From Petra School in Bulawayo September 2017

The Aslan Camp

After the Aslan Camp is over, people kindly ask me whether it was a success or not, and I am never sure how to answer.

On the one hand, my efforts over the last year to persuade the group of four teenage boy leaders in their last year of school, who caused me great anxiety last year, to embrace the values and ethos of the camp were not successful, and they caused me more anxiety again this year. But the other twelve leaders, girls and younger boys, were totally reliable.

On the other hand, at the end of camp almost all the children loudly demanded that next year’s camp should be lengthened from 12 days to 2 or 3 weeks. Sadly, I think their parents would not easily be persuaded to support that, but it does show how much the children loved the camp and enjoyed all its activities.

Henri Nouwen wisely says that we should ask, not about success, but about fruitfulness:

“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.”

There is no doubt whatsoever that the camp was fruitful, and was marked by intimacy and joy.

There was fruitfulness in the changed lives that we saw, relationship difficulties overcome, and a great openness to the work of God in the children’s lives. One evening, a boy on his first camp, a typical rugby-mad boy with no religious background, surprised us all by praying quite openly and spontaneously, “Thank you, God, for welcoming me into your family on this camp.” His questions about what Christians believe and how they live never stopped coming, and he is quite certain that he has made a new beginning in his life.

We saw intimacy simply in the fact that this very diverse community in terms of age, race and culture, and both boys and girls, enjoyed enormously being together for 12 days. The children were very open about their anxieties and problems, and remarkably committed to helping and supporting each other.

Exuberant joy marked the camp from the first day to the last. In contrast to last year’s camp, when there were many tears and sharing of pain through family background, this year’s camp was defined throughout by laughter and fun. The only sadness came at the end, when the children who were on their last year of camp were quite tearful about leaving, and begged me to have them back as leaders in two or three years’ time.

As always, the best memories of camp are not of what was planned, but of what was completely unexpected.

One evening a bush pig (wild, but used to humans) arrived and was intrigued by the game that the children were playing with a soccer ball. Finally, she could resist temptation no longer, dashed onto the field, and skilfully dribbled the ball with her nose as she headed with it off into the bush.

One afternoon I was dozing in the sunshine by a dam while the children were sailing their home-made rafts across, when I was awoken by loud shouts of “We need a hug!” I saw a group of children, emerging from the muddy waters of the dam smelly, filthy and soaked, with malicious glee on their faces racing across to enfold me in a cold and clammy embrace.

A boy, who at school is solitary and miserable, had a beaming smile of sheer delight on his face every moment during this camp, and showed his real character of mischievous fun.

Thank you for your prayers and support. They made the fruitfulness, intimacy and joy of this camp a reality.

Chris Hingley