Background: Embracing my Faith

Edmund, who had been looking more and more uncomfortable for the last few minutes, now spoke.“Look here,” he said, “I hope I’m not a coward–about eating this food, I mean–and I’m sure I don’t mean to be rude.  But we have had a lot of queer adventures on this voyage of ours and things aren’t always what they seem.  When I look in your face I can’t help believing all you say: but then that’s just what might happen with a witch too.  How are we to know you’re a friend?”

“You can’t know,” said the girl.  “You can only believe–or not.”

So goes this conversation from C. S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader after the crew lands on an island with a mysterious feast and three enchanted sleepers before them.  It all looks reasonable enough; and the good news of the island’s only known resident, a beautiful lady, sounds convincing.  But what if it’s all a fib?

Such is how I felt towards my adolescent experience with Christianity.  And like Edmund, I could only believe–or not.

In the summer of 1987 I moved out of my parents’ house for the summer to work at a Christian camp in the Sierras, as a dishwasher.  Each day I’d wake up without the aid of an alarm clock, for I worked the afternoon/evening shift, to wile away the morning hiking or reading or biking or canoeing or kayaking or rockclimbing and then to clean up after six hundred campers and two hundred fifty staffers.  This kitchen, Ponderosa Dining Hall, fed all staff but only the high school camp.  Meadow Ranch Dining Hall, up the camp road a bit, fed another five hundred–three hundred fifty at the middle school camp and another hundred fifty at the primary camp, with food transported to them via the so-called Chuck Wagon.  All in all that was more than thirteen hundred mouths to feed–and to clean up after–each week!  Keep this in mind.  But for now, at the beginning of the summer, each day my crew cleaned up after the lunch for 850 only to do it all over again for dinner.  Awesome, but monotonous!

The monotony turned even awesomer when Meadow Ranch Dining Hall exploded three or four weeks later.  That’s right!  Exploded!  Fortunately it happened at 6:30am on a Sunday, the only morning of the week when no campers were present.  A few people lived their summers in the basement of the dining hall in question, meaning they slept there, but they all woke with the explosion and got themselves to safety, and even most of their belongings.  Amazingly, there were no injuries.  Talk about an event that gets you thinking about ideas like providence!

The bad side of this was that now, for the remaining nine weeks of summer, my dishwashing crew’s workload was now increased by more than fifty percent.  And we all had felt taxed before!  Now we rarely escaped each evening before 11pm.

But we got Saturdays off, guaranteed.  For me this meant exploring the mountains, hiking in nearby Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks or swimming in the King River and its tributaries.  Once a friend even lent me his motorcycle, a Honda Goldwing.  This was before helmet laws.  Conveniently enough I found a willing passenger, a certain Jennifer from Solvang, and we rode to Road’s End and consumed Dove Bars on the bank of the chilly watercourse.  That was a good day!

As the summer wore on a couple opportunities surfaced.  One was that I was offered and accepted the job to be “Chuck,” the driver of the chuck wagon, the vehicle that delivered meals to the junior camp, a. k. a. Wagon Train.  This meant no more morning hikes etc., since I’d deliver three meals a day, and so that was the “tails” side of the coin; but the “heads” was that I got to hang with the Wagon Train staff three times a day, the coolest people on the mountain as far as I was concerned.

And this led to the other, an opportunity to be a camp counselor for a week at Wagon Train.  For a week then, from Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning, I was with nine boys, ages 8 to 11, 24/7 as they say.  On the one hand I was scared to death.  Who was I to lead these kids through a week?  Who was I to laugh with them; to encourage them when homesickness struck, and it did; to be a spiritual leader to them?  On the other hand it proved to be the most rewarding experience I’d ever known.

So my summer camp experience sank in deep.  Challenges had presented themselves but I found strength to overcome them.  Leaders had taken a vested interest in my growth, even taken risks by increasing my responsibilities.  Christ had become real to me, taking on the flesh and bones of those I worked alongside day in and day out.  That summer, I embraced my faith.  I believed.

I returned home genuinely changed.  No more would I piddle around with school, taking the bare minimum to receive the perks of a full-time student while working enough to buy a hot car.  Now things seemed clearer to me.  It was a season, sure.  But now was the time to finish school, earn my bachelor’s degree.  Desires for cars, motorcycles, living in the mountains–these could wait.  Now was the time to man up!

Soon I transferred my studies to UC Davis, enrolling as a math major–taking calculus for a second time had given me enough of a taste of mathematical success I suppose.  The summers in between I continued to work at the summer camp, one as a counselor and the rest on program staff with Wagon Train.  Somewhere in here I was baptized at First Baptist Church, Davis.  Through it all my appetite for work in the Gospel ministry was being whetted.

Counseling staff meeting, 1989.  I'm sitting on the floor, just left of center, with my hand on my hip.

Counseling staff meeting, 1989. I’m sitting on the floor, just left of center, with my hand on my hip.

1989 counseling staff, dressed for the occasion.  I'm in the back row, second from left.

1989 counseling staff, dressed for the occasion. I’m in the back row, second from left.

1990 Wagon Train staff.  I'm on left.

1990 Wagon Train staff. I’m on left.

1991.  Check out the guy in the parachute pants and t-shirt.

1991. Check out the guy in the parachute pants and t-shirt.

1992.  I'm on left.

1992. I’m on left.

1992.  I'm in the middle.

1992. I’m in the middle.

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