One of the hardest things for me in taking part in the Glenwood Camp has been listening to the kids tear one another down with hurtful, hard words. It seems that five minutes can’t pass without someone calling another a name or making a comment about their hair or clothes. It’s especially hard to see two older brothers mock and degrade their younger brothers. We tried to address the issue with a devotional one day on a hike, but within minutes of ending, the biting words began again.
A light clicked on for me during small group, though, later that day. One of the passages we were looking at was Galatians 5:21-23, the fruits of the Spirit. I asked the boys in my group of they would rather be around someone who was loving, joyful, kind, etc. or someone who was hurtful and negative. One of them spoke up and said, “I’m always around mean, negative people, so that’s who I end up wanting to be around.” He went on to say, “When someone is nice and kind, I don’t really know what to do. I don’t really like it. It’s not natural for me, and I don’t trust them. It’s just weird, and I don’t want to be around them as much.”
I realized that for many of our campers, words of affirmation, hope, love, and kindness are so rare that they almost literally don’t understand them. It is almost as though we are speaking two different languages. Theirs is a language where status is maintained or achieved by tearing others down, a language where teasing and mean words are the norm, the way of relating, and where words of kindness are a sign of weakness. To expect kind words from mouths that are so unfamiliar with speaking them and ears that are so unfamiliar with hearing them doesn’t make a lot of sense, like plunking me down in the middle of China and expecting me to speak Mandarin with ease in just a few minutes time.
But my attitude at camp has been, “Quit saying these things. Quit hurting each other. Stop doing bad things.” This approach won’t work. An external solution to an internal problem is, in the words of Jesus, putting a new patch on an old garment. And so my role now, perhaps, is to speak my native tongue, the language of love, and see if immersion in that will begin to teach the kids a new way of speaking. I have hope that one day these kids will receive a new way of speaking as their hearts are captured by Jesus Christ.