(This is long and I might be rambling, but I had a long week and lots of thoughts!)
The Happiest Place on Earth. Where exactly is this place? Thousands of people might say Disney World, others a warm sandy beach with a cool ocean breeze, a foreign country rich in history and architecture, or even their own front porch, but all of these people have missed the mark. This place isn’t anywhere near your typical vacation location or tourist hot spot; in fact, most of the tourists you’ll find nearby are members of AARP- cashing in their senior citizen discount at ever dinner buffet and country sing along on the strip.
High-pitched laugher, squeals of joy, and shouts of excitement make up the soundtrack at one of the most magical places in the country. Nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, K-Kountry had claimed the title of “The Happiest Place on Earth” for children, adults, and college students from across the US. From waterslides that wind through the trees to canoe trips that end at Kanakuk’s own “Hard Rock Café” every day at the Kountryside is one to remember. But kamp is about more than just making memories; it is about moments of wonder.
What exactly is a moment of wonder? A moment of wonder is more than a memory, it is a moment that resonates for years in our hearts, leaving a lasting impression on our lives and ultimately inspiring us to walk more like Christ.
Last week I spent seven days at K-Kountry for Staff Training Week, a time dedicated to preparing and equipping college students to invest in the lives of hundreds of children. Our goal is to create moments of wonder for kampers, not just memories While we were readying the Kountryside to welcome parents and kids, we took a day off from kamp work and drove to Joplin, Missouri to aid in storm relief.
After seeing the incredible damage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I had some idea of what to expect when we arrived. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such devastation in one town and I would have never expected to find a moment of wonder in such a beaten and torn down community.
When we entered the area where the storm touched down just a week earlier you could see for miles with no trees, buildings, or signs to obstruct view. Everything was demolished. Homes, businesses, schools, and cars were all twisted beyond recognition and wrecked beyond repair. Families lost more than their homes; they lost family photos, clothing, furniture, and things that can never be replaced.
We went to Joplin to work with Samaritan’s Purse and show the love of Christ through service. Our teams went to homes around the affected area to clear debris, rake leaves, and love on the families who lost almost everything. One of the families we worked with were in the ministry. They were living in Lake Charles, LA when Katrina hit the coast. After recovering from the hurricane they moved to Joplin to avoid hurricanes, they had no idea that they would soon be faced with one of the most devastating storms to ever hit the mid west. We helped them clean up their yard and clean off their house (which had very little structural damage), they had been so concerned with helping others whose needs were greater than theirs that they hadn’t taken any time to remove the debris and downed trees from their own property. They were overcome with emotion when we left and even called us their “Blue Angels” (we were wearing blue shirts). Who knew that filling a few trash bags with leaves and sticks could mean so much to a family?
Talk about a moment of wonder. This family challenged me in a whole new way. Rather than just live an easy life and let generous people like Franklin Graham organize help for me when I’m in need, I should put others needs first, showing them the love of Jesus. When times are tough and people are asking why, we, as Christians have the opportunity to be salt and light to the world. We should take every opportunity to be the body of Christ, to set an example for those around us and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. I wish we could have worked later into that afternoon or the next day, but I know that in the few hours we spent there we were all changed forever.
While we were cleaning up houses and yards a few exciting things happened. We went to one house—located on Mississippi Street of all places—and helped a lady named Sissy clean up her yard. Long story short, Sissy and her husband both graduated from Ole Miss undergrad and her husband and son went to Ole Miss Law School! Small world, right? Well, it gets better. Sissy was also a Delta Gamma! Super cheesy, I know, but what are the odds that we would end up in the yard of an Alpha Psi? I think slim to none. Some teams also worked with Kamp families who were hit by the storm. At one house, Rachel presented the family with scholarships for all three of their children to attend the 1st term at K-Kountry! They even provided trunks and gift cards to fill the trunks with kamp necessities! Hearing about the excitement of the kids and their family makes me tear up. These kids have something fun to look forward to and something to take their mind off the storm! They get to spend two full weeks at The Happiest Place on Earth
Cleaning up yards and hauling limbs to the road was such a humbling experience. I knew that when I got back on the bus I would ride away from the darkness and destruction in Joplin, but the families there have months and years of rebuilding and recovery ahead of them. I knew that I had a warm bed, clean bathtub, and plenty of freshly washed clothes waiting on me at home; these people had nothing. We went to Joplin to serve these people, but they taught us so much in return. Most of the families we met were thankful to be alive, and were anxious to help the other families around them. But the sense of community was overwhelming. People wanted to love other people, putting others needs ahead of their own.
The rest of my week at K-Kountry was spent pulling weeds, painting basketball courts, and sewing curtains—I know, totally housewife preparation. We had a K-Kountry Hoe Down and learned real square dancing from real live square dancers. It wasn’t quite the dancing we do in Oxford, but it was fun nonetheless. We also made a trip to the original Lamberts for some chicken fried steak and throwed rolls. A few of us went next door to K-Kaui to give blood, the diet coke and cookies were our motivation and it was totally worth it. Of course, we had playbook sessions to learn the rules and activities training where we learned how to run the zipline, teach archery, and how to blob. The week flew by as we ran around kamp fixing things and sprucing everything up for the kampers. I cried when Sydney and I finally left and I’m so sad I won’t be back for six weeks. But I know the Lord is working in the hearts of the 244 kids who arrived on Saturday! I cannot wait to hear the incredible stories of changed lives when I get back to the Kountryside.
For the next six weeks I’ll be keeping a sweet little nine year old. I’m sure Peyton and I will have some great adventures before I head back to Branson!