Jesus Camp BY ERIN OLDYNSKI
When I was ten years old my mom and step-dad sent me to a Jesus Camp for one week. I’m still not sure why they decided to send me to this camp – neither of them were religious and I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been to church. Perhaps it was because my mom and step-dad had only recently been married and they needed someone to watch me while they spent some alone time together. Or it may have been the influence of certain relatives who had just become born again Christians. Either way, it was off to Jesus Camp I went. On my first night at camp, I felt ill and vomited onto the floor of my cabin. I shared this cabin with six other girls who were my age as well as a teenager who was our camp leader. For the next few days, the cabin smelled like macaroni and cheese and stomach acid. This event caused the other girls to exclude me from their group for the remaining week. Instead, I became friends with our camp leader, who told me that she had accepted Jesus into her life. On the second day of camp, I discovered that the snack shop offered a delicious dessert known as “the kitchen sink.” The kitchen sink was as many scoops of ice cream as you could eat, covered in nuts, M&Ms, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. I ate an entire kitchen sink every day for the next week. Halfway through the week, all of the kids at camp were herded into the central gymnasium for a presentation. I remember this presentation very well. Fifty or so of us sat on the gymnasium floor while one of the camp leaders stood on stage. She held up a paper plate to the audience. “This is you,” she said to us. “Whole and pure. Virgin.” She folded the paper plate in half and held it up for us to see. “This is you when you have sex outside of marriage.” She folded the plate in half again so that it was one quarter of its original size. “This is you when you have sex with two people outside of marriage.” She folded it again so that it was no longer recognizable as a paper plate. “Each time you have sex with someone outside of marriage, you give away a piece of yourself to them. Only by saving ourselves for marriage can we be pure and whole.”
I was horrified. I didn’t want to become a shriveled up paper plate! At the end of the presentation she informed us that there were silver rings and bibles for sale. The silver ring signified a vow of celibacy. I bought the ring and bible for $12 and promised that I would wear the ring until it was replaced with a wedding band. On the last night of camp, my cabin’s camp leader asked me if I wanted to reserve a place for myself in heaven. I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by this but it sounded much better than not having a place reserved for me in heaven, so I said yes. She led me into a small prayer room and recited a verse from the bible. She asked me to repeat it and I did. “Do you accept Jesus into your life?” She asked. I remember looking at her for a while, studying her hands and fingers, and noticing how closely trimmed her fingernails were. Her hands lay palm up in her lap. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Yes,” I said, “Yes I do.” She hugged me and said, “Now you have a place reserved for you in heaven. Wasn’t that easy?” My mom and step-dad came to pick me up the next day. I ran toward them and wrapped my arms around each of them, eager to share what had happened during the week. I told them about how I’d been sick and that the girls in my cabin had been mean. I told them that I’d saved myself from becoming a crumpled up paper plate and that there was now a place reserved for me in heaven. They hugged me tight and said that they were proud. They said that we could go anywhere I wanted for dinner that night so we each ate a kitchen sink and then we drove home. I never went back to that camp or to any Jesus Camp for that matter. I wore the silver ring into my teenage years until I realized that I carried an incredible amount of guilt with it. What that week has taught me is that I do not need to think of myself as a paper plate in order to be valued, that I do not need a place reserved for me in heaven in order to live a meaningful life, and that, most importantly, overindulging in earthly pleasures such as desserts that contain ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ can be incredibly gratifying.
Volume 10 Issue 1 Summer 2010