I have worked at Camp Valaqua for a total of six summers, and this summer I am back on staff after being away for a few years.
Valaqua is a place where I learned many things. It was my first job. I learned how to work with a large group of people cooperatively. Valaqua is a very isolated place, so I got a taste for what it is like to live in close community.
Most importantly, I have learned that Valaqua is a place where people express God’s love. It is an intentional space where people are encouraged to explore what living God’s love means. I think this is an amazing thing and I think we need more space in this world to think about our world through God’s light of love.
Part of my role at Valaqua this summer has been to write the chapel curriculum. While designing it for this year I wanted to consider how Valaqua is special. What makes it different from the rest of our lives?
After spending a number of years away from Valaqua, I was drawn to the fact that conversations about God, Jesus, love, life and other big topics are abundant here. I believe that having these conversations gives the gifts of reflection and deeper understanding of God’s love. And what I want more than anything is for people to take their lives and the things they have in front of them, and think about how God’s love is best expressed.
Every day I see how Valaqua is a place where people are always considering how best to love in the world:
- How can I make sure campers have their needs met?
- How can I make this community a better place?
- Who can I see that is being excluded or left behind?
The part of my job that I love the most is seeing staff ask these questions and make decisions as second nature. Seeing counsellors, without hesitation, adjust their activity or game to meet the needs of a camper with a disability is amazing. When I see young staff considering the implications of their faith and the love of Jesus through new light, it makes me joyful. Outside of camp, it is not often in our day-to-day lives that we are so intensely focused on making our world as loving as possible.
So what does this mean for the rest of the year and the world outside of Valaqua or any other summer camp? It means that I am so excited to have kids in our world who have experienced this place. Campers that come away from Valaqua have had days that are focused on trying new things and making new connections and friends. It means that in our congregations and communities we have these amazing leaders who have spent months living, breathing and thinking about God’s love. By extension, I think that our communities are impacted in a positive way. If there is just any small chance that the people impacted by Valaqua can bring more of God’s love into the world, then I think that is incredible.
Michael Taves is Camp Valaqua’s program director.