Camp in Another Hemisphere
Camp Fowler partners with an Uruguayan summer camp and learns again the importance of community
By Josey Beird
I often hear people describe Camp Fowler as a place where they belong, as a respite from the hustle, as a home away from home. It seems there’s something about summer camp that offers a sense of place and purpose. Camp serves as a retreat that energizes us and sends us back to our lives a little more engaged and a little more hopeful.
Camp Fowler isn’t unique in this, and that’s a wonderful thing. There are a lot of camps, a lot of churches, a lot of people all over the world who are faithfully striving to create this same sense of community for all people, especially for children and young adults. Another such place is Parque XVII de Febrero in Colonia Valdense, Uruguay.
After discovering many similarities in their core values and mission, Camp Fowler and Parque have developed a partnership that allows the two camps to learn from one another and grow together. Affiliated with the Evangelical Waldensian Church in Uruguay and Northern Argentina, Parque provides camp for kids between the ages of six and sixteen under the direction of Blanca Geymonat. They offer children a week during which they don’t have to worry; they can play and rest knowing they are loved by others and by God. I had the privilege to participate in and learn from Parque’s ministry this past January.
Just as people describe Fowler as their “home away from home,” I heard people describe Parque as “el lugar donde la corazón late más fuerte,” or, “the place where your heart beats most strongly.” After spending a month joining them in their ministry, I understand what makes people say this. It’s something that’s difficult to describe, because it’s based on experiences and actions.
You can feel it in the affectionate abrazos (hugs) you receive from each new person you meet. You can hear it as groups of campers run screaming into the river. You can smell it by the mud pit they all run through on the last day of camp. You can taste it in the milanesas (breaded fillets) that all the campers say is their favorite food. You can see it as campers and leaders make yet another circle so everyone can be seen, so everyone can be heard.
It was such a gift to come down to Parque to be reminded of what it feels like to experience camp for the very first time, of what makes camp special, of what makes camp good. And what I realized is that so much of what makes Parque, Parque—and what makes Fowler, Fowler—is the community that these places facilitate, each in their own way.
At Parque, there is a deep, underlying sense that everyone really cares about each other, that they believe the best in each other, that they want people to show up exactly as they are. You don’t have to earn a spot in their community, you just have to show up, and they’ll take you in. They do this because they believe hospitality is biblical. We can only hope that people experience this at Fowler too.
Because at Fowler, we believe that we are first and foremost a community. Before we are a camp, before we are a workplace, before we are a retreat center, before we are a church, we are a community. We have a deep belief that community is a necessary part of the lives we are trying to live as Christians. We want to, need to, and strive to be a community of people that care for one another, love one another, and point one another to Christ. No one gets to just pass through. No one gets to show up and not participate. Because being a community takes investment, and it takes courage. It takes believing that it’s necessary for life abundant.
The beautiful thing is that community doesn’t have to be limited by age or geography or background. It can be found amongst little children halfway across the world, crossing the boundaries of country and language and culture. There is great hope to be found in this: it means we’re not alone.
As Camp Fowler prepares to head into another summer, we’ll be strengthened by this knowledge. When we are weary and discouraged, we will think of our brothers and sisters below the equator, playing and singing and laughing with kids, all for the glory of God. And we’ll smile as we head out to do the same.
Josey Beird is a longtime camper, staff member, and now intern at Camp Fowler.