Editor’s Note: Beth Gaertner, a native of Cleveland, OH, has been at Camp Gray since early June. She served as a Program Assistant this past summer, and is currently serving as one of Camp’s SaLT missionaries until May. Beth stopped by the Camp Gray Blog office last month to write about her 5 months at Camp Gray up to that point. November was a crazy month at Camp Gray, and we didn’t want her post to get lost in the shuffle. Here now, finally, we present: BETH GAERTNER!
Welp, we’ve just about hit the half way mark in my time here at Camp. It surely does not feel as though I have been here for just over 5 months. I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve accomplished, the things I have dared to try, the things I would have never dreamed I have done prior to camp and maybe even the things I’ve fallen a bit short on.
Never ever did I think that I would be living on 225 acres ministering the Catholic faith to kids from all different walks of life. I never thought I would be playing in the stream or teaching kids to shoot archery or leading kids in the dark in the most epic version of sardines known to camp. I didn’t think that I’d be eating my food with no hands and encouraging kids to do the same, nor did I ever think I’d be the one saying “Oh, you’re at camp, it’s okay to get messy!” But here I am.
A normal day for me starts as the sun is rising and ends long after the sun has set. It involves playing games with silly names like “Secrets of the Universe,” “Bob the Weasel” and “Ninja.” Grace before meals ALWAYS has a tune to it and we only eat family style. Normal days involve some walks on the trails, looking for mole hills, deer tracks and burrells on the trees. It involves explaining why invasive species are detrimental to our forest, why cranes use the same flight path every single time they migrate and the differences between a managed and unmanaged forest. In the evenings we have campfires where, time after time, we sing about brown squirrels, David Hasselhoff and what we’d do if we were not at Camp. Nights end with prayer. Looking at pictures of Jesus and why they are so symbolic or reading the story of creation by candle light or listening to a testimony from a team member.
God has blessed me with this opportunity to work with literally hundreds of kids over the past 5 months. Ministering to students ranging from ages 7-18 has brought challenges but also laughter and some serious fun. There was the time that a group of 7th grade girls asked us to come back to their cabin with them to have a nail painting party and eat some Halloween candy. Or the group of 6th graders that were so terrified of the dark that everyone was somehow holding on to me as we played Alpha Wolf. There was the cabin that was OBSESSED with Shel Silverstein and secretly placed a picture they drew of him in my purse to find after we went separate ways. There was the group of 20 kids that valiantly answered the call to environmental stewardship and ate a 120 servings of mashed potatoes as to not waste what was brought out to them. And the high schooler that took the time to apologize for being rude to the staff at the beginning of his retreat and made sure to let us all know that he was truly understanding and appreciating what we were teaching him.
I could go on and on about the kids I have met and hung out with, the chaperones that have helped us in more ways than they know and of course, about the people that are not only my teammates and some of my only friends here in Wisconsin, but they’ve become my family.
My favorite part of these last five months though? That would be the renewal of my Catholic faith. Being able to learn right along with so many of these students and hearing the comments and questions they have bring me so much joy. I love celebrating Mass with them and being able to say that I understand you don’t know much about Confirmation right now, but I didn’t either when I was Confirmed. Being able to reassure kids (and some of the adults!) that it is okay not to know everything about the faith, it’s okay to ask questions and God is always waiting for you to come back. Camp is a place where God is so fully present in every aspect of life and I feel so incredibly blessed to be here and be a part of shaping countless young people’s faith lives.
A lot has happened in the last 5 months and I seriously cannot wait to see what happens in the next 6!
Peace and love,