Restoring What Was Lost
Summer staff has arrived. Staff training has wrapped up. Our first summer campers of the season are on site at Okoboji and scheduled to arrive on site at Ingham Lake in just a few days. Camp is once again full of people and noise and people. The memories of cancelled programs and empty staff housing from last summer are, in many ways, quickly becoming little more than a faded memory. And while all the people and the noise are a bit overwhelming at times for this particular introvert, they are certainly a breath of fresh air after this past year.
As we work to settle into the routines of a mostly normal summer once again, I have been thinking a lot about God’s desire to see restoration happen. Particularly in the Old Testament, there is story after story documenting how the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, forget God, turn again from God, suffer the consequences of turning away, and are ultimately restored to a right relationship to God through sacrifice and repentance. Also in the Old Testament are found many different prophesies which warn of the consequences in store for turning away from God while also telling of the blessings promised for maintaining a right relationship with God.
In particular I’ve been thinking of a passage from Joel 2. The imagery Joel uses, for some reason, just feels like a good description of the last 15 months of not only trying to engage in Bible camp ministry but of life in general.
I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – Joel 2:25
In this passage, Joel is reflecting on the devastation years of drought and famine have brought to the nation of Israel and looking forward to the restoration he is already seeing glimpses of when he looks at the fields and pastures. Joel has witnessed not only drought but locusts devouring what little crop they were able to grow in the midst of the drought. He has seen the effects it has had on his fellow Israelites. He, along with his friends and family, have cried out to God in repentance, begging for mercy and forgiveness. As the nation of Israel has begun to turn back to God, they have begun to experience the blessings of God once again.
It is a great thing to be part of a large movement turning towards God, repenting of sin, and seeking be in right relationship with God once again. It is an amazing thing to witness God’s blessings after a season of feeling long forgotten by God. But if you have ever been through a similar experience then you know there is always a sense of “if only.” If only I would have repented sooner. If only I would have listened earlier. If only. I wonder.
Those are hard thoughts with which to live. And that is part of what makes these words of Joel so powerful. He isn’t talking about the actual time but he is speaking of the strange and wonderful way in which God can give back wasted blessings. When the locusts swarmed the fields of Israel, the devastation looked to be complete and final. To gaze upon the fields, it would have been hard to imagine a bountiful crop ever growing there again. And yet, as we see in verses 22 and 23, green grass is once again growing and trees are once again producing fruit. It seems no matter how complete the devastation may appear, God is able to bring about restoration.
Sitting in meetings the spring of 2020, canceling first spring programs, and then the first weeks of summer camp, and then an entire summer of ministry felt like being forced to watch as locusts came through attempting to consume and destroy what God had been building for over 90 years at Okoboji and over 60 years at Ingham. All of the excitement and potential for the summer slipped away from our grasp. We did continue to do ministry throughout the summer in the form of the Boji Family Getaways, Sunday worship, retreat guests, and various online options but it wasn’t the same. We missed our summer staff. We missed our youth campers. We each, in our own ways, had to grieve the summer we lost.
At the summer of 2021 gets under way, it feels like we have been given a chance to experience something special. If we had our choice, we would have more staff. If we had our choice, we would be able to fill all of our beds with campers because we had all of those extra staff. But despite that, there is a sense that God is moving as the staff we do have are incredibly excited to be here, especially those who lost out on a chance to be on staff last summer. Last week I was able to open space for a couple more youth campers and, upon getting the email, the mom called me in excited disbelief.
I can’t help but wonder if the promise spoken in Joel is a promise God is speaking over IOLBC this summer. While we will never get the summer of 2020 back, I do wonder what God is planning to do in the summer of 2021.
This summer our theme is “Brand New.” It reflects the reality that, when we really let God into our hearts and lives, we ultimately become a new creation. For me personally, this summer brings a new appreciation for the ability to gather people to experience God together safely and easily. As Joel is looking forward to the blessings God promises those who repent and turn away from sin, I’m looking forward to the work God has planned in the hearts and lives of campers this summer as they seek to know him better while at camp.
Please join us in praying for a great summer of ministry.
- What have you had to grieve in the last year because of COVID? In what ways are you seeing those losses beginning to be restored?
- What ministry or small business do you know that has continued to struggle to recover/stay afloat during COVID? How can you reach out to encourage and support them?
- What have you gained a “Brand New” appreciation for in the last year or so?