A Haven for the Heavy-Hearted

When kids arrive at a Young Life camp, many practically leap out of their seats and stampede off the buses eager to soak up everything that the week has to offer. There are others, however, who step into the camp experience more reluctantly. Sometimes, it’s because of the baggage they’re lugging — not the bags of shorts and T-shirts, but the heavy heartache they carry inside.

For Tim, a 16-year-old from McHenry County, Ill., the road to camp at Castaway Club last summer had already been a hard one. A year earlier, he was removed from a physically abusive situation at his former home in North Carolina and was sent with his sister to live with their dad in Illinois.
 
Last spring, they attended club and also signed up for camp. Thanks to the generosity of donors, local campership money funded the camp costs for Tim, his sister and two others from McHenry County.
 
“I think there is a kid in all of us who wants to have fun and experience Christ,” said Caprice Towne, area director in McHenry County, Ill. “Adults can be on the frontlines of the camp experience by donating money toward allowing a kid to go.”
 
Towne and her husband had spent a lot of time with Tim prior to camp, and they saw his potential, Towne said. When he couldn’t find a job, they hired him to help with yard work.
 
“He’s had a really difficult and hard background,” she said. “He’s been a loner. No one would give him a chance, but he worked his heart out.”
 
After their arrival at camp, Towne was concerned Tim wouldn’t give camp a chance. He didn’t participate in the first activities, so Towne went searching for him. She found him sitting on a bench overlooking Pigeon Lake with a man named Chuck Ferguson, who was visiting Castaway from Michigan as an adult guest.
 
Ferguson had noticed Tim sitting alone. “He was wearing black shoes, a black jacket with the collar up, a hat and his arms were crossed,” Ferguson said. “I sensed I needed to go talk with him, and so I did.
 
“When I asked him what he thought of camp, he said to me, ‘I can’t stand being around people who are happy all of the time.’ Those words stuck me right in the heart. I will never forget them.”
 
Ferguson continued to ask Tim about himself, and Tim began to open up and told Ferguson about his life. “Sometimes when I think about everything that happened to me, it gets me down,” Tim said. “He just let me talk about what was wrong and he gave me some advice.”
 
Ferguson and other adult guests prayed for Tim that week. As the days passed, Tim’s interest in camp changed. After the few hours he spent parasailing, he ran to find Towne and said to her, “I parasailed. It was the coolest thing in the world!” Towne knew Tim’s attitude was changing.
 
“I think he was experiencing real life for the first time,” she said. He took advantage of everything there — the waterfront activities, the climbing wall, cabin times and club. He also decided to live his life for Jesus Christ.
 
Tim returned home with a lighter load on his heart and a love and curiosity for God that continues to grow. “God gives me a new chance to start over with a new life,” said Tim, who attends club, Campaigners and a Bible study each week at his school. He’s also the top concessions seller at the movie theater where he works.
 
Last Christmas, Tim took advantage of another opportunity: to care for others in need. His Young Life club was raising money to help needy families celebrate Christmas. Tim, the first to give, donated his entire paycheck — $100. Tim’s donation inspired the rest of the club. Within the weeks before Christmas, they raised more than $1,200 for 26 local families. “I knew what it felt like not to have stuff for Christmas,” he said.
 
The past still feels heavy to Tim at times, but because of the love of the Townes, a new friendship with a man from Michigan (Ferguson and Tim keep up over e-mail) and a life-changing week at Castaway that pointed him to the One whose burden is always light, Tim knows he doesn’t have to carry life on his own.