I was 13 years old and in the second year of High School. A girl I had met in Art class asked me if I would like to go to a holiday camp with her during our Autumn break. I HATED camps. I had no idea why, but I wanted to go on this one. Those two weeks in May literally changed my life.
We had to travel to Christmas Creek in the Lamington Plateau on the Queensland border. On the bus there was a group of girls who were mucking around and having fun. But they didn’t seem like the usual types of girls I had known at school. They were kind and joyful and there was something else. They didn’t do the usual teenage thing with strangers. They didn’t dismiss you with their self-absorption. There was an unspoken acceptance in their faces, there was a glimpse of something preternatural, yet completely compelling. A doorway to heaven opened that day. Light streamed through that opening and hit my deepest soul and I felt as though I had come home.
There were about 7 or 8 other girls in our cabin. The first day they were all lively and chattering together as well as asking me questions out of genuine interest. I wouldn’t even tell them my name. I just told them I was ‘Shelley’s friend’. They were confused but they didn’t badger me. When I was ill, the camp leaders showed compassion and concern and gave me advice and comfort. I was so unfamiliar with this that I didn’t really know what to do with it. Even Bible studies, which were a mystery to me, were fun with these people. They were not trying to play one person off against another, they weren’t trying to embarrass anybody who didn’t know the answers, there was absolutely no sarcasm.
I was totally engaged. And for a kid who had grown up feeling totally isolated, this was a huge change. Something was going on. I had no time to think about it, all I knew was that the two weeks flew by.
Later, when Shelley asked if I wanted to pray and ask Jesus into my heart, I knew I wanted what these girls had. I needed some time to feel ready to do what I needed to do, but one night in the second week of the camp, Shelley and I had agreed we would pray together and I would ask Jesus to come and be my Saviour and Lord. We had planned to get up in the middle of the night and pray together. Why then? It made it more exciting I suppose. We were teenagers. What can I say? Except Shelley refused to wake up. I didn’t want to wake up the others in the cabin, so I simply prayed my own prayer and tried to remember the words that Shelley had used. I knew what I was praying, even if I didn’t have a full grasp of everything that it involved. Jesus became the central point around which my life revolved.
Those two weeks introduced me to the body of Christ and the joy of living that we were meant to have as God’s own children. When they told me I had to share my faith with my family my heart fell. Nobody talked about religion at home except for my oldest sister who had been immersed in the religious teachings of a cult leader in America. There was constant friction every time the subject of God came up. Nobody wanted another religious convert in the family. I hardly knew what to say to them.
All I know is that I tried to explain what had happened to me. I remember crying when my mother made it clear she wanted nothing to do with it. It was a hard thing for a 13-year-old to face but it didn’t change my faith. I had signed up for a free mail-out of Scripture Union booklets with a year’s worth of bible readings and commentary. They were called ‘Daily Bread’. Many Christians have used those resources over the years, but for me, they were an oasis in the desert. I think it was what kept me going during that time. I wasn’t able to get to church except on the odd occasion somebody was willing to drive me there.
Strangely, Shelley fell away. The last time I talked to her was just after I got married. I phoned her up, and she wanted nothing to do with me. No explanation, just angry denunciations and demands that I go and relate to my church friends. We had spent many years after we left school just going to the movies or having coffee together. I will never know what happened to her, but I get a sense she just got too involved in the world and left her former faith behind as though it was a piece of clothing that no longer fitted. Contacting her probably just reminded her of who she had been and it was too much for her to cope with. My prayer is that she finds her way back before it’s too late.
I was baptised when I was 19, but not after having faced months of panic attacks and the recognition that I needed more than just bible studies to thrive as a Christian. But that is another story.