Being a Pais apprentice means that you are fully immersed into the youth ministry life of the local church where you serve. This also means that if your youth goes to camp, you go with them serving as a leader. For this reason, many of our male apprentices have come into contact with a camp called GENTS Camp. The mission of GENTS Camp is to develop real manhood and authentic Christian faith in boys. It’s a place where boys learn to become men.
Josh, our youth pastor at Rivers, has a big role in the history of GENTS Camp. Not only has he directed multiple primary and high school camps but he also pioneered GENTS Camp in Uganda last year. This year Matt and I were given the opportunity to serve as leaders in Uganda. Initially, we wondered if we should go but after praying about it and seeing how God miraculously provided (that’s a story for another day), we went to serve the nation and its boys.
We served at two out of three camps and the majority of the boys were orphans. Most of them didn’t even know their parents, some lucky ones did and maybe got to see them a few times a year. How do you teach manhood to boys who have never had a male role model in their lives? Where do you begin? Despite not having specific answers we went ahead to serve and see how God was going to use us.
One particular Ugandan boy drew our attention. He was one of the older campers, about 15 years old. Despite all the pain in his life he seemed to be full of confidence, courage, and integrity. He was a natural leader who led his fellow boys easily. Everyone looked up to him. Isn’t that remarkable? There always seems to be one or two young people on camp who are naturally good leaders, doesn’t there? But this boy’s story was different. He hadn’t always been that way. He wasn’t always full of courage, integrity, and faith.
As we talked to the youth workers, we got a clearer, broader picture of the situation. He used to be stubborn and had no passion or direction in his life. He often gave his carers and teachers a hard time. He’d be “that kid” that everyone talked about.
In 2016 he attended the first ever GENTS Camp in Uganda. There he was sown into, by one Australian leader in particular, who didn’t know anything about his troubled past. He was respected and built up, encouraged and empowered to be the man God really intended him to be. After one year, our leaders came back and experienced a completely new person. The boy who was once hard to deal with became a young man who leads his peers towards integrity and a positive future.
Another moment that I will probably never forget was the last day of our second camp. We had to say goodbye to the boys as they were leaving the campsite and heading back to their orphan villages. One grade 5 boy came to me with tears in his eyes. It was quite an emotional moment for us both. This may or may not seem very profound to you, it most likely doesn’t, but what struck me later was the fact that this boy and I had never had a “deep and meaningful” chat. We were in different small groups, we sat at different tables during mealtimes and we slept in different dorm areas. I never got to know his story and background. I pretty much didn’t know anything about him. So, why was the farewell so emotional for him? Why was he so sad to leave camp? I never had a deep chat with him – but I gave him my time. We played fun games, laughed together, and I tried to learn his language. All I did was giving him my attention.
Isn’t it interesting how we often try to come up with strategies and masterplans to be most effective at what we do? God actually desires our availability way more than our ability. I am grateful to Pais and the opportunities that the organization has created for me. I am truly learning how I can be the most effective for the Kingdom of God in every area of my life.