Young Life Lite

Young Life camp is full of interruptions. From “spur of the moment” activities to program characters showing up unannounced, a signature of the camping experience is the element of surprise. Part of the fun of Young Life is learning to expect the unexpected.

And few things are more unexpected than the appearance of a bright green man! “An alien” you might be thinking to yourself. Oh, he’s “alien” all right, just not the kind you’re picturing. He’s not from another galaxy, planet or country — just another state of mind.

This creature seemingly appears from out of nowhere — accompanied only by the sounds of funky rhythms. His mission quickly becomes clear — he’s here to dance. Completely silent and green, this “random” dancing machine is quite literally “a mover and a shaker.”

In reality, though, the appearance of Green Man is not random at all, but a very strategic move by program directors at various camps. A relatively new character on several program fronts, Green Man is a silent friend to every kid in camp. He’s part entertainment director, dancer, mood lifter and energy inducer. Look closer, though, and you’ll find him to be a joy-spreading personality, who raises the spirits of those around him.

Nowhere was this made more clear than during Young Life Capernaum camp at NorthBay*. Steve Rawls, area director for Rockbridge County, Va., and one of the program directors for the week, said, “Our only goal with Green Man was that kids would laugh and be engaged. We wanted him to be a reoccurring theme throughout the week. We figured our Capernaum friends would connect well and respond to him.”

The connection was indeed powerful. Like all kids, it took the Capernaum campers a little while to warm up to the green being, but they quickly grew to love him. “When he first popped out and started dancing, they just didn’t know how to respond,” Rawls said, “but then every time Green Man came out, kids cheered and danced.”

The reason for his popularity is not lost on John Köehler, Capernaum advisor and volunteer leader in Hampton Roads, Va. “Green Man had no purpose other than to be there, to be happy, to dance and to cause others to feel the same way, or even better than him. Because when we put ourselves down below others, the net effect is that they are lifted, and not the lowest carving on the totem pole. Green Man [was] the servant leader happily dancing his way to the bottom of the pole.”

Perhaps that’s why Green Man is so significant to kids with disabilities. We might think they’d struggle to relate with him because he’s a dancer, yet he actually resonates more deeply with them through the freedom in his dance.

Köehler explained, “We roll and walk in feeling the weight of our disabilities and wishing they would run away and leave us in peace, leave us alone. But then Green Man comes and dances around happily even though he can’t speak. He is so happy and his happiness causes us to forget our unhappiness and even the way that our legs don’t work quite right.”

Just as the Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity, so is the embodiment of joy in a silent, dancing green friend.

“Sometimes our coolest and most random ideas,” Köehler said, “are Holy Spirit ideas we try to package in a costume of our own making. Green Man was like the Holy Spirit, slightly frightening at first, but then contagious and then you laugh and then ... you dance.”

*Capernaum is Young Life’s ministry with kids with disabilities and NorthBay is a camp located on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, which Young Life uses throughout the year.