COLUMBIA — In the hot summer of 1984 as a Greenville College student, I completed my social work internship at the beautiful and bountiful Camp Wonderland in Camp Lake, Wis.
I was a camp counselor helping inner-city kids experience the outdoor life and God’s nature. Clearly this was something different, exciting and an enormous challenge, as these kids were only exposed to tall brick project buildings of Chicago. These urban kids needed counseling from a Godly perspective to what were acceptable behavior and the importance of getting along with their cabinmates, while learning more about the acceptance of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” — John 13:20. Our "Wonderful Counselor" advises us to accept and love one another, but we must accept Him into our lives, then his forgiveness and salvation will have the potential for impacting those throughout our communities.
God wants us to accept others with unconditional love, and the youth I worked with that summer surely needed to know that they were accepted by our loving Lord Jesus Christ. Many of these kids had anger issues and seemed to always want to fight one another. I said to God in a prayer one frustrated morning, “Lord, help me to give to these kids from an authentic heart. My campers need love, and I need to give it through the love you shared by sacrificing your only Son Jesus Christ.” I prayed, "Lord, I want to fill their little angry souls with the spiritual sustenance that they dreadfully need to overcome the trials of life.”
One night I told the kids around the camp fire, “No matter what I say, what I believe and what I do, I’m penniless and spiritually broke without showing you God’s love." I think that a key factor of Jesus’ command is to be an anointed adviser. We must show His love even to those who appear to be unlovable and misunderstood. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love." Christ goes on to say, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” — John 15: 9-10, 12.
These urban kids needed to be loved and shown compassion and be offered an ear to hear the problems they encounter within themselves at home and during their camping experience. "For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones." — Isaiah 49:13b. God does not squander any life circumstances, so I was in a position to encourage kids in my cabin to look to Christ our Wonderful Counselor who had the spiritual means to provide wise counseling. These kids suffer socially, spiritually, psychologically, and in some cases physically. My campers were misdirected kids and had experienced these forms of anguish every single day of their lives. They needed be introduced to the Wonderful Counselor. Home for all the kids was the Chicago Housing Authority Project where more than 8,000 low-income people lived together nearly on top of each other in these tall 20-story buildings.
Life was strict and irregular for many of my campers, so acts of kindness were far and few between in their home. However, in the mist of all the blight and hardship, kids were able to go on vacation at Camp Wonderland with hope to meet God our Wonderful Counselor. The Bible says, “God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea storm and earthquake.”
On another night at camp during that summer, I prayed, “Lord, I know my campers have fears that I will never understand, but give me a comforting word to share with them. Place in my heart and life here at Camp Wonderland an unwavering faith in you for my kids to see in me.”
I said, “Lord, I want to be fearless in all that I do for my kids to better help them overcome the fear that they will soon return to in the projects of Chicago.”
God calls us to be His counselor to the lost and hurting, sharing with them what God gave to the world, “Jesus Christ.”
In today’s society, peer pressure and the influence of media play a vital role in some of the behaviors people display. Should we listen to our friends and the other media outlets or listen to God? Well, for me hearing from God is essential to my spiritual growth. God has an ear to hear what we are going through, and He already is aware of the things that cause us stress and discomfort. Our Wonderful Counselor has to say to us, “Stop talking and start listening to me.” In Deuteronomy 30:20a it says, “… That you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
Counseling is not about talking, but it centers on listening to the heart of people. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down or cut them out. Remember the Lord gives us a chance to speak, then He answers us through the Holy Spirit. My kids at Camp Wonderland just needed someone to listen to them and know they could express their feelings without being judged. There is only one true judge, God the Father, and He is always fair and honorable listening to the whole story and then providing spiritual counseling. I wanted my camp kids to know that so badly that many times I found myself crying because they just wouldn’t get it. Jesus said, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” — John 14:25-26.
Therefore, I encourage you to seek out the Wonderful Counselor as He has an ear to hear all of your joys, troubles and pains of life. As we look to help others during this holiday season, let's lead them to the Heavenly Counselor who has the everlasting power to hear the cries of our heart and life.
Major K. Kendall Mathews is the regional coordinator for The Salvation Army.