As a Jesuit working at Camp Ekon, I wear a few hats, and it is just the way I like it. My official role includes: being a camp counsellor and all that entails with it; leading reflection sessions with the older campers; driving the van; and conducting communion services (a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word and distribution of communion whenever our chaplain is not available). Since these services during the week (save Fridays) are optional, the rate of participation often depends on how well I know the campers, and how hard I try to invite them.
I find that kids tend to come when they get to know me as a person. In fact, non-Catholic kids would come to communion services because I have befriended them. I have been working with the “Rock Hut” girls – eleven to twelve-year-olds – for the past two weeks, and they have the opportunity to get to know me. This translates into a decent representation of the Rock Hut during the communion services. With the older girls in the “Bear Hut” (thirteen to fourteen-year-olds), it is another story. I know some of them from last year, but I don't have a chance to directly work with them this time around. In other words, they do not know me as well, and vice versa. This makes the invitation to communion service more challenging.
I often go to their huts to have a small chat with them, and then invite them. There was a day last week when my trip to the Bear Hut did not yield any immediate fruits: of the twenty girls there, one decided to come, and she went on her own behalf. Many of them were either quite indifferent about it, or they gave me some unconvincing excuses. It was of no surprise then, that I did not exactly have a spring in my step as I was leaving the Bear Hut. I thought to myself, “Well, that sucked.”
Then suddenly it dawned onto me that this is exactly the work of a Jesuit. First of all, do not expect others to just come to us, or come to the Church because they are Catholic. If they are not coming to the Church, we go to them. Secondly, it is possible that they still will not come even after a personal invitation, as is the case with the Bear Hut girls. That being said, just because they are not coming to the communion service does not mean that the door is forever slammed shut. If their “Church door” is shut, their “Camp Ekon” door remains open, and this is where I enter. They call me a “P.I.T.”, or “Priest-In-Training”; but to them, I am not just someone who leads prayers or do Church stuff. I live the life of Camp Ekon with them. We play the same games, sing the same songs, eat the same food, breathe the same air, and live in the same community.
This is very similar to the words of St. Ignatius: “Entering through their doors so that they come out of our own”. It is not about imposing whatever agenda that we have, but rather working with the reality that has been presented. This has long been the strategy of Jesuit missionaries, and it has yielded much fruit. I am not coming in to change your way; I will walk with you on your way. This, however, is not the end. As we become friends on the journey, I will show you a better way, and it is not my way. It is the Way, the Truth and the Life that is Jesus Christ.
There is something organic about this kind of insertion into the world. Take Camp Ekon as an example: a communion service would normally take about twenty-five to thirty minutes, whereas the time spent together in the rhythm of Camp Ekon – be it the meals, instructions, or all-camp activities – is much more. This is not to downplay the importance of receiving the sacrament; rather, it is to highlight the sacramental aspect of our lives.
Let this be an invitation for us to reflect on our lives: in what way have I been a sign of the Kingdom to come in my life? How have I inserted myself into the world, so that others see that a better way is possible, not just on an intellectual but on a personal level?