The Beauty of the Buddy System

While at a Young Life camp this past summer, Jared Prochnow learned that some things are definitely worth repeating.
Jared, a high school kid involved with Young Life, met Matthew Miller last year while volunteering with Capernaum, Young Life’s ministry for kids with disabilities. It was Jared’s responsibility to stick with Matthew as his “camp buddy” for the first all-Capernaum camp, held last August at Crooked Creek Ranch, a Young Life camp in Colorado.
Each night during cabin time, when campers and buddies would spend time talking together about God, Matthew always shared the same thing with others in the cabin.
“He’d talk about how we all need to show love and kindness and respect to each other,” Jared said. “He’d talk about how Jesus loves us and that we need to love Him back. He’d say that every single night. I think we all need to learn from kids like Matthew,” he said. “They accept everyone else for who they are. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. They love everyone and are so accepting of the Gospel. I find that amazing.”
About 90 teenagers with special needs spent a week soaking up the excitement and adventure of Young Life camp at Crooked Creek. And as these special kids learned to believe in themselves and in a God who loves them, their able-bodied friends saw how simple faith can transform every heart in every kid, for eternity.
Benefits for all
Nick Palermo, director of Capernaum, explained that Capernaum kids have been going to camp with able-bodied teens for several years. But the goals for this particular camp were different.
“First, we wanted discipleship to happen, for all kids to experience growing in Christ,” he said. “And the second goal was relationships. These may not be the type of people the able-bodied kids would choose to hang around at school, but in this setting they can get to know them and realize they have Christ in common. This is where all the miracles will happen.”
Word of the upcoming Capernaum camp spread from Palermo’s office around the country, and 25 teenagers came to spend the week as “camp buddies,” helping campers with everything from horseback riding and swimming to dressing for the day and cutting their meat at the dinner table. Crooked Creek’s work crew and summer staff — high school and college kids who serve for a month at camp — were also more “hands-on” than usual with this group of campers.
“This camp was everything we dreamed of,” Palermo said. “One work crew kid said, ‘They are on the outside like we are on the inside. And they seem more whole on the inside.’ Kids walk away thinking, ‘I saw Christ in a way I never expected. And I saw Him through someone I never expected to see Him through.’”
God’s masterpiece
Nicole Biehle saw herself through God’s eyes during her week at Crooked Creek. After a difficult school year, the 14-year-old from Grand Junction, Colo., soaked up the message camp speaker Ruben Alvarez delivered every day. At Say-So, an event where kids are given the opportunity to share with other campers what they experienced at camp, Nicole’s testimony was evidence of an overflowing heart.
“Before I stood up, I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’ but everyone was encouraging me. So I stood up and told everyone I learned that I was not a mistake and that I was God’s masterpiece,” she said. “After I was done, I was proud of myself for standing up and doing it. I felt something really good in my heart that told me to say it. I really enjoyed camp. That week changed my life.”
Her leader, Jamie Brueggeman, a staff intern for Capernaum, said that although Nicole was already a Christian, she hasn’t been the same since camp.
“Her parents said she’s like a whole new person,” Brueggeman said. “She’s more self-confident, her spirit seems lighter. At camp, people not only wanted to help her but to spend time with her. People there treated her as a friend, with love and acceptance. So, she saw herself that way, too.”
A change of heart
Jill Cox works with students with disabilities in the schools in Andover, Kan., and is co-head leader of the High Five Connection, a Capernaum club in nearby Wichita. She was a bus driver when she met Kandie Thomas a year ago. Kandie, who is developmentally disabled, and Cox experienced Young Life camp for the first time at Crooked Creek this past summer.
“Jane Nitcher [co-head leader] and I decided to focus especially on Kandie that week,” Cox said. “I’d never known her to smile a great deal. She had lots of problems at home and had to care for her disabled younger sister. But during camp, she was lit up. Every day she was laughing and smiling. It was so great to see. The Holy Spirit really worked through Ruben [Alvarez, the camp speaker] that week. Seeds were planted over and over. Jane prayed with Kandie on the bus, and she accepted Christ on the way home. Now we are working on Kandie’s family. She has become an avenue for us to reach them.”
Simple faith
Pam Harmon, Capernaum metro director in Washington, D.C., was inspired by the deep faith of her friend Natasha on the ropes course.
“My friend Natasha was climbing the ropes course with fear and trembling. When she got to the end, she was supposed to jump off the platform in order to get to the ground. She was so scared! We talked with her and counted 1-2-3 several times, but she just couldn’t do it. I finally yelled up to her to take a minute and pray. I reminded her of the times in the past that she had prayed and Jesus had helped her through other challenges. I told her she could pray with the summer staff person who was up on the platform with her. We couldn’t see her for a couple minutes because she had gotten up and walked to the back of the platform where she could be quiet and pray. Then she walked to the edge and jumped off — no hesitating. What an example of faith and trust! If only I could step out in faith like Natasha after I pray!”
On the ropes
Morgan Hatten is a high school student from Washington, D.C., who served as a Capernaum buddy at Crooked Creek.
“The whole camp experience for me was unbelievable,” she said. “I saw God in so many ways that I never thought I would. One of the hardest and yet most rewarding parts of the trip was when my buddy Sammie and I were on the ropes course. I was in tears most of the time as we climbed on ropes 40 feet above the ground in the trees while my buddy yelled at me. However, once we got off the ropes — and I never thought we would — it was really rewarding. After camp, Sammie told me that one of her favorite parts of camp was the ropes course. That made it all worth it.”
Get involved
Even though the all-Capernaum camp will be an annual event, Capernaum kids can still attend mainstream camps. But for the all-Capernaum camp, Palermo said he hopes to recruit more teenagers to serve as “camp buddies” next summer.
“I want all traditional Young Life staff to know this is an opportunity for their able-bodied kids to grow in their faith through unlikely sources,” he said. “Whoever comes will be a winner. Christ is deeply at work in the least of these, the weakest. He has so much to offer through them.”
For more information on how your area can be involved in the next all-Capernaum camp in August 2005, call Nick Palermo at (408) 286-3433.