Exchanging Gifts

Editor’s Note: Every summer Young Life’s Trail West hosts several weeks aimed specifically at ministering to military families. What follows is a story from one of these weeks, as told by Rich Crawford, the speaker for the month.

Our week with the camp full of U.S. military families was amazing to witness. The transformation from their stoic, reserved expressions at the beginning of the week to the contagious smiles and laughter we saw at the end was visually stunning.

One of our families had a son with autism. As you can imagine, the adjustment to camp life was difficult. At the first club, he had to sit outside the club room with headphones on because the people and noise inside were so overwhelming. Later in the week his parents confessed that they were unsure they could make it through the week.

But with the help of the assigned staff and camp teams, the love of Jesus prevailed. Our work crew and summer staff diligently pursued and patiently cared for the boy and his family, being sensitive to his condition. Our young friend was enamored by a couple of the program characters, the “Jedi Dads,” and he would routinely make his way backstage to get a glimpse of the characters. As the week progressed, our two program directors invited him on stage and gave him his own Jedi robe and lightsaber. As impactful as this was for the young man, the reverberations of this interaction spread through the entire camp, most significantly to his mom and dad.

On the last night, at the Say-So (a time where families can tell what the week has meant to them), his mother shared that she had become calloused to the church, but the way her son had been loved during the week had significantly restored her faith in Jesus. The boy’s father also stood at Say-So, sharing that he had seen some horrific things during his service around the world, but this week had restored his faith in humanity and a loving God. Later that evening, as I was walking toward the lodge, I received a radio call that a guest was looking for me. When I arrived in the lobby, I was greeted by the young boy’s father, and could not have expected the conversation that ensued.

He pulled from his pocket a small patch, something he called his “unit patch.” He went on to explain that this patch had traveled with him all over the world, including Africa and Afghanistan. When a soldier has been significantly impacted by another individual, it is tradition to give that person their unit patch.

He then looked me in the eye, handed me the patch and said, “I want you to have this because of what you have done for me and my family.” While I received it humbly and thanked him, there is no way I could take credit for the change that occurred. I believe the man was communicating in his own terms his experience of Jesus during his week at Trail West Lodge.