I can remember my first mission trip to NYC I felt like I was going with a blindfold on because I had no idea how you “do” day camps with kids in the middle of Manhattan and in a storefront church in Brooklyn that had no place big enough indoors to do the activities for 25-30 children.
When you think of New York City, what do you think of? People, lots of people; taxis, lots of taxis; lights, lots of lights; horns honking, lots of horns honking; busy, lots of busy. You get my drift.
As you can imagine, as that first mission team traveled to NYC in 2003 to “run” Clue Camp, we were very excited about all it involved, including living for the week in the heart of Manhattan in an area known as Hell’s Kitchen. (That right there is enough to make me a little nervous.) You know what we found in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen? We found Metro Baptist Church and we found God there waiting on us! And, when we traveled to Brooklyn on Sunday, we found the most God-loving people you can imagine. This little storefront church with a congregation of about 20 (that included us) worshiped that Sunday like it was their last opportunity to worship and spread the gospel!
Both of these churches embrace their purpose in their neighborhood of being accepting of all, loving all and being kind to all! They open their doors to ALL for Clue Camp (a six week summer camp that we are part of for one week) and pour their hearts and souls into planning a curriculum that will embrace the culture that these urban children are a part of. Both of these churches have a desire to love their neighbors and their neighborhoods and have created an incredible social ministry for doing that outreach. We do Clue Camp for approximately 50-60 campers in Manhattan and 25-30 in Brooklyn each summer. We sleep on the fourth floor at Metro Baptist Church in dorm rooms (picture sets of bunk beds with a shared bathroom and shower room down the hall). Each morning, the Brooklyn team heads out to the subway for about a 45-minute ride to Brooklyn and takes that same ride back to Manhattan in the afternoon after camp concludes for the day.
I can tell you that we have ministered through Clue Camp to children from many different backgrounds and nationalities. We’ve even had a couple of Asian children who could not speak English. (One of their friends interpreted for them all week.) But no matter what their background is, we see so many different personalities and emotions in their faces. Yes, they misbehave. They fight and argue with each other; they form cliques; they don’t listen; they shout out; they get sassy; they even bully sometimes. We all see the “normal” behaviors you see with elementary age children. They also smile at you; they draw pictures for you, they hold your hand; they hug you; they tell you stories; they make you laugh and you make them laugh. And some sit silently (or not so silently) sad because their hearts are hurt for some reason.
They steal your heart when you’re there and we pray and hope that we fill their hearts with God’s love and leave them with a happy heart at the end of the week. One of my favorite and saddest times of the week is the party we have on the last day of camp. It’s our time to just play and have fun with them and tell them goodbye. The hugs we get can bring tears to your eyes and the hugs we get bring a smile to both of our faces.
Carol Garner is the Trip Leader for our New York City Partnership