I guess I was what they call today an interurban child, in my day I was called a ghetto child. I was a child of the single parent family syndrome, “angry, tough and almost grown at 12 years old”. My mother was not overly religious, but she grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday, had purchased a family pew in St. Georges, Anglican Church and thought that the tradition of all of us children going to church every Sunday and Sunday school in the afternoon was a good one and so it would be carried on in our family.
The Sunday school was held in the afternoon in Welcome Hall Mission whose primary mission was ministering and helping the homeless men of the area. Giving some of them somewhere to eat and somewhere to sleep at night and all of them a chance to hear the word of God. To get the somewhere to stay at night that was off of the street and the hot meal, all they had to do was show up sober and be willing submit themselves for an hour to listen to the word of God and sing some hymns. They also got to come to the part of Sunday school that was open to all ages, just before we broke up and went to our classes determined by age.
The director of the Welcome Hall Mission was a man named Mr. Raymore and he was the most generous, soft-spoken man I have ever met. When I listened to the stories of Jesus and what he stood for and how he loved everyone no matter who they were or where they came from, or what their lot in life was, I saw it in this man. He arranged for a group of 10 of us to go to Camp Livingstone to get a chance to get out of the city for 2 weeks, away from the pull of the city and the gangs and in some cases abuse to be in a healthy Christian environment and see the other side. Camp Livingstone is found in the Eastern Townships, on Lake Lovering is where I went to camp and from age 11 to 14, give or take a year and this is where my story begins.
It is a story of finding the Lord during the summer and losing him come fall, but the memories of this camp and what I have remembered has saved my life and mind more than once in this man’s life to date. It is the story of interacting with a Christian couple who not only talked about God, but lived a godly life and showed me they were normal and just like me and my family except that they had God in their lives and that I could have God in my life too. I will never forget Mr. and Mrs. Carter for instilling in me that once you accepted the Lord as your saviour he would never let you go and so I returned to where I first found God and had asked him to save my life.
When the first 10 of us arrived for the first time at Camp Livingstone we were not ready for the country kids and they were not ready for us. We were greeted by the councilors separated into groups by age and taken to our cabins and assigned a bunk. For many of us who had already been to juvenile detention this procedure was the same as the one you did there and we did not want to be separated, but we went where we were told and did what we were told. The rules were explained to us and we were led out and given a tour of the camp by our councilor.
I did my first camp session as an ordinary camper with a couple of my younger guy friends, which elevated me to gang leader, responsible for them and I took my job very seriously. It was an only boys camp and I decided that the best way to control things was for me to take on the toughest guy in their gang, but try as I might there was no other gang to be found and everyone wanted to be friends. All of the guys that I had come with were swimming and talking to the guys in their cabins and seemed in no danger so I decided to relax and observe.
Suppertime rolled around and the whole camp piled into a big hall and we were seated at tables by cabin. Grace was said by Mr. Carter the camp’s director, who to me looked like a professional football player and not like any missionary I had ever met. Mr. Carter‘s wife was the cook and nurse and their dog was the camp mascot. It was through these two lovely people that I learned to respect the Christian way of life. They were married, they enjoyed all of the things that I did and they talked to everyone without screaming. There was a lot of fellowship, praying, singing hymns and just thanking God for everything and I got so relaxed that I even forgot that I was the leader of a gang and joined in with the singing and praising of God and gave my soul to the Lord, for the first time. I was in cabin number two for all of the years that I went to Camp Livingstone and except for campers that did not come back and were replaced by new campers everyone remained in the same cabin year after year. I never knew being good could be such fun and when the session ended I was both sad and afraid. I was going back to my streets and my neighborhood and with the exception of Sundays this new attitude and new respect for Christians just was not going to fly.
I learned very quickly from my mother and my aunt that they were not interested in my converting them to christianity and a few fights with the older boys in my gang taught me to hide what I had learned at Camp Livingstone. Finally it was time to go back to camp and there would be no need to twist my arm I was off to teen camp and my older brother was going back. He had told me that girls were in the same camp and that they occupied the cabins on the hill. They were actually going to allow us to interact with their girls, wow was all that came to my mind. I was just turning 13 years old but I was already just one step away from going all the way to sexual intercourse, but all of these girls were Christians and although they might have been feeling the same call of puberty that we were, there would be no more than an acknowledgement that we were girlfriend and boyfriend. We played all together, swam in the same lake and stole an occasional peck, when we thought that no one was looking, but that was it and funny as this may sound I was happy with it.
We did bring our girlfriends some rings as gifts one year and in an elaborate ring giving back ceremony the girls were asked at breakfast one morning in front of the whole camp to give them back to the boys that they had gotten them from and they did. Everyone laughed and life at Camp Livingstone went on none the worst for having had the ceremony.
All of this came rushing back to me as I pulled into the Camp Livingstone for the first time in over forty years. I have had a pretty rough life since my last time there. I had fallen back into the ways of the street and had become a pretty crazy guy. Drugs, alcohol, senseless violence, had plagued my life, but through it all I always had a nagging desire to revisit my old camp where I had learned about Christianity and Christians and learned that only their belief in God and their following of God’s ways made them different from me, but that it had seemed a good difference was always what attracted me to them. So as I walked up those stairs and I met the new director I realized what an impact this camp had made in my life and how the lessons I had learned here were never forgotten and I smiled to myself. God certainly did move in mysterious ways.
I asked if I could take some pictures for my memories and was taken around the camp by a lovely young lady named Tiffany. Tiffany used to be a camper, now is a worker and hopefully she will return as a councilor. Tiffany was an excellent guide and although the camp is larger and sports a few things that were not there while I was camper, the sounds of children and adults singing christian songs from inside the chapel told me that Camp Livingstone’s, Christian strengthening traditions were still in practice and that children from all walks of life with all of their different stories to tell were getting the same benefit of hearing the word of God and learning what it is to be a Christian, as I did.
I would just like to say thank you to the director of the camp for allowing me the chance to visit my old camp. Thank you Brian, you will never know what allowing me to walk through my old camp grounds has done for me, as this was where I first connected with God and took the Lord as my saviour. It is said that when you are down and out that the Lord will sometimes be all that you have left. I can say that this is true and the Lord never let go of me and always managed to put someone in my life to try and help me back on the path of righteousness. The Lord never turned his back on me and finally when I was willing to accept his gift, gave me the person I am with now; the person so helpful in turning my life around. Returning to Camp Livingstone made me feel proud and secure in these troubled times that there are still good people like you and your wife showing children that Christians are people too.
A special thanks and shout out to Tiffany for her patience and listening to all of my old stories of Camp Livingstone when I was a camper. Tiffany you are a shining light and a beacon straight to the Lord and exemplify what Camp Livingstone is all about. Retrieving that gimp bracelet may have been a small thing, but in the eyes of God it was such a beautiful thing and made your friend so happy. It reminded me that living like a Christian should, is all of those small things that non Christians forget to do. I do hope you give being a councilor a lot of consideration it could be so good for you and I am sure in my heart that it would be good for the children.
I used to think that Christians did not play tough sports, or have girlfriends and only hung out at church, or Sunday school, but I learned at this camp that this was not true. I used to think that Christians did not have sex and did not dance, or have any fun, but I learned that this was also not true. They did all of the above but they did them all according to their faith and by the laws of their God. They were a pretty tough gang these Christians and they stuck together better than any street gang that I was familiar with. I learned to respect them and I wanted to be like them and so one night sitting around the camp fire I confessed my sins and asked the Lord to be my saviour.
As I said before I lost my way several times, but always the memories of Camp Livingston with the grown ups that did not scream, or hit, the children that played fair and the promise that once you were the Lords he would never turn you away, or turn his back on you no matter what as long as you asked his forgiveness. These things stayed with me and made me feel that I was missing something important. Like I was always eating something, but could never get full and this hunger kept drawing me back to the path that led to him.
Thank you both so much and may God bless you and keep you all the days of your lives.