All it took was the short Vespers service on the first night of camp for all to become unhinged. Breaths came and went faster than he could catch them. Grief had knocked the wind out of him. Anxiety had taken over. Time hung still as I waved the rest of our group past us so that could stand alone under the canopy of trees. Surrounded by a quiet spot amidst Jacksonville University on a muggy Florida night, the calm stood in direct opposition to the breakdown before me.
Reaching out my hands, I took his and held them in mine. “One, two, three,” I counted slowly as we took deep breaths. As breath slowly returned, I began to ask questions and he began to speak his truth. Inner struggle poured forth under the night sky. Thoughts, both rational and irrational, came out and stood before us. Fears, both big and small, danced all around us.
From where he stood, all he saw was a dead-end. His road had reached a moment of death where his attempts at putting his life back together had failed. Right there in the midst of camp, he stood at the cross. As we re-entered with the group, I invited the group to stand with him. We joined hands and we held the hope together that resurrection will come when we face the darkness together. It was one of my many moments when we met one another at the cross.
How was Passport Youth Camp for Highland’s youth? I could tell you in part through adjectives – great, fun, chaotic, exhausting. I could tell you about the activities and traditions that filled our days. I could tell you about Highland’s “Random-Acts-of-Kindness” (RAKs) tradition where youth spend their days planning nice surprises for others or about the slimy mess from the “Wizard of Sloz” Party. I could tell you about the service given to the Jacksonville community through mission projects or about our seven-hour bus breakdown at a truck stop in middle-of-nowhere, Georgia.
But it would not do justice to the gospel that demands to be shared. Under Passport’s 2014 theme of “Follow the Road,” Highland’s youth walked the road with Christ to the cross and beyond. Amidst the silly songs, costumes, and messy games, we followed the road to countless encounters of the divine and the human. It happened walking under the Florida trees in between events and sitting on the pavement after the day was done. It happened in the dorms while getting ready and on the sandy beaches during free time. It happened alongside youth from Touching Miami with Love in Overtown and in “Prayers of the People” at Church Group Devotion.
The road of Christ is not one that is easy or always light-hearted. No one who walks the road with Christ leaves without some scars along the way. For we believe that to follow Christ is to walk boldly into the darkness with one another and beckon out the voices of fear, disappointment, grief, and despair. Held in trust, humility, and love, we invite all that hides in the darkness to emerge in the light. We do so for we trust that voices hold more power in the silence of the darkness than they ever can in the truth of the light.
Under the canopy of trees when all has been laid before our fellow brothers and sisters on the road, we preach the gospel to one another in more powerful ways than a sermon ever could. We walk hand-in-hand with one another to the cross, where human abilities reach their end and we hang in the threshold between what has been and what might be.
It is right there in the dead-end of the cross that we hum the songs of resurrection for one another. We speak our hope in the Good News – that the third day will come when all will be made new again. We don’t promise perfect solutions or story-book endings. Instead, we hold out hope that resurrection comes when sobbing turns to quiet tears, quiet tears to faint smiles, and faint smiles to fearless dancing.
Youth from Highland and Touching Miami with Love are living out the Gospel – the beauty is not about where go as we walk on the road. The beauty is in the hands we hold along the way. For it is in the miracle of human friendship and community that Christ is alive and welcoming us into the mystery of Love-made-flesh. As one youth speaks in response to another’s sharing, “isn’t that the resurrection that we have been talking about?” Yes, yes it is.