Experiencing God’s Love at UGM Camp

Clare Pursch is part of the UGM Student Impact Team, reaching at-risk youth throughout the year. She also served as UGM Camp staff during the summer of 2014 and is on staff, again, this summer. In the following, she reflects on her experience working at camp.

Love that abounds, laughter that uplifts, hope that sustains, life that breathes life, light that swallows darkness, and joy that overflows.

That is just a quick glimpse into a single moment spent at UGM Camp. The second that I stepped foot onto UGM Camp, I became overwhelmed with the undeniable presence of the Spirit. He is there, and His love is what has shaped the Camp.

This past summer, I had the life-changing opportunity to work at UGM Camp as a challenge course facilitator and photographer. Because I am human, I went into this ministry opportunity with the mindset of, “Lord, use me to show love to these children. Help me to help them.”

But what I quickly came to find was that the children who come to UGM Camp are the real life-changers. Children who have often been surrounded by darkness, children who have often only known despair, children who have known pain in its truest form, are the same children who crawled inside my heart and showed me a love that I have never known before.

Ultimately, He helped them to help me.

Every week, my heart was broken in a thousand different ways. Some of my favorite times were when I went on walks with the kids as we went from one challenge course to the other, and I would be given a glimpse into their world. They would shyly show me a tidbit of their lives, and instantly, I would be hit with a wave of grief over the despair that these children have known.

Children who have only been on this earth for eight years have known more pain than I have experienced in my nineteen years of life. But what stood out to me was their quiet strength in the midst of it all, and their ability to still open their hearts to love.

On the second week of camp, I had the privilege of talking with a young boy about his home life and the things that he struggles with every day, and when I told him that Jesus loves his heart and his bravery, he looked me in the eye and said “I believe that God gives the hardest stories to His strongest soldiers”. He had one of the hardest stories I’ve ever heard, and he chose to have faith instead of doubt. How amazing is that?

UGM Camp is unique because it is such a unique opportunity to love like Jesus would. Throughout the Bible we are shown stories time and time again where Jesus hung out with the lost, the broken, and the needy. He gave of Himself with no restraint. He opened Himself up to their pain. He poured His unending love over their lives. He healed their wounds, their souls, and their minds. He found them where they were, He knew their story, and in the sweetest of ways, He came down to their level and spoke love into their lives. And in return, many turned to Him and clung to His hope. Because they were once lost, they knew how good it felt to be found.

That is the heart of UGM Camp. It is a place where the lost and the broken can come to feel safe and to experience hope. They come from a life where love is often misconstrued, to a place that is filled with His perfect love.

Because these kids don’t have everything, because they have often only known struggle, their hearts are so hungry for the gospel and His saving grace.

When I spoke of His love, I watched as their eyes were pricked with curiosity. When I told them stories of how Jesus helped me through many heartaches when I was growing up, they would ask me questions about why Jesus helps people and why He loves us so much.

Those are the kind of questions that we should all be asking. We should all wonder at the vastness of God’s love for us and hunger for more of it. We should realize our need, our brokenness, and run to Him full-speed. That is what I saw happen in the hearts of my kids at camp so many times, and that is why my life was changed. Their hunger for Him and their hunger for love is something that will forever shape my heart and quake my steps.

UGM Camp is special in so many ways, but to me, it is special because it is a place where the broken can come and find refuge, where the unloved can come and feel loved, where the forgotten can come and be treasured. It is a place where the Gospel is preached and the Spirit is present.

It is a place where many lives are changed, where hope is restored, and where laughter is keenly felt. I will forever hold it in my heart.

If you’d like to send a child to UGM Camp, go to http://www.uniongospelmission.org/camp-donate.

All photos taken by Clare Pursch Photography