Back in the early noughties, I was a Youth Group leader—and mostly, I loved it! Every Friday night, I would meet with my Bible study at Church; we would share some food, laugh and lament about our week, and then study the Bible.

There were about 12 girls from different schools and backgrounds, and we shared our lives with each other, and prayed for each other, and grew up together. There are not many times that I have laughed as hard as those Friday nights. It was an incredible privilege to be part of these girls’ lives. They were in the final years of high school and all going through various stages of teenage angst with different levels of drama and maturity.

One year I sent them all “mystery valentine’s day cards,” which all said, “you are deeply loved.” It wasn’t hard for them to work out who the sender was—or who I was talking about. But I wanted them to know that they had much more to be excited about than the attention of a pimply, pubescent boy: they were each loved by the Creator of the universe.

I wanted them to know that they had much more to be excited about than the attention of a pimply, pubescent boy

Our Youth Group had excellent camps. We would all pile on a bus and travel to a campsite together; hear a Bible talk from a helpful speaker on a topic relevant to teenagers, and have some adventures. Usually, we would bring some amateur cooks from church so that we could keep costs down, and they would always offer supper around 9pm—hot milo with cinnamon and sugar toast (this was something that I never got at home!) But of course, that sugar hit turned into a rush that I had to try to get them to burn off before lights out. “Race you to the cabins!”

One camp that sticks in my mind involved caving. Groups of kids with a leader would go crawling through the dark and twisty caves at the National Park near our campsite. Old clothes were essential, together with a torch. Everyone got completely covered in dirt, fingernails thick with grime, and you learnt how to manipulate your body to get through small spaces that you wouldn’t have thought possible beforehand! The person in front had made it, so you might as well give it a go …

Inevitably a group would get lost and not return at the prearranged time before dinner, and the camp parents would start a search party.

I don’t think that caving (at least at this spot) is an option for youth group camps these days. As a parent, I feel relieved. But back then we never thought of risk assessments and safety policies (I should add that we never permanently lost a camper!)

Remembering the Care-Taker

One camp I will never forget was “The Girl’s House Party”. We had an excellent speaker, and the food was once again delicious. Each Bible study group was rostered to clean up for different meals over the duration of the camp.

We had enjoyed spaghetti bolognese and ice cream for dessert and there seemed to be a mountain of plates when my group was scheduled on. I was not looking forward to rallying my girls for the clean-up and getting through all the dirty plates and cups. But as I dragged my feet to the sink, I found the camp caretaker—an older man—already there washing the dishes. We tried to take over but he wouldn’t let us.

“I washed your feet tonight, who’s feet will you wash tomorrow?” he said.

Later that night, as we were tucked up in our cabin enjoying the usual laughs, one beautiful-hearted girl repeated the question.

I remember how the question changed the vibe in the room; how it turned our thoughts outward.

I’m still grateful to that caretaker. I don’t know his name and I have no idea if he is still alive, but his actions spoke volumes.

I’m still grateful to that caretaker. I don’t know his name and I have no idea if he is still alive or has gone to be with Jesus, but his actions spoke volumes to a group of rowdy teenagers. They also spoke to a young adult finding her way, and I am a different person because of it.

Who affected you like that? Who might you serve, and leave a lasting impression, by imitating Jesus.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13:3-7)