On the first journey, it was clear early on that the stories and the people I was meeting were pointing to a focal scripture that Jesus called the greatest commandment. That scripture became my watchword as I traveled and is the subject of the book, Pocket Full of Quarters.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. KJV
This Pocket Full of Quarters journey has already taken on a focus on what is commonly known as “The Great Commission.” The people I’m meeting are either living it or in need of being around those who are. While I was staying at the KOA in Williamsburg, Virginia, I met a KOA owner and group of young people who were living examples of people who have taken their commissions seriously.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." KJV
Hapless was thirsty and in need of propane gas. I don’t know much about propane, but I knew that someone had to fill the tank for me. I parked Hapless next to their propane tank and went to the office in search of help. “Do you fill propane tanks?” I asked the two women sitting at the register in the office.
They nodded. One of them turned to a man and asked, “Can you do this?” He nodded and I followed him back outside.
It turned out I was getting the expert since Gary was the owner of both this KOA and the one next door. When he found out about the Pocket Full of Quarters journey, he said, “You need to talk with Ben. Ben is the Director of a summer program called Summershine.”
“Is it a Christian program?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “I think maybe the Baptists sponsor it but I’m not sure. These Christian college students come here to work for the summer. They lead children’s activities and a worship service here.” He stopped to look around. “I don’t see Ben’s truck but if you drive around the campground, you’ll find him somewhere. Stop him and ask him about Summershine.”
People often offer someone else I need to talk with. I appreciate their suggestions but it always reminds me of the time a shabby looking street corner evangelist stopped my mother-in-law and asked, “Are you saved?”
My mother-in-law, Barbara, became a Christian at age 16 but has avoided church and religious discussions ever since. She immediately pointed to me and said, “Go talk to her. She knows the answers to this stuff.” The eager evangelist turned and I assured him I was saved. In the meantime, Barbara disappeared.
Now that I thought about it, I looked as shabby as that street corner evangelist did. Unlike the easily redirected evangelist, I always ask a direct follow up question. “If you have a program like this at your camp, does that mean you’re a Christian?”
Without looking up from Hapless’ propane tank, Gary answered, “Yes, I got saved about 10 years ago. Since then, my whole life has turned around. It’s like I know what to do next. I ask God and he shows me the way. He showed me how to get my daughter into the college she wanted and helped me buy the campground next door.”
“How did you become a Christian? Did someone lead you to Christ? ”
“My wife. She just kept at it until I gave in.”
As Gary and I parted, I asked, “May I write about this conversation?”
“Sure, but I’m not the story, Summershine is,” he reminded me.
I drove down to the pool area to take pictures and to see if I could find Ben. I saw Gary again busily working. “Are you always this busy?” I asked, amazed that he had gotten there so fast.
“Always,” was his cheerful answer. About that time, a truck drove by with a group of laughing young people in the back, all wearing matching yellow shirts. Gary stopped them. “Ben, this lady is a Christian writer and she wants to know about the Summershine program. Can you talk to her?”
“Sure,” the yellow shirted driver smiled engagingly. “Let me drop them off and I’ll be back in 1 minute.”
I sat outside enjoying the summer day, gazing at the colorful flowers surrounding the pool area. As Ben walked up, he asked, “Do you want to sit out here or would you rather go in the office?”
I answered, “Given the choice, I always stay outside. It’s hot so if you want to go in, I’ll understand.”
“No, this is great."
The nametag he was wearing on the bright yellow shirt said “Summershiner” above his name. “So you’re a Summershiner?” I asked. “Tell me what that means.”
Ben’s beautiful eyes glowed as he talked about the Summershine program. Summershine is a Christian program started and managed by Rev. Chris Thore, over 22 years ago. They supply Christian summer workers to interested KOA campgrounds. So far, they’ve filled 4 KOA campgrounds across the country with Christian college students looking for summer work. These college age Summershiners work a 40-hour week cleaning toilets, collecting trash, and doing anything that needs to be done on a campground. The campground pays them minimum wage and gives them a place to live. In their free time, they offer activities for children, participate in a Summershiner Tuesday night Bible Study, and lead a Sunday morning Worship Service for campers. On Wednesday nights, they put on a skit for campers and always end it with a Christian message. “Occasionally people complain about us talking directly about Christ but the camp newsletter lets them know Summershine is a Christian program so they’ve been warned.”
“If everyone is always happy with what we do, we’re probably not a very effective Christian,” I mused.
While the children’s activities are not overtly Christian, these Summershiners are trained in how to be a subtle witness for Christ while doing games and art projects. “We try to work the Christian message in everything we do,” Ben remarked enthusiastically. “The program works out well for everyone. The campground gets a group of honest hardworking young people. The young people get a summer learning how to be servants for God. They learn humility through the type of work they do. They learn how to represent Christ in all they do. There’s 17 of us here this summer.”
“They are learning how to fulfill the Great Commission,” I said in wonder. “This is a lesson these young people will carry with them for their entire life.”
Ben agreed. “Chris Thore will tell you that is the biggest reason he started this program. It may help campers but it is training young people to live for Christ.”
“What about you Ben? How long have you done this?”
“I worked here as a worker last summer. This year, I’m the Director. I graduate from college this year so this may be my last summer.”
“What’s next for you? You obviously love working for Christ. Have you thought about ministry?”
“I’ve thought about it but I haven’t gotten a call from God. I think I can be more effective for God in the secular world. I like the challenge of working the message of Christ into everyday work. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. My degree is in History so I may try to teach or I may keep going to school.”
“I’ll bet your parents wish you would figure it out,” I teased.
“You’re right about that.”
“God will tell you what to do if you take the time to listen to Him. Tell me about your personal walk with God. Do you go to church? Do you spend time every day praying, meditating, and reading the Bible?”
“I’m active in church when I’m not here. Here, we work on Sunday and have a worship service at the campground. I pray and read my Bible most days but not as much as I should. I haven’t done much meditating. I can’t sit still very long.”
“I often hear that,” I said. “It’s usually from people who admit they have trouble hearing the voice of God. For me, prayer is active talking to God and meditating is quiet listening. I’m not talking about chanting or anything. Meditation is a word modern Christians are afraid to use because we’ve come to associate it with Eastern religions but it is clearly in the Bible so I claim it. If you want to hear God about what to do next, you might try meditation. Find a simple scripture, focus your mind on it, get quiet, and start with being still for 2 to 3 minutes. You can do it for that long. You will be amazed at the results.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. NASU
It was time to end the conversation. Most people don’t like the sun as much as I do and Ben was wilting. Suddenly, I felt led to pray for Ben. I’ll share my prayer so you can pray for him as well. “May I pray for you?” I asked Ben.
“Certainly,” he replied.
“Father, thank you for Ben and his witness to the world. Thank you for how he is mentoring the other Summershiners this summer. Bless his ministry in this campground. I know You have wonderful plans for him, plans to prosper him and use him. Show him those plans. Help him in his walk with You to be disciplined and listen to Your voice. Bless and use this life.”
After we finished praying, Ben asked, “Would you like me to show you where we live?”
“I’ve taken up so much of your time. I don’t want to keep you from your work.”
“This is my free time. I’ve got all the time in the word. The boys live in cabins. I love telling people that the girls live in the tool shed.” He took me on a tour through the campground. Sure enough, the girl’s living quarters were attached to the tool shed.
The thing I noticed about these young people was how beautiful they were. How could they all be beautiful? I wondered. I realized it wasn’t their features or body size I was reacting to. They had the clear eyed, hopeful presence that people have when they are serving the Lord.
Pictures can be found in the Photo Gallery under Virginia – Williamsburg – KOA.