Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I am working at Camp David of the Ozarks for the week as a Camp Granny for the 8th summer in a row. This is, without a doubt, one of the most joyous God-drenched places on earth and most folks don’t even know it exists! Camp David is a Christian camp for the children of Missouri prisoners. If a child has a mother or father in jail or prison, they can come to this five day camp that offers crafts, horseback riding, skits, puppet shows, swimming, singing, sleeping in cabins, prayer, Bible study, field games, nature study, a campfire night and fishing—all the things we knew as kids at church camp plus a whole lot more.  And it’s all free, no charge to the kids or their families. The two most important things they’ve been teaching here for the past 12 years is how much each child is loved, by Jesus and all the people here and that their lives are their own, that they can choose the kind of life they want to lead. And to that end, after 12 years, they have many of their campers returning as camp counselors and support staff.  That, however, does not even begin to tell the story of this incredible place.

                Ben and Grace Smith are the director and co-director of Camp David and have been from its first year when they welcomed 18 campers. For the past several years, they have served over 200 campers each summer, boys and girls, in separate weeks, ages 8 through 16. In addition to the campers, there are support staff, like a mini-camp within the camp, young people, both former campers and Christian youth, many homeschoolers or missionaries’ children, who help cook, wash dishes, cut grass, care for the young children of the staff, and help out in a dozen other ways to keep the place, running. There are camp ministry folks who supervise the counselors, who are high school and college aged volunteers, who work for a pittance all summer long to lend their support to this program. And it is all run on donations and fund-raising that takes place all year long to make it happen again and again each summer.

                And then there are folks like me, Grannies and Aunties, who come, some for weeks at a time or others like me, just for a week or so, and write letters to campers, read bedtime stories, help with crafts and any other tasks that need done at the moment, from taking a camper with a sprained ankle to the ER, to helping bait a hook or take a fish off the line for a first time fishermen to helping a young lady on Princess Dinner night, dress up in a formal with high heels and make-up and get her picture taken, just like a real prom queen.

It is impossible to say who is the most impressive here, the directors who do this, year after year,  along with their five children, ages 6 through 19, who work just as hard as their parents all summer long, helping children who come out of situations, the horrors of which they can only imagine; the college students who serve in this ministry, young people already on fire for God and busy putting that desire to such a positive use even at their young age; the youngsters who have come through the camp themselves and now return to lend a helping hand to others whose families are also fractured by crime, drugs and dysfunction. And then people, like me who come to do what little we can and which often seems to be little more than the chance to rub shoulders for a few days with these saints in the making. I’ve been in law enforcement and rehab work for over 20 years now and I’ve never seen a better anti-crime fighting program than this.
Jesus walked this earth 2000 years ago and he taught us by example that LIFE is all about relationships. He rounded up 12 pretty rag tag types, taught them everything he could get into their thick heads in three years and then told them to go out there and teach it to everyone they met. THAT is still going on in a little place right here in the Ozarks called Camp David. If you would like to know more about Camp David of the Ozarks or contribute to their mission, just check them out on the Internet. I guarantee you will be impressed!

Saturday, July 2, 2016


     With the Independence Day holiday upon us, we will undoubtedly see numerous columns about patriotism, the cost of freedom and the like. It reminds me of an incident from over 40 years ago on a beach in El Salvador through which I saw a different view of America, courtesy of a Salvadoran college student.
     It was Semana Santa, Easter week and a group of us, Peace Corps volunteers had gathered at the beach where we were sitting in the sand with the gentle surf lapping at our toes. There were five of us, from Missouri, Kansas, New York, Connecticut, and California and without anyone saying a word, five sets of hands began digging, constructing a sand castle. One of the fellows worked at the national university in the capital city of San Salvador and he had brought a couple of his university students with him. As one of them watched us, he spoke up.
     “This is something I do not understand about Americans. No one said, ‘let us build a sand castle’ and yet each of you knew immediately what the others were doing and joined in. My country is much smaller than yours, only 160 miles one end to the other. I come from the capital, a little over 100 miles from here but if I sat down and began to dig in the sand, these local fishermen would not know what I was doing and certainly would not come to join me. How do you do that?”
    That gave each of us something to think about for several moments before we could formulate an answer to such an intriguing question. After much discussion, we decided it was a combination of America’s public education system—we all grew up reading about Dick and Jane and Spot, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys—and television programs, from Howdy Doody to Romper Room to Mighty Mouse,  The Lone Ranger, and Leave It To Beaver. No matter what part of the country we grew up in, that was our childhood and it gave us a number of common denominators.
    It was an answer we could all agree on and one that seemed to satisfy the student who posed the original question. He went on to share with us that although he and his countrymen lived much closer to each other geographically, they did not share the same educational advantages—many of the poorer fishermen had little or no formal schooling and certainly didn’t have access to television as children. At that time in the 1970s, I lived in that fishing village. There were only three known televisions in the entire town and one of them was in a well-known combination bar and brothel!

    It is food for thought in terms of what has united us and continues to make America work as a country. There are more countries in the world that struggle with the issues that have long plagued tiny El Salvador, divergent populations with educational levels that cover the entire spectrum and/or with different cultures and languages, such as indigenous populations, dialects vs. a dominant national language. Likewise, there are only a handful of countries with the geographical span and physical resources that have blessed America and still, we have managed to hold it all together for over 200 years.
    The question now as we face an uncertain political future and an increasingly bitter campaign, is how do we continue to do so? The answer is to watch and listen carefully. What exactly are these two campaigns actually marketing? We may not be in love with either of the major candidates but in listening to the campaigns, I hear one in particular marketing hate, just one step down from a now infamous campaign in Europe in the 1930s. Back then, the man at the center of that firestorm, concentrated on one particular ethnic group, blaming much of their country’s financial troubles on the businesses, the men involved and their entire families.  Today, Donald Trump is blaming various groups—ethnic, religious, and racial—for America’s problems as well as women in general. He may be spreading the blame around, but his promotional strategy is still the same as Adolf Hitler’s. Do we really want to put someone in the White House who blames everyone else, particularly entire ethnic, religious or gender groups, for the problems we face? History has shown us the results of campaigns built on hate, from Herod to Hitler, and they have always brought nothing but misery and heartbreak for all.