Friday, July 27, 2018

What I Learned about at Camp: Friendship

I spent last week at Pathfinder Lodge (Vick & Pathfinder Camp and Conference Ministries) as the
camp pastor.  We had campers from primary school up through high school.  (If you should see a picture of me lounging in the sun on a pontoon boat, it has been photoshopped.  That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.)  Pathfinder Lodge is a beautiful setting, sitting on a hillside overlooking a lake.  The greatest beauty was not, however, the lake.  The greatest beauty lay in the campers.

Each day in Bible study, I would ask campers if they wanted to pray.  Every time a primary school camper prayed, they would thank God for the new friends they were making at camp.  As we grow older, we lose much of our appreciation for the gift of friendship.  These young campers had not yet lost the wonder of friendship.
Friendship in the Bible is a mixed bag.  Some people are your friend because they think they can profit by the relationship; they are friends of convenience. They will desert you when things go badly for you (Proverbs 19:4 & Job 19:14 & Luke 21:16).  In Luke 16:9, Jesus tells his listeners: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”  I suspect he says this with a knowing smile.  Friends obtained this way will not stand by you when all is lost; and they could not, even if they wanted to, welcome you into any type of eternal home.
In some of the parables, being called a friend is an ill omen (Matt. 20:13 & 22:12).  Jesus can use the title as an indictment for betrayal (Matt. 26:50).

On the other hand, the term can be used as a term of endearment and affirmation (Luke 5:20 & 12:4 and John 15:13-15).
In short, not all friends are equal.  I think the friends made at camp last week are the good kind.  These friendships were born not of convenience or the desire for benefit.  They were generated by the common experience the campers were having.  They worked together as teams in accomplishing things, and they learned about God and worshipped together.  They served one another by setting the tables and cleaning up afterward.  They helped one another do new things.  They shared the common challenge of being in a new place apart from their families.
The best friendships are born of common experience, of a shared journey.  This is what happened at Pathfinder Lodge last week.  In a culture where we can “friend” and “unfriend” people on social media like we choose a candy bar and then discard the wrapper, going to camp and making new friends is more important than ever.

I know I made some nice friends.  I hope to see them next year at camp.

Jim Kelsey-Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Grand Things Are Sometimes Small Things

“The mission really helped me get back on track when I had lost my way,” said Fred.

Fred’s mother was a strict Jehovah’s Witness and made him “tow the line.”  His father, on the other hand, he described as a “street person.”  His father wasn’t homeless, but he survived by wheeling and dealing—honesty optional. As a child, Fred saw things he said no child should see.

Fred graduated from High School on June 25, 1971.  On June 26 he started a full time job, a job he had secured several weeks before graduation.  He said it was a time when one could quit a job in the morning and have two more job offers by sunset.

Things did not continue to go so well for Fred.  He sat on the fence between his mother’s and his father’s way of life; he “fell to his father’s side of the fence,” he shared.  Drugs and alcohol took control of his life.

The people at Community Missions of Niagara Frontier Inc. took Fred in and stood by him as he got his life back together.  They were patient and gracious to him.  He went on from there to work 27 years for the same employer and then retired.  Now that he is retired he spends his time at the mission center giving to others what he received there so many years ago.

I met Fred in the dining room of the mission center during our recent Region mission trip to Niagara Falls.

Fred’s story chronicles one life put back together by the love of Christ made palpable through faithful and caring people.  Fred’s story of healing and renewal is nothing less than stunning.  Stories like Fred's rarely make the evening news, not even the local newspaper.  It seems like a small thing in our big world, but the most stunning things in life are often born of nothing more than simple kindness and respectful attention.

To be used by God in the healing of lives, we must go where people are and hear their stories. How can we structure our lives and the lives of our congregations to go where people are and hear about their lives?  Mission may be no farther away than the next person we meet.

When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me—Jesus (Matt 25:40)
James Kelsey—Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State