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A crisis of faith and plumbing

By Jon Olfert
Mar 08, 2010 | Volume 14, Number 5

Camp Valaqua out-trip leader Jared Bourn prepares for another day of paddling on the North Saskatchewan River.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17).

The toilets are plugged again. There is sewer water on the floor of the bathroom and it’s time to roll up my sleeves. It’s a messy job but somebody has got to do it and right now I’m that somebody.

When people ask what I do for a living, like most of us I answer with my job title: “I’m a camp director.” Usually that is as far as it goes, but sometimes people probe further: “So what do camp directors do exactly?”

That is the question, isn’t it? What do I do? I plunge toilets. I talk to homesick campers. I play tag. I go to board meetings. I teach canoeing. I guide staff in their spiritual development. I put on bandages. And on and on. When it comes right down to it, during camp I am a “firefighter,” dealing with the crises—big and small—that happen at camp.

Crises come in many forms at Camp Valaqua. Sometimes it’s plugged toilets. Sometimes it’s head lice or the flu. Sometimes it’s broken hearts and hurting souls. Some crises can feel completely overwhelming: a staff member confessing to an attempted suicide or a camper speaking about abuse at home. And some can feel completely trivial: running out of ketchup in the lunch line.

Sometimes crises can unfold slowly and keep me up late into the night listening to those who need an ear to speak to, and at other times they demand action now, like the plugged toilets I am facing in the boys bathroom.

At camp, as in life, there are often moments when there is something big or unpleasant ahead of you. In these moments I think of the words of one of my favourite camp songs: “And whatever your gift and whatever your part, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I am sure Paul wasn’t thinking about plunging toilets when he wrote these words, but right now my part—my gift—is a plunger and a mop.


    I like the well-written article about the work of a camp director.

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