An August Thank You 2016

 

We just finished our 5th-6th grade camp.  In it, we talked a lot about the Olympic Spirit.  In actuality, we didn't just talk about it.  We lived it out.  That spirit is reflected in the Olympic Creed:

 "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Melissa started off our teaching with the story of John Stephen Akhwari, who participated in the Olympic marathon in the 1968 Olympics.  At the 19km marker of the 42km race, he was hit by some runners jockeying for position.  He fell badly, dislocating his knee and wounding his shoulder.  He promptly got up, and started running again, finishing the race over an hour after the last runner had ended.  The medics tried to get him to stop, but he waved them off.  At an interview later, he said, "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."

"Much of the crowd had already left the stadium," Melissa told us.  "But those who stayed began to applaud as soon as he limped into the arena.  The applause was more about his courage than his running.  That's the Olympic Spirit.  It's the same spirit that resides in each one of you.  It's the kind of courage that brought you to camp.  It's the kind of courage that keeps you going when you have sad times, go through hurts and losses.  The Olympic spirit is contagious. 

You've all seen the runners who carry the Olympic torch.  It starts in Athens, Greece, and they carry it all the way to whatever city is hosting the Olympics.  It passes from runner to runner all along the way.  You've been given a torch, too.  You've been given a purpose...a light that is inside of you that is also that Olympic spirit.  When you pass your own light on, you're sharing it with others, and you're passing on hope and courage. 

Just a few weeks ago, someone tried to put out the Olympic flame with a fire extinguisher.  You'll have people try to do that, too.  Others will say unkind things to you.  People will disappoint you.  You'll be hurt.  Satan will try to take out your light through various struggles you go through.  But, Jesus has a message for us that is much like that of the Olympic creed.  It is in those very struggles that we find the courage and hope we can pass on.

'You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less.  That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God.  He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

You're blessed when you care.  At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for. You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world.

You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.

Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company....Matthew 5:3-12, MSG

It sounds backwards, doesn't it?  What Jesus is really telling us in the Beatitudes is that there's always hope...even in the darkest of times, he's taking our losses and struggles and turning them into something better.  He's working.  Always.  And you can hold your head up, as you carry your light knowing He's right beside you.  Even though your light may flicker, it won't go out."

That last phrase is one the kids attached to strongly.  And it's a great one to carry these 5th-6th graders into middle school.  We want each child to see the light God has placed inside of them—the heart and the strength and the courage.  We want them to believe they can share that light with others—and to know that it makes a difference. 

During our 5th-6th grade camp, the kids actually had an opportunity to carry the torch around Hopetown, literally and figuratively.  They carried it literally across the grounds, passing it from one of our 31 campers to another, with a little girl who has been battling leukemia being the one to light our Olympic flame.

All week long, the 5th-6th graders encouraged each other.  They shared when they saw another show courage, perseverance, and compassion, as they gave each other bracelets (we called Olympic rings) representing each of the beatitudes.  They sat with each other as they shared struggles, such as parents' divorce, losses of family members—and more hurts no child should ever have to endure.  But they do.  One 11 year old boy, toward the end of the week said, "Some people ask me why are you not more sad, with all that's happened to you.  Well I tell them people like you are the reason I'm happy."

Blessed is the word Jesus uses.  God used the Olympics and the Olympic spirit in each of the kids this week to give to each other in tremendous ways.  We're grateful to have shared just a few days with these courageous, compassionate kids—and so grateful for your support in the midst of our time.