About a year ago, I’d just come home from Work Crew at Saranac Village (read my post about that experience here). I had never experienced such joy or fullness as I did cleaning toilets with a bunch of strangers devoted to sharing the Gospel and when I came home, the YoungLife leaders in my area told me I couldn’t do it again. They didn’t want me to take a spot from another kid hoping to do Work Crew or compare the experience with what I had at Saranac (both understandable reasons) — I was crushed. I spent my senior year of high school hanging out with freshman girls and begging them to come with me to Lake Champion, a YoungLife camp in Glen Spey, NY, where I was planning to go to camp as a second-timer in July. I went through Work Crew training again, hoping my area director would change his mind — he didn’t.
By the time I came home from leading Wyldlife kids at Southwind in June (read my post about that here), my family had moved to a new state and I was bored out of my mind, missing Saranac and craving the opportunity to serve more than ever. I found Work Crew spots at two camps pretty close to where I live now in a session that began a day after my week at Lake Champion. Much to my surprise, my area director was supportive and called the camps, only to find that the available volunteer positions website hadn’t been updated and the spots were already taken at both camps. I was super upset, but I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to focus on being at camp with my freshman friends as a student leader. Two days before we left for Lake Champion, my area director texted me that the head leader at Lake Champion told him the Work Crew was a week into the session but was understaffed and in desperate need of more Work Crew kids. My parents were far more supportive than I could’ve ever hoped for, and the day our bus left for New York, July 5th, my parents booked the flight that would bring me home three weeks later, at the end of Lake Champion’s second session on July 26th.
That’s how I ended up doing Work Crew a second time, a crazy plan only God could make. While my time at Lake Champion was completely different from my experience at Saranac last year, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The people I met and the challenges I faced in a new and uncomfortable job taught me more than I could have dreamed of learning when I got off that bus after the fourteen-hour bus ride from South Carolina. There’s no way I can explain everything I learned and all the fun I had, but I’m going to take a shot anyway.
Obviously, nothing about doing Work Crew a second time went according to my plan. Being type A and plan-oriented, I would’ve like to apply for Work Crew the way I did in 2018, with some sort of say in when and where I went. Not only was everything about my joining Work Crew last minute — within twenty minutes of my arrival at camp I was switched from housekeeping (which I also did at Saranac last year) to serving meals in the dining hall. Typical housekeeping attire includes athletic shorts and Chacos, while servers are required to wear closed-toed shoes and jean shorts or dresses to every meal. I was flustered and unprepared, but God showed up. My new friends let me borrow their clothing, and somehow it all worked out until my parents could send me the appropriate clothes.
Funny thing is, some of those girls in my cabin who let me borrow clothes soon realized that I was a housekeeper while they were campers at Saranac last summer. That means that their time at Saranac, in which I was cleaning their bathrooms, was so impactful that they spent the next year growing in their relationships with the Lord and ultimately decided to give up a month of their summers to help campers like themselves have similar experiences. While I felt like I had come up short in my spiritual growth and in transforming my community in my senior year, God showed me that what we had done a year ago really made a difference. He taught me that I don’t always need to know or understand what’s happening next because He’s got it under control. He has it so under control that it’s funny I even tried to make my own plan. His plan is way better than my own.
Serving in the dining hall was entirely out of my comfort zone. I knew from watching and helping my server friends at Saranac last summer that serving is a lot of work. Servers spend twelve plus hours a day in the dining hall presetting, serving, bussing, cleaning, and setting up all over again. What’s funny is that, while most servers’ favorite part of being a server is bringing food to their tables, that was my least favorite part in the beginning. I dreaded bringing out food only to hear that one of my tables wanted more at the same time as one of my other two tables because I hate to tell people no and make them anything less than happy. I have always been a huge people pleaser and a perfectionist, but this month God showed me that I don’t need to be. Even if I can’t make all the tables happy all the time (or all the people in my life happy all the time, for a real-world application), God is pleased with me for pursuing and serving Him, and while it’s good to make people happy, His opinion of me is all that really matters. As I began to lean into this idea of the pleasure God finds in me, I started to love serving. I would walk out the kitchen doors with a tray full of food and a real smile on my face because, even if they didn’t get all the refills as quickly as they wanted them, I was nourishing campers so they could have fun with their friends and leaders and hear the Gospel.
I immediately said yes to the opportunity to join a Work Crew, even if they were already a week in, but it didn’t hit me until we were just an hour away from camp that I might not be able to make any friends. I thought back to my month at Saranac and realized that by the end of week one, I already had my best friends for the month (and for life! I still talk to them almost every day). I became so anxious that no one would like me — silly me, God would provide! Even though it was rough to find my place amongst the blossoming friendships in my first few days, I kept hearing from bosses and other members of the Work Crew, “God wants you here. You’re supposed to be here, now.” These reassuring words proved true as I learned so much within the month, met people I’d served the year before, and made friends I couldn’t have fathomed in that anxious last hour on the bus. Maddie, who helped me figure out how to make coffee I’d actually like. Eliza, who bonded with me over sharing family struggles while we helped out in pits (dishwashing). Molly, who would make me a choker and seek me out in the dining hall after she finished her ODC (outdoor crew) duties so she could help me specifically. Alyssa, who would find time to check up on me every day. Saylor, who began to act more like a mom-friend than someone I’d met only days ago. Alicia, who sat by me while I shared my testimony with a cabin of Virginia girls and gave me a hair wrap later that night. Felicity, who would ask me about my session at Saranac in which she was a camper and acquire advice from my experiences. God provided.
From serving my own area and getting to hug my leaders (best friends) after meals to jumping from the rope swing into the lake on Sabbath, there are a whole lot of good, fun memories from my three weeks at Lake Champion (even though our head work crew boss’ favorite phrase was “Less fun, more serious!”). I’m grateful for the uncontrollable laughter while tubing with Caroline, the timer photos Chloe took all the time, the sunset I watched on Western night with a couple housekeepers and a couple cooks, the time Molly and I encouraged each other to eat five or six too many chocolate chip pretzel cookies, the water gun fight Rachel and I began on our last night bussing (thanks for sending me the random water guns, mom), and the sunrise we watched over the misty lake the day we left camp.
One moment that really encapsulates the month for me was actually one that I experienced all alone, but it didn’t feel that way. As I was walking back to the Work Crew cabin from my second Western night a few minutes early so I’d have extra time to shower, I could hear the program team singing “The Virginia Reel.” I remembered doing the Virginia Reel at Frontier Ranch a couple summers ago — the genuine, childlike joy of just dancing and having fun with friends, new and old. I looked to the lake and watched the sun sink behind the mountains. What a sheer privilege it was to be a part of that for another group of campers, many of whom might not have experienced wholesome fun like that since their early years, or maybe even never at all. I couldn’t help but pray a prayer of gratitude, God had reminded me that I was running a good, good race.
Anyways, here are twenty-two pictures from three of the best weeks ever, sorry I couldn’t narrow it down anymore.
Here’s a video I made to a song we liked to listen to in the dining hall. Hopefully this video will give you a better idea of what this Work Crew was. This video reminds me of the joy we found in the simple Gospel, that Christ died so we could live a life of love and freedom with our Heavenly Father. They often say at YoungLife camp that Heaven’s going to be even better than this. Well, this month felt like paradise, so I can’t wait to experience real paradise. I recommend you watch the video in HD by clicking the HD button in the bottom right corner of the video.
Thanks for reading! If you ever get the chance to do Work Crew at a YoungLife camp, please do it. There’s no way for me to truly convey how much you’ll grow in one session. You will never see a group of high schoolers get so close so fast and you’ll never fall so in love with serving others in the Lord’s name. You’ll understand what His love really feels like because that community will illustrate it beautifully. Doing Work Crew twice was an insane opportunity I never thought I’d get, but I’m so glad I did.