When Olivia asked me to write something about Neighbors Helping Neighbors I was really excited. This week meant more to my staff and me than I could ever explain. Then I realized I had to somewhat put my experience into words. I am almost at a loss of words from this camp week. It was… Perfect. Emotional. Emotionally Draining. Spiritually Fulfilling. Loving. Beautiful. Passion Filled. Perfect.
I’m sure many of you have never heard of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, so here’s a little backstory. In 2013 there was an awesome idea to have people from the Cumberland Pines service area come to Baker Mountain to participate in a YSM Service Project week. The idea formed, churches were contacted, and the week happened all within about three weeks of eachother. This camp week, with 1 adult, 9 youth, and 8 staff members made such a big difference in everyone’s life that was involved that it became known as Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) and was continued this year.
NHN this year tripled in size from last year. We had 3 churches bring a total of 30 youth and adults to form our wonderful community of 38 people. The only criteria to come to NHN is that the Sunday attendance of your church must be 100 or less. Besides having smaller churches that come to NHN, this week is unique for many different reasons. The churches that have come so far (in the 2 year history) are Tracy City First UMC from Tracy City, Morton Memorial UMC from Monteagle, and St. Luke’s UMC from Chattanooga. Both Tracy and Morton are located in Pines service area, literally serving their own neighbors. And St. Luke’s is right down the road in Chattanooga (2 of their youth were from Signal Mountain, part of Baker service area).
NHN is one of the best things that could happen to this ministry, to the people of Grundy County, to these youth, and to the staffs involved. Mountain TOP’s Day Camp program has continued to grow throughout the recent years and if you’re wondering why I went from talking about NHN to talking about Day Camp, bear with me. Just like what the Day Camp Manager, Monica said, “The Day camp programs are where we are shaping the future of this community, and making a permanent change” (and if you haven’t read her post I recommend you do). Of all of the youth we had attend NHN from Tracy City, the majority of them participated in at least one Day Camp program, if not multiple programs throughout the years. And these Day Camp programs do help shape the future of this community. But so does NHN. The youth coming to do a Service Project when many of their families have been on the receiving end of these various projects…that is something that helps make a permanent change. The youth realize what they are doing. They realize that they are more capable than they ever thought.
This camp week showed the youth that came to our camp that they DO have a chance. That they CAN and WILL make a difference. That they CAN have a future. That they ARE people. That people DO care about them. That they are not nothing. These amazing youth that walked around our camp can now go home and help more neighbors. Help people by using what they learned last week at NHN in their own communities. We are helping these youth (and adults for that matter) build resilience. We are shaping the future of this community and making a permanent change just like Day Camp. We’re just doing it a different way. We are giving all of them something this mountain desperately needs, a sense of hope.
These awesome campers came to Baker and did the same thing that a normal Service Project week would. They worked 4 days out in the county, doing yardwork, construction, and painting. And they had worship, games and sharing every night. It was awesome having them in camp. I don’t think you could every find a community that was all so dedicated and invested in the week like those 30 campers (I know I haven’t in my 3 years on staff and 5 as a camper). The happiness and willingness, desire to be part of that community, passion to learn about the Lord, hard work in the county, that doesn’t happen every camp week.
It was awesome for so many different reasons but it was great in camp because we were able to do more intricate worships in small spaces that aren’t usually used. On Monday we played a game at the ‘Y’ (the piece of grass between the boys and girls cabins), we had sharing at the Prayer Dock, and had worship on the Side Porch, where we couldn’t fit many more people. The response involved everyone pouring rocks and rice into little bags for them to take. More people would have made that not possible. On Tuesday we had stations worship at the Prayer Dock, it’s normally in the ‘field’ and the intricate space was awesome. On Wednesday we had worship the front gate, a place that can work with big communities but was more fitting for the small group! The messages were so personal because we knew so much about all of the campers that we could connect it to their life.
All of the campers got so much out of spending their week at Baker Mountain. They saw my staff and me as role models. They realized they could be like us, college students and doing something we love and enjoy. But in return, my whole staff was filled immensely with love and passion. I have never seen a staff be so close to every single member of the camp community and known so much about every camper like they’ve felt like they’ve known each other for years. It was awesome getting to see the smiles on the faces of all my staff all week. Whether the smiles stemmed from seeing the campers enjoy themselves, interacting with the campers, knowing they had a place to sleep and food to eat, or anything else. Their smiles put a bigger smile of my face every single second.
This week gave my staff an awesome opportunity to more clearly see the difference we are making every step of the way. But for some of these campers, it meant they had the same bed to sleep in all week. It meant they had 3 meals a day the entire time they were here. It meant they had people looking over them, caring for them. That is part of the reason my staff cares so much about these people who were our campers. We know some of them don’t have the best lives at home. We know some of them have never been told how great they are. We know that some of them have never left Grundy County, but the important thing is they have now experienced this great week at Baker Mountain. They now know what they are capable of.
A lot of emotion came with this week, but one thing is for certain; my staff knows why we were all called to be on the mountain this summer. Why we were called to be here this week. My staff knows why the 8 of us make up Baker Evens. It doesn’t have to do with the weeks on the calendar, or the individual place we come from, but because together we form a cohesive team that was able to reach the lives of all 30 campers. The personal experiences we had been through made it possible for us to connect with campers in ways many people wouldn’t be able to.
Perfect doesn’t begin to describe the week that happened. It was the most emotional week anyone on my staff will ever experience. The importance of this week cannot be put into words. Nor can the experiences. One thing my entire staff will agree on is that this week was the best thing that ever happened not only for the youth and adults involved, but for every single one of us.
Psalm 56:3-4 sums up a lot that we learned from our campers this week, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose world I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal men do to me?”
Peace, love, joy,
-Neighbors Helping Neighbors Director