A Piece of Heaven

For a Zimbabwean Young Life leader named Patson, a teacher in a small rural town, this July marked a number of firsts for him — his first airplane flight, his first time to see the ocean and his first taste of Young Life camp.

As he stood on the beach with a big smile looking at the ocean for the first time, he said, “This is a big taste of heaven.”

Patson was one of the 78 staff and leaders from Liberia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa who experienced the first Young Life pilot camp in Tanzania. This pilot camp consisted of two phases. First, camp was held specifically for staff and leaders, which trained and prepared them to host a camp that would be for Tanzanian kids.

During the first phase, staff and leaders experienced camp as if they were kids — they took part in cabin times and did other camp activities. Then after a day of reflection, training, prayer and rest, the African staff and leaders geared up for the second phase, joining a work team from the United States that consisted of students from Baylor University, as well as friends from Oregon, California, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee and Idaho, to bring camp to Tanzanian kids for the first time.

This truly international work crew and assignment team, which was comprised of people from 12 countries, served the Young Life leaders and staff from Dar es Salaam, who brought 179 high school-aged kids to the camp for kids.

When each bus of Tanzanian kids arrived at camp, they were greeted by an African version of a traditional Young Life camp welcome. In the United States, when kids get off the bus and walk into camp, they are cheered for by a team of work crew kids. When the kids from Dar es Salaam got to camp, they were welcomed by a group of Young Life staff and a brass wedding marching band. “It was a welcome that almost never ended,” said Steve Larmey, the regional director of Africa.

One Tanzanian teen experienced the welcome in a special way. Just before the camp for kids had started, the headmaster of one of the Dar es Salaam high schools where Young Life is active, refused to let the 80 kids go to camp. So the African staff gathered their leaders to go pick up as many kids as possible who had been on the wait list.

A bus was sent to pick up extra kids in a neighborhood on the far side of the city. That bus was the last to arrive at camp and, as it reached the check point, there was only one kid on it — Michael. “We always ask the question to leaders in training: ‘Would you do everything the same if it was for just one kid?’” Larmey said.

Well that’s just what the leaders did for Michael. One hundred work crew and a brass band greeted him, put him on their shoulders and carried him into camp and joined the other 178 kids at the camp.

Three days later, Michael began a relationship with Jesus Christ. “And he was carried into the kingdom of God,” Larmey said. “Was it worth it for just one kid? I think I know what Michael would say.”