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Camp Changes Everything: Even for a First-Time Camper

By Pastor Jennifer Shirmota Krushas
Emmanuel Lutheran Church, High Point, NC

That summer Sunday afternoon when I was signing Thurjang in with his counselor, I explained that he had never been to camp and was feeling pretty nervous. Thurjang is a great kid with a huge heart, but he sometimes has a hard time in large groups, and he doesn’t always make friends quickly. His counselor assured me he’d look out for him.

When the week was over, I parked the church van near the cabin area, found his counselor and said, “I’m here to pick up Thurjang.” His counselor looked confused, and for a minute I thought I was in the wrong place. Then, he asked, “Oh, do you mean T.J.?” I said, “No, Thurjang.” He called over to a group of kids near a cabin and said, “T.J., your pastor is here to get you!” Thurjang looked over and saw me, grabbed his things, and started toward us.

As we loaded his things in the back of the van, I asked him if it was okay that they called him T.J. Having an uncommon name sometimes means people give you a nickname because they are not willing to fit your name on their tongue. This remarkable son of Sudanese immigrants has to fit into other people’s expectations often enough; I hoped camp was not one of those places. He looked at me and said, “I like T.J. a lot. I want to be T.J. at school and at church, too. People here are nice, and nobody makes fun of anybody.”

The rest of the kids loaded up their things and hopped in the van, and as we drove away, I realized Thurjang had been given a new name. T.J. was a baptismal name for him. I suppose the kids in his cabin have no idea that their kindness, joy, laughter, vulnerability, and welcome were washing away a certain kind of loneliness and replacing it with a sense of belonging.