By Jessica Baldyga
For years I have worked with children and youth in one way or another in ministry. From being a camp counselor at East Bay Camp, to starting a children’s sermon ministry at my seminary internship site, to now being the clergy staff person in charge of youth and children’s ministry at a church. No matter the setting, whether I am around a campfire or on a hayrack ride, or sitting on the steps of the chancel or coloring at a Sunday School table, or introducing the confirmands to Chuck Knows Church or staying up all night at a lock in—no matter where I am, when I’m with youth and children it brings me great joy. Some of that joy comes because it is so much fun to get to be silly, to get to share new things with kids, and to be creative. But most of the joy comes from getting to watch the children and youth grow in their faith.
I’ll never forget my first summer as a camp counselor at East Bay Camp. During the first week of camp, the youngest campers come just for a couple of nights to get used to being at camp. I was waiting outside the cabin door greeting the kids as they came to move in their things for the next few days. I watched as a little girl, probably going into first or second grade, walked up to the door clenching as tightly as she could to who I later found out what her grandmother. I greeted her and her grandma sent her inside to pick out her bed and then pulled me aside. She wanted me to know that her granddaughter, Jenny, was having a really rough time and that she had only recently come to live with her grandma as her mother was in prison and she had never known her father. Camp would be the first time she had been away from her grandma since coming to live with her. I assured the grandma that we would had fun things planned right away and that I would make sure that Jenny got some extra attention if needed.
All of the campers enjoyed swimming and singing around the campfire that first evening and all was going well until bedtime. As the other girls drifted off to sleep, Jenny started to cry and so we sat up together until Jenny felt okay to go back to sleep. The next morning, we woke up and had so much fun doing all kinds of camp activities. That evening we had an extra special activity planned for the girls, the boys had gone the night before. We loaded up the campers and headed to the zoo in town and we got to have a special after hours tour and then spend the night at the zoo in the room with the birds and meerkats. The counselors were all on one end and the room by the doors and bathrooms and the campers were all spread out across the room.
Almost as soon as I laid my head down to fall asleep I heard someone crying. I looked up, and to my surprise it wasn’t Jenny who was crying this time, but another little girl from my group. I unzipped by sleeping bag to get up but stopped as I watched the most incredible thing happen. Jenny scooted her sleeping bag a little closer to the little girl who was crying and I watched as she put her arm around her and then I heard her say, “It’s okay if you’re upset, I was last night, and now I’ll sit her with you so that you can feel better.”
In that moment I knew I had witnessed God at work through Jenny. I watched as a little girl who had every reason to be upset and afraid, found confidence, assurance and peace—enough so to help someone else. Since that night at the Miller Park Zoo, I’ve had so many instances in ministry where I have witnessed children and youth, especially, growing in their faith, in big and small ways. Sometimes it’s in experiencing God for the very first time, sometimes it’s in learning something new about their faith, sometimes it’s in being challenged in their faith, and sometimes it’s in finding strength and peace in God and using it to help someone else, just like Jenny. Whatever the moment is, it is always an incredible joy to watch God working in and through young people and watching them grow in their faith. This joy has carried me through some really difficult places while I’ve been in ministry. For each of us in our ministries, whatever it is they may be, looking for those places where God is at work—where people are growing and learning new things and experiencing God in new ways and deepening their faith—is so important as we seek to find joy in the midst of ministry. There is so much about ministry that can be stressful, difficult, and even draining. Being able to find joy in witnessing others growing in their faith helps make it easier to move from being stressed, anxious, and drained to being at peace, filled with joy, and full of God’s Holy Spirit.
O God of great joy, help us to see you at work around us so that we can take part in the joy you are creating! Amen.