Ranch Counselor with Camper

I was in my sophomore year of college at the University of Tennessee in early 2008, sitting at my little apartment desk. The past two summers I had gone to work for my parents, who had moved to Destin, Florida the week after I graduated high school. It was a great job, running errands around the coastal tourist town in slacks and a polo shirt, making decent money as an “administrative assistant” to local real estate agents. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again for a third summer.

I was longing for more, for an adventure on my own. I called up my big brother and asked his advice – pretty quickly into the conversation he mentioned I should work at a summer camp. Not a bad idea, but there were no large or even remotely recognizable camps that I knew of in the Tennessee area. So, what does any college student do when they don’t know an answer? Google it.

I typed in “Christian summer camps” and was given the usual long list of results. Educating myself was my first concern – I just wanted to know if there were good summer camps out there that looked even slightly intriguing. There were actually a few. So, I clicked on the first few links and applied to the top four results. Pine Cove was in there somewhere. A few weeks later I get a phone call from a guy named Bunga.

Our phone interview went well and within a few days I get a call from another guy named Lance who wants me to come work as a counselor at the middle school camp. It was my birthday, so I figured it was some sort of sign or something. I’m going to Texas.

Now, for anyone who has ever experienced Pine Cove for the first time, you know it’s a little overwhelming. Same story here. I fly to Texas, not knowing a soul or a single thing about this camp. Within a few weeks, I get trained and start to dive into the culture. My first two cabins were great but I was getting tired and being stretched in ways I had never experienced before. Jumping and screaming for the Lord on a consistent basis can wear you out physically, mentally, and even spiritually. I was growing in the Lord, but I was not prepared for what would happen Week 3.

Another fairly normal group of kids was placed in my care that week, and I was getting more tired by the day. Thursday came and I was walking through the Ranch camp on my way to meet one of my campers for my final “Hangtime” of the week. His name was Mason and he was a small, intelligent kid who had been pretty quiet since the week began.

We reached our destination with some small talk about the day and what the electric blue stains around his mouth were from – it was Free Time, which means Sour Straws and Rock Candy are flowing through camp like a vicious sandstorm. As soon as we sat down on that railroad tie, Mason looked at me and asked me a question I will never forget: “Fish Face, what is this all about?” I didn’t know what to say – I was caught off guard and just didn’t know what he meant. He continued, “I mean, I see all of the counselors jumping and screaming and everyone is singing about Jesus all the time. What is all that about?”

Over the course of the next hour, I did my best to answer his questions and pray silently in my head for God to give me answers and point us to Scripture. Then, at some point, he looks at me with tears running down his cheeks and said, “I just don’t think I can believe in that if I don’t know everything.” He felt like he needed to know the whole Bible before he could believe in Jesus!

I prayed again in my head as I watched him sit there defeated. And then, in that moment, God pointed us to Matthew 17 and this short parable of a faith like a mustard seed. I looked up and tears were flowing. He looked at me dead in the eyes, stretched out his arms, and yelled “WELL THEN, I BELIEVE! I BELIEVE AND I WANT GOD TO SAVE ME!”

And in that moment, Mason’s life was changed forever. We celebrated with a big hug and sat and talked for another twenty or so minutes about what this would look like for him. He asked if he could ask questions and watch me the rest of the week. “Of course, buddy!” That’s what we are here for. That is the exact reason we have counselors at camp – to be examples to the flock.

We stood up from that railroad tie and began to walk across camp back to our cabin. I looked down at this little kid and he had a simple look of awe on his face. I asked him, “Mason, what’s going on in your head right now?” He looked at me as we walked and then looked back around as if seeing trees and grass and buildings for the first time and said, “Everything seems brand new. Everything is so shiny.” This was life transformation right before my very eyes. He had been made a new creation.

Mason left camp a few days later, and I didn’t get a chance to ask for his address or a phone number to keep up with him throughout the year. I kept coming back each summer throughout college and no sign of Mason at the Ranch, Timbers, or Shores.

And then earlier this summer, on Monday of Week 2, I was driving through the Shores on my way to a meeting. I’m driving past the guys’ cabins, glance out the window, look forward again, and then quickly turn my attention to one of the cabin porches, where I see my friend, Mason, talking with some friends. I brake, get out of the car, and walk over to the cabin porch up to my old camper. He looks at me, “Fish Face?! Whoa!”

On that Friday afternoon, Mason and I sit down on the Shores’ dock and catch up on life and what we’ve been up to the past few years. I ask him, “Mason, how well do you remember that conversation we had at the Ranch?” He looks at me as tears start to fill his eyes, and says, “Dude, I remember everything! It was life changing!”

“Same for me, buddy.”

Shores Dock Sunset