The power of encouragement

A lesson from camp teaches us all the importance of encouraging others.

Jeremiah Wallander

“There is nothing to worry about. This is the safest thing we have here. In fact, it is even safer than playing a game of volleyball.”

Those are my words to about 20 twelve-year-olds as they look up in fear at the 35-foot-high telephone poles they will be challenged to climb. I’m not lying to them; it actually is completely safe. But there are always those kids whose knees knock violently at the thought of being three and a half stories in the air.

I serve as a counselor at Camp Phillip in the summers. This Lutheran treasure is tucked in the backwoods of Wautoma, Wisconsin. I’ve worked with thousands of children from ages 7 to 17, all with different interests, hobbies, and backgrounds. Of course, all of them have their own fears that they find hardest to talk about. Some kids are still trying to figure out who they are, which is normal, but the idea of not knowing where they are going in life frightens them. Some kids have no problem being away from Mom and Dad for six days, but others cry every night because they miss their parents. And while some kids have no problem climbing up a utility pole and taking the “leap of faith,” there definitely are kids who would rather have 17 cavities in their mouth than go anywhere near a high ropes course.

Calvin was one of those kids. He was 12 years old, short for his age, quiet, and got along with all the other kids. He was definitely not the sort who would try to spur on a rebellion against the camp staff. In fact, when I first met him I immediately was thankful to have him in my cabin. He listened well, liked to have fun, was a team player, and really got into all the camp activities. Well, all of them, but one.

We give campers thorough safety instructions at the ropes course before proceeding. Often when campers are nervous climbing, all they need is for you to say, “I believe in you. Just give me one more step!” And before you know it, they’ve finished the course—exhilarated—and are begging to do it again.

But one day, I noticed a lonely harness laying in the grass. It was as if its wearer had been raptured right there on the course. I began to scan around the children, checking who was wearing a harness and who was not.

It was Calvin. I started guessing what his reasoning was for abandoning it. Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he needed some water. Maybe the harness was uncomfortable and he just didn’t want to wear it until he climbed. So I asked. But his answer was not what I expected. “I don’t like heights. I’m not doing this.”

I reminded him how safe it was and encouraged him to see how many other kids were having fun climbing. I wanted him to experience the same fun they were having. He didn’t budge. I talked to him more about different fears I had growing up—things like deep water and bicycles. But Calvin still would not dare to wear the harness.

I went over to my buddy Ross, a fellow camp counselor. We brainstormed strategies that might lead Calvin to give it a try. Ross got down to his level and talked to him about his own fears. No luck. We even offered Calvin extra dessert at supper that night if he’d just give it a try. I’m sure his neck started to strain from how often he was shaking his head no.

Finally, Ross and I regrouped and folded our hands and did what we should’ve done in the first place. We prayed: “Dear Lord, please give Calvin the strength to face his fear and know that he is completely safe and that you are the ultimate protector of everything.”

Before we were done praying, the other campers started to take notice. “Calvin, you gotta give it a shot. It was so much fun!” “Seriously, dude! Best experience of my life!” “It was TOTALLY WICKED!” You know how sixth graders talk to each other. Twenty campers were chanting Calvin’s name, patting him on the back, and cheering for him to face his fear and give it a shot.

How can anyone say no to such healthy peer pressure? Harness secured. Shoes tied. Helmet tight. Ropes set. Good to go. Two steps in, Calvin panicked, regretting his decision, but an uproar of cheering and encouragement arose from the campers. It got louder and louder, and it never stopped.

As Calvin climbed to the top, the cheering only grew louder and even more positive. Calvin overcame his fear and reached the end. He even kissed the final utility pole before we let him down. The grin on his face as he came down was priceless. Some of us refer to this moment as the “miracle on ropes.” Against all odds, a shy kid conquered what seemed in his mind to be unconquerable.

But that was not the biggest thing that got me.

It is a lesson for us all. The whole situation leads me to think of 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” Putting this encouragement into practice is a powerful thing. Calvin’s success is impressive to me, but the encouragement he received from his fellow campers is incredible!

Let me take one more step. Encouragement may not always be the cool thing to do. Oftentimes harsh teasing comes easier than encouraging, especially in a group of preteens, teens, and young adults. I’ve seen kids bully each other to the point of tears over the simplest things, exactly contrary to what God commands us to do. But what I witnessed at the ropes course that afternoon was a prime example of Christian love and encouragement. Who knew that a bunch of teens could teach me so much about love, friendship, support, and encouragement in just one session at camp?

Building one another up—as Christians, we can struggle with this. We become selfish, lazy, rude, and much more that can keep encouragement out of our conversations. Yet God calls us to care for one another, to encourage each other. God calls us to love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). By sending Jesus to save us from hopelessness and death, God gave us the ultimate encouragement. God’s encouragement assures us that we do not need to save ourselves. His plan is perfect, and we are constantly loved. Though the world may scare us and knock us to our knees, God is always there to lift us back up, dust off our shoulders, and say “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

Thank God that our Savior is with us wherever we go—watching over our comings and goings and encouraging us to walk in his truth every step of the way. With thankful hearts, we’ll encourage one another to face every challenge that arises before us—even the challenges that are as tall as telephone poles.

Jeremiah Wallander, a junior at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton, Wisconsin.


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Author: Jeremiah Wallander
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

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