Every day last week when I picked Leo up from Bible camp, he was ready with a bag of stuff he had collected.
And every day as I made a huge fuss over his craft, I spoke loudly enough for the volunteers standing nearby.
“Isn’t this beautiful!” I’d say, as the glue oozed onto my fingers. “And you made this yourself?”
“No, Mama,” said Leo. “I did some of it, but other people helped me.”
Of course they did. I know how Bible camp works.
The children have a fantastic time, playing, learning, singing, making crafts, and eating snacks. And the parents can’t believe their good fortune, dropping children off for a few hours of religious educational fun for some meager fee.
My older sister Shaileen, who founded the camp, helps a camper with a craft.
Then there are the camp coordinators and volunteers. They enjoy themselves too, but they have much more pressure on them to make sure the children leave holding a recognizable craft that at least vaguely reflects the Bible story.
You see, from 1989-1994 I helped with the St. Pius X Bible Camp, which my sister Shaileen founded. So I know how much goes on behind the scenes.
A child colors quietly at his desk. I feel this photo must have been staged.
Every year during the two weeks of the camp we didn’t sleep much. Our arms ached from carrying gallons of apple juice—and, if memory serves, even a wooden slide—to the school, and we were hoarse from singing every verse of “There Were Three Jolly Fishermen,” “Rise and Shine,” and “If I Were a Butterfly.”
Gathering for snack by the St. Pius X statue
The most tedious part was the craft prep work, which kept us up late every night. This was in the days before Pinterest and Oriental Trading. We designed and prepared everything ourselves.
We punched holes in construction paper to collect enough colored circles so the children could throw together sandwich-bag “confetti fish.”
We wrapped paper around toilet paper rolls and cut out horse heads so the children could color for three seconds, add a few dabs of glue, and call it a St. Paul-related craft.
We cut paper grocery bags and squares of wallpaper so each child could create a coat of many colors and then march in a parade.
The parade of multicolored coats comes down the St. Pius X steps. My sister Treasa is in the center with the dark hair.
Every night we plowed through a new form of torture, getting giddier as dawn drew closer.
Every year we said it was the last year. Then in the spring we would jump headfirst into the whole experience again. Each year one of my sisters also designed a new shirt for all the campers. One shirt said, “Ask me about the ark.” It was cute, but we all dreaded getting the question when we wore the shirt in public.
Still, it must have been fun to be a camper. My sister Treasa, who happily started as a 6-year-old camel and graduated as a 9-year-old penguin, recalls Bible camp with glasses that could have been rose-colored by St. Therese herself. When Treasa tells the story of the day the gallon of apple juice spilled all over a classroom floor, she laughs. I wasn’t laughing as I ran for a fifth roll of paper towels.
Preparing to dance the Horah
Don’t get me wrong. The volunteers enjoyed it, too. Working with the children was such fun. Some of my friends tell me that their knowledge of the Bible is based on what they learned while helping at that camp. And, though the thought of eating fish-shaped crackers still makes me queasy, most of my memories are great ones.
There were the endless games of “hot fish” and the time we taught the children to dance the Horah.
There was the child who asked about the “wok” David threw at Goliath.
And I am often reminded of the day one of our volunteers came running to tell me that one of the children had just eaten most of a bottle of glue.
“What’s the matter?” I said. “It’s non-toxic, right?”
My oldest sister, Maureen, seems to be teaching Latin here.
When we registered Leo for Bible camp and he received a CD of songs in the mail, I realized Bible camp has evolved. One day he told me they had learned about Moses changing his staff to a snake—and the snack was gummy worms and pretzel sticks dipped in frosting. I have to admit that I was impressed.
Maybe it would be fun to help with a Bible camp again, I thought.
And then I remembered the confetti fish.
It must be great to be a Bible camp volunteer. And it has to be even better to be a camper. But as sure as Noah knew God wanted him to build an ark, I’m positive I’ve finally landed the best role there is: the parent.
A not-at-all posed photo of me with my adorable baby sister, Treasa, who must have been 6 or 7 here.
The photos are courtesy of my parents, Richard and Mary Rita Beyer.
Whether you were a camper or a volunteer, what are your memories from your Bible camp experience?