everything is designed for adults with special needs. This four day, all-inclusive camp is carefully developed by volunteers each year to offer new experiences to this special group of people. Our campers bring with them their own unique set of abilities and challenges, and we have the blessed opportunity to meet them where they are and share in some fun.
This is where the second part of our camp motto elevates to great importance, “The courage to care”. I will be the first to admit I was scared when I first arrived at Camp Courage. I was fourteen-years-old. My mom woke me up and said, “Get dressed. You are going to go volunteer!”. Reluctantly, I got ready to go, totally unaware of what I would be walking into. I didn’t expect to be greeted by adults with special needs. I had never really met anyone with special needs, let alone an adult with special needs. I immediately started picking out the differences between myself and the campers. We talked differently, we walked differently, we understood each other differently, and absolutely did not have the same views regarding personal space! I hurried into the kitchen as a way to hide, and then I watched.
Over the next day or so, I continued to watch and observe. I noticed volunteers that didn’t see the differences that were so obvious to me. They were laughing together. They were gathering in groups and playing games. They were having fun together. That word, together, is what I noticed the most. The volunteers weren’t babysitters or merely supervising the campers, they were friends! They were enjoying camp together.
I remember wanting to stay out at camp longer and longer each day, until I too was enjoying the camp together with the campers and volunteers alike; and that’s when I knew this was something special that I wanted to be a part of. I finally had the courage to care and could see each camper as a person just like me.
Jesus calls us to serve one another; the least, the lost and the last. Adults with special needs are a group that often gets forgotten about. Camp Courage exists to do this in a unique way. We all want to be seen and loved. I think that is what makes this camp so different. It wouldn’t be the same if we held camp, offered these fun experiences, and activities but didn’t stop to actually experience them together. To connect and make a friend. To show with our actions that each camper is seen and loved as an individual despite what the world has told them in the past or what lies they tell themselves.
This is the message that Jesus spoke to us then and continues to speak through us today. When we stop to really see someone as a person, love and serve them, we share the love of God. We are lucky enough to share this with a population that, in my opinion, reflects love like no other group of people. It’s unfiltered, unbiased, love and appreciation. I think if you ask any volunteer at Camp Courage they would say that they feel like they get more out their time there, then they could ever put in because of this.
So, are we serving others like God calls us to to? Yes. Does it take a little courage? Of course! But most importantly we are making sure that everyone at Camp Courage is seen and loved. They come to camp for the fun, and thanks to the love that God first gave us, we have the courage to extend that love to others.
Camp Courage is a non-profit organization ran entirely by volunteers without any paid positions. Camp leadership makes every attempt to keep the cost down for campers by seeking donations of all kinds.
For more information or to help support this organization, please contact Ashley Fields at firstname.lastname@example.org, find us on Facebook at Camp Courage Missouri or on on the web at http://www.campcouragemo.org/
A big thank you to Ashley for sharing her incredible experiences of seeing and loving others through this camp! Please give your support in anyway possible!
This week I encourage all of you to take the time to truly listen and love the individuals around you.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
The mission of the Seventy
“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:1-3 NRSV
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting.
They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation.
They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.
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