Every summer, Ben Wade looks forward to one week in particular—it's the week where he gets to truly be a camp counselor.
For the past two summers, the high school senior has worked as a counselor at Frontier Camp, a Christian camp in Grapeland, Texas. He spends seven of the hottest weeks running around with kids and leading cabin discussions. Most of the time, being a camp counselor is pretty straightforward.
"If you're a counselor for a 12-year-old kid whose dad is a pastor, counselors function more like peers," he explains.
But the week that the Angel Tree® kids, who have a parent in prison, arrive is different. It's more chaotic. More rewarding.
Many of the Angel Tree children weren't ready to relate well to a new authority figure. "Authority was just someone more who didn't care," Ben shares.
ANGEL TREE KIDS
Children who attend an Angel Tree camp face the unique challenges that come with having a mom or dad behind bars. Many struggle with emotional pain and act out that pain with negative behaviors. But Ben noticed that as he and his fellow counselors enforced consistent and positive discipline, the kids responded well.
As Ben got to know the nine kids entrusted to him in his cabin, he began to see why camp was so significant for them.
"Angel Tree week—it's like we're they're entire world," he says. "There's so much to teach them … I didn't feel like it was just my day job … my entire purpose, every single second, was being a counselor … It was easy to show them Christ's love because they needed it so much."
There were kids like Dillon, rude and disruptive at the beginning of the week, but carefully observing how his counselors would respond.
"Dillon was one of the first ones to talk to [us] about what it meant to be a Christian. He was one of the first kids to show boldness," says Ben.
There was Kevin, who had a slight learning disability and wouldn't stop talking throughout worship services. Because he was a handful, Ben got to spend some extra time with him and developed a genuine affection for him.
And then there was Christopher, who was reserved when he first arrived at camp. He was different than the others.
"It seemed that he felt left out of the group at first. He was in a strange place with unfamiliar people," says Ben. "However, after about the first day he really started to fit in and make friends."
A BIG, BRIGHT SMILE
Ten-year-old Christopher listened intently to the messages about Gospel. He says he learned "that God and Jesus [are] here to help me."
Over the course of the week, his shyness gave way to a bright smile.
"I had the privilege of seeing Christopher really change that week," Ben later wrote in an email to the camp director. "He became more focused on others. Christopher went home knowing that there was a God who cared for him and loved him always."