By Ryan Brown, UGM Youth Outreach Director
On any given Wednesday during the summer, while traveling over the Spokane River just south of Ford, Washington, looking to the west, you might notice an unusual sight.
Dozens of small yellow and orange circles carrying happy little faces splashing and laughing as they traverse the stretch of river that fronts the Union Gospel Mission Camp. You will be witnessing what has traditionally become camp river float day.
But in reality, you will be witnessing so much more.
In fact, floating a river in an inner tube draws several parallels with many of the 500 lives that make this journey each summer:
A river is unpredictable. While the water in a river might all flow in the same direction, it is still filled with currents, obstacles and unexpected twists and turns, many of which lie just beneath the surface or right around the corner. While at first glance things might seem smooth and serene, once in the water, you realize there’s more than meets the eye. Likewise, many of these kids’ lives are filled with the unpredictable currents of poverty, obstacles of emotional wounds, hurts and insecurities and of course, the twists and turns of life in a world marked by sin.
Still there is safety. As these kids float, their faces lack worry largely due to the multiple leaders in canoes and boats floating alongside them. They feel safe and many of them forget about the nuances of the river and challenges in their lives. This is a very small picture of what we hope to accomplish through partnering with local churches, UGM Camp staff and members of our community. We want to show kids that no matter where they come from, there are people that care and will walk alongside them to help them feel safe and show them the love of Christ.
The journey has a beginning. The first few moments of the float can be a bit scary. Stepping off the firm foundation of the shore, leaning back into an inner tube and letting the river carry them away are great acts of trust. Campers wonder, will I be okay? and staff assure them, "We’ve got you." For many kids, that first step into the unknown is the first real act of trust they have ever experienced.
The journey has an end. At the end of the float, you will see life guards and other leaders waving the kids in and even applauding them as they approach the shore. Sometimes, the kids float right into their arms, and other times, it takes a little effort on a leader’s part to swim out and bring them to shore. But one thing is sure; the look on the kids’ faces and the sounds of their voices have transformed from a wide variety of apprehension and nerves to a resounding choir of pure joy.
I can’t think of a better way to communicate the mystery of the Gospel and the trust it takes to step into a life with Christ. That choice is met with applause and help from others—even the angels rejoice. This is our God drawing us into one chorus of pure joy.
So, next time you are driving across the river towards Ford, or you see the Spokane River, take a closer look. Those are the same waters where the sounds of poverty, worry and doubt are being transformed into a song of Christ’s unconditional grace.
Give at-risk youth the chance to float down the Spokane River. Send them to camp.