With my trusty (but rather dilapidated) suitcase packed tightly with t-shirts unfit for the public eye and athletic shorts about one inch short of the fingertip length requirement, I lumbered out of my parents’ car and joined my fellow youth groupers next to the faded, air-conditionless yellow school bus that would be our home for the next four-and-a-half hours. We were Camp Barnabas bound. Well, sort of.
Back story: Camp Barnabas is a Christian camp in Purdy, Missouri that offers the full church camp experience for people with disabilities. Each week-long term is geared toward a particular subset of disability–there’s a Down’s Syndrome week, a wheelchair week, etc. The term I attended was for adults with developmental delays. Each camper has his or her own teenage counselor, called a C.I.A. (Christian in Action), and each cabin has two or three college-aged staffers. Sometimes cabins with lower functioning campers have “floaters,” who are basically C.I.As without their own campers that double up to assist C.I.As with campers who need more attention than that which comes with the standard one-to-one ratio. Because of its unique mission, Barnabas’ waiting lists are longer than my early childhood Christmas wishlists–that means they’re very long. With its twentieth anniversary summer in full swing, Barnabas opened up a new location at Point 11, a Christian camp and retreat center near Shell Knob, Missouri. Its first term there was last week, and that’s where my group headed: Barnabas on the Lake.
From the moment they arrived, Barnabas veterans–myself included–looked around and realized Barnabas on the Lake was NOT Camp Barnabas in Purdy. Barnabas veterans–myself included–are very insightful about these things. Here is my review of Barnabas on the Lake.
Bathrooms: 2/10. If the toilet seat is down, don’t look. Do not look. No matter how badly you need to relieve yourself of the three glasses of orange juice you guzzled at breakfast, do not lift the lid. It’s not worth it. I believe there are colors so disgusting that even Crayola refused to include them in its 152-count box, and those colors can be found in the water underneath a closed toilet seat at Camp Barnabas on the Lake. Don’t look. You will never be able to eat again.
Smell in Cabins: 3/10. In my very conservative estimate, about eighty percent of all campers at Camp Barnabas or Barnabas on the Lake can’t quite hold their bladders through the night. Even though a great person called a “Cabin Mom” or a “Cabin Dad” washes sheets each morning, the stench of urine still lingers throughout the day. I think that if Extreme Home Makeover decides to come to Barnabas on the Lake like they did in 2007 at the original Camp Barnabas, bettering the ventilation of cabins should be a top priority.
Mattresses: 3/10. Lying in bed, listening to bugs and the occasional camper yell into the night, one can’t help but think about the mattress beneath herself. Part of this has to do with the bed-wetting situation. Before Barnabas bought the camp, thousands of kids had already used the facilities. I know that camp mattresses are supposed to be gross and uncomfortable, and these met and perhaps exceeded those expectations, but the number of times the mattresses have been peed on and left out to dry in the sun amplifies the grossness and discomfort.
Modest is Hottest Policy: 4/10. I’m not going to get into my thoughts on the dress code, but I would agree that modest is definitely hottest from a temperature standpoint. To coin the phrasing of the popular Doge meme: Very Clothes. Much sun. Wow.
Smell in Dining Hall: 8/10. The food smelled amazing. Unfortunately, most of the main courses and desserts had some form of wheat in them so I didn’t get to indulge in much of the mainstream food because I’m allergic. It smelled really, really fabulous though. I’m sure it tasted good, too.
Salad: 9/10. So I’m allergic to wheat, and there is a special diet option that ensures the special dietary needs of campers, C.I.A.s and staffers alike are met. However, such an option has a $50 fee, which no one in my family wished to cough up, so I ended up eating a ton of salad. But, it was quality stuff. For example, they had a whole bowl full of Craisins at the salad bar every meal, and I wouldn’t say I ate an abnormal amount, but I got close to that point.
Lake Activities: 9/10. Barnabas on the Lake has pretty fantastic lake-related activities, as one would hope.
Pool Activities: 6/10. Let’s just say that Barnabas on the Lake compensates for its mediocre pool activities with its pretty fantastic lake activities.
Campers: 10/10. Everything at Barnabas on the Lake and Camp Barnabas at Purdy is about the campers, and rightly so. Barnabas gives kids with special needs the opportunity to be “normal” for a week, a chance just to be kids being kids. Many of them relish the opportunity, and their vibrant, joyful attitudes melt even the coldest of hearts. I’m not saying every camper is thrilled to be there, but I don’t think a camper has ever gone home without having fun at least once during their stay.
Staffers/C.I.As: 10/10. In part due to such a shocking number of other summer camps getting shut down in recent years because of sexual misconduct, Barnabas takes extra precaution when hiring staffers or selecting C.I.A.s, especially since its camper base is particularly vulnerable. All Barnabas camps have a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with “the dark side of camp,” and multiple measures are in place to keep everyone safe. As a result, staffers and C.I.A.s at Barnabas are some of the most incredible and genuine people one could ever hope to meet. Each is purely and fully dedicated to making the campers’ stay as enjoyable as possible, and each is willing to sacrifice his or her personal comfort for that of a camper’s.
Despite the alarming Daddy Longlegs infestation, I give Barnabas on the Lake a 10/10 for positive experience. In the words of every staffer and C.I.A. before me, “God taught me patience.” I plan to go back next year. I might even apply to be a full time staffer if I can muster up the selflessness.