This summer I’ve been serving as a missionary with Life Teen International, a Catholic organisation with a mission to lead teens closer to Christ. I was based at Camp Hidden Lake in the beautiful surroundings of the North Georgia mountains, in the USA.
Being a summer missionary involved a lot of hard work, but through this service and prayer time we received life changing experiences and so many rewards! Through Eucharistic Adoration and the celebration of Mass every day I was given my ‘daily bread’ and the ability to face the joys and difficulties missionary life brings. I took inspiration from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who said ‘Draw your strength simply from your joy in Jesus. Be happy and peaceful. Accept whatever he gives. And give whatever he takes, with a big smile.’
Each Monday around 160 teens arrived at the camp. We gave them a huge ‘Life Teen welcome’ singing and cheering ‘Welcome Home!’ as the coaches came up the drive. It really was our aim to make Hidden Lake a home for the week, where the campers felt free to be themselves, with each other and most importantly with God. Over the 6 weeks I lived at Camp Hidden Lake I realised that, even though where I would call ‘home’ was on the other side of the world; my home is where I’m free to be myself, home is where I’m loved unconditionally, and that is in Jesus Christ.
Every week I was assigned to a small group from a parish, and I would journey with them throughout their retreat in their activities and prayer times. Every day there were opportunities to make the most of our surroundings and the outdoors. Of course lake activities were popular: swimming, canoeing and our amazing inflatable blob! We did high and low ropes courses which bonded the groups, in challenges such as a spider’s web, tyre wall and trust fall. These were always inspiring, seeing how much faith the teens had in each other, and in the Lord! A highlight of the week was always messy games. Although it takes a fair amount of courage to jump into a mud pit, it’s great fun. Camp wouldn’t be the same without getting completely coated in mud and paint!
A lasting memory of camp has to be the Adoration evenings we had with the campers at the end of their week. It’s difficult to describe in words seeing so many teens being so open to the Lord as he passed through the room in the Eucharist. I heard so many stories about how deeply moved the campers were, and can also testify to that power in my own life. The message that spoke so clearly throughout our worship was that we are beloved sons and daughters of a loving Father. The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) contains the line ‘free to worship Him without fear.’ At times in our praise & worship it seemed as though it was just Jesus and I in the room; not worrying about what other people were doing, but me living out this powerful line of scripture, surrendering my will to His.
Being able to look back on the experience as a whole, I see now the way that ‘all was gift’ from God and the amount of effort that we put in was rewarded in abundance. One of the greatest privileges as a summer missionary is being able to pray with the teens on their faith journey. There were so many beautiful moments praying with teens in all situations - whether that’s with the sun setting behind the mountains, sitting next to the lake, right before they encounter Jesus in reconciliation or when they get scared 10 meters up a climbing wall.
Heading down the mountain, and back to university life was strange and a little difficult but I was able to leave behind any fear and anxiety in God’ plan for me and am taking with me a new found trust in His love, knowing that I am His beloved daughter. Praise God that He can change my stony heart and for continuing to draw me closer to Him.
Sophie Benson, Lancaster, 22