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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Your Kingdom Come. At Camp.


Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

“You talked a lot about the upside-down kingdom.” Stephen remembers out loud, at the lake on Friday. My brother is there with his family on their way home from camp, and I’d just returned, too, having been Stephen’s speaker for the week.

Yes. The upside-down kingdom. Do you know what it means?

My heart warms, and I’m willing to admit I’m quite partial to this bright-eyed nephew with his summer-brown skin. Teenaged brothers launch tubes out of reach on the water, leaving the youngest stranded at the end of the dock—and my boy-mama instincts kick in.

When we follow Jesus, we do the things he does, and we love the way he loves.

I’d said this to the boys in Stephen’s cabin, when a squabble broke out at the playground. One boy in particular struggled hard, lashing out, prone to tears; my heart breaking, knowing his story. “It’s not hard to see when a kid is hurting.” I’d tried to steer the other boys toward their own compassionate conclusions.

When we follow Jesus, we show the world what God’s kingdom is like.

The boy who struggled had a step-sister at camp. Taylyn. I’d met her the first day, and thought how mature she seemed, and thoughtful. So understanding and good to her brother. She asked, “How can I know if I’m following Jesus?” And we remembered together, following Jesus always looks like love.

I joined Taylyn’s cabin for devos Tuesday night at bedtime, past mine. The girls worried about reading their Bibles every day, keeping up with their journals. Admitted it was hard. These girls, ten years old, maybe eleven, and I told my own story about falling in love with Jesus at camp at the age of twelve, my love for journaling (Bible reading, too) taking two more decades.

God is the Good King. He created everything good; created the people “very good.”

I’d taught this the first night at chapel, and I was thinking it again, chatting with Liam on Wednesday. He’d just climbed bravely to the top of the tower-pole, stood tall and launched his sturdy little body toward the trapeze bar before repelling back to solid ground. I told him how impressed I was by his courage, and he told me he practices survival skills, just in case there’s ever a reason, like maybe a zombie apocalypse, someday.

There’s the kingdom of the world—the one we can see and touch. And there’s the Kingdom of Jesus—unseen, but real.

I reminded the kids I’d be praying this, from 1 Peter 1:8: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Wednesday night at chapel we talked about Jesus, dying. I read from Matthew 27—about the soldiers dressing Jesus in a scarlet robe, thorny crown, mocking. Spitting in his face, using a fake king’s staff to hit The Real King’s head. And Jesus left his throne in heaven—for this.

Jesus’ kingdom is no ordinary kingdom, because Jesus is no ordinary King.

No castle. No army. No royal position. King Jesus conquered by dying. And rising.

We recited the day’s memory verse together. “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14.”

And King Jesus makes impossible things possible.

I think about AJ, brown and chubby with his endearing dimples, asking me often, “Do you remember my name?” And sweet Roman, who made sure I got the first doughnut at the late-night fire. Glory, sitting next to me at s’mores, feeling my hair; her black skin so dark and smooth, and I’d wanted to feel it, too. Shy Meadow, wide-faced, thick glasses, new at her school. And Meadow’s feisty friend, Abby, and brother, Lars, whose uncle has a place on Green Lake, near ours.

By now I’ve done my best to meet most of the kids, and I practice remembering names. I hear their stories, in bits and pieces. The good and the hard, and of course it’s 2020, so there’s all that, too.

We live in a Kingdom that can’t be shaken.

We sing about this in a favorite song… I will build my life upon Your love…it is a firm foundation…I will put my trust in You alone…and I will not be shaken…

The last chapel I read to the kids from Psalm 46, wondering if they can hear these words and picture two kingdoms. And it’s Serenity who tells us, “The world is chaos, but God is peace.” And her name means Peace.

And then it’s Friday, and we’re packing our bags and saying our good-byes. My last farewell before walking back to the staff-house and my car, is Harley. Maybe the quietest girl at camp; no doubt the quietest in her rowdiest cabin. I’d told her the first day she looks like Sage, my friend Angie’s daughter. But back at home now, I realize it’s really Sage’s sister, Maleah, she resembles, with her dark-framed glasses. Serious and pensive, Harley gradually became my shadow. Not clingy, or needy, but more like—my apprentice. Following. Listening. Learning. We exchanged a handful of conversations, brief and private, and by week’s end I felt like I knew this girl best. And loved her dearly.

One day back from camp and I’m tiling bathrooms, and sweeping sawdust, and scrubbing mortar. While I work I remember, and savor. I think about Jesus, and his disciples. And how he called us to make disciples, too. Teaching us to pray for his kingdom to come to earth as in heaven. I think back forty years, and I think about last week, and it seems like Jesus lets us glimpse His unseen kingdom in the here-and-now when we’re together at camp.

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