Joseph rode for hours on a bus to get to camp. It was worth every mile.
In many ways, Joseph is just like any other 12-year-old. He loves water games, baseball, and sour candy. He has a chores list waiting for him at home, as well as four younger sisters who look up to him. But when he's at camp, he can set his responsibilities aside for a week.
That's part of the allure of Angel Tree® camping, a program of Prison Fellowship® that makes camp possible for Joseph and thousands of other children of prisoners. This is his second year at Frontier Camp, a long-time Angel Tree partner in Texas.
He says he rode for hours on a bus to get here. It was worth every mile.
A NEW ADVENTURE
Joseph accepted Christ as his Savior at 8 years old, and camp helps him stay on the right path. Each day there is a new adventure, he says. "I like the water tube because you can go up on the waves, and you can flip it. If you're heavy enough, your side will flip over!"
Back home, when Joseph isn't entertaining his little sisters, he relishes the peace and quiet of his rural neighborhood. It's a good place to think and write. He likes to sketch, too—mostly animals. Sometimes, he can hear the coyotes near his house at night.
But wild animals don't worry Joseph. His biggest burden at home is dealing with his father's incarceration. When Dad is away, something is missing. Still, Joseph's brown eyes light up when he talks about their father-son bond. He makes prison visits at least once a month.
Last Christmas, his dad signed up Joseph for Angel Tree® Christmas, the Prison Fellowship program that delivers gifts to children on their incarcerated parent's behalf. Joseph's Angel Tree surprise was perfect: a drawing pad, paint, and colored pencils. "[Dad] knew what I wanted," said Joseph. "It's always been good that he knows what to get us. … It's great that I know he's still there for me."
Their other favorite way to connect? Writing letters back and forth. Joseph loves to journal about his Bible reading and mail notes to his dad.
"I like hearing about new verses," says Joseph, "and I write them down and read them later. It's fun to reread things." And Joseph will have plenty of notes to study after his week at Frontier Camp.
MAKING FRIENDS AND SHARING CHRIST
At camp, Joseph is free to just be a kid. He still can't believe he conquered his fear of the rope swing. "I didn't really want to go to the top, but [my friend] did … and I made it to the top. And we let go, and it was just fun. It was encouraging to have somebody who would want to go to the top with me."
Count his colorful wristbands, and Joseph will tell you most of them represent acts of kindness or memory verses. Last year, he came down with a fever and spent a few days in the nurse's office, but he didn't let that slow him down. He kept learning Scripture.
"He's such a great kid," says John Henry, a former Prison Fellowship field director who volunteers as a camp counselor. "I'm impressed with how mature he is at this age. He's been through a lot."
Joseph treasures his relationships with his cabinmates. Some new friends have become year-round pen-pals. "Sometimes you hear about someone else's struggle, and maybe it's like your own struggle," he says. His counselors, too, make camp worthwhile. "The counselors are safe to talk to about my father. They would listen, and they would like what I say. They enjoy talking to me."
Camp stays with him all year. At a church outreach event in Houston, he helped lead someone to Christ.
"Anything that they teach me about God, I will take into my heart, and I will use it to tell others."
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