I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
This past year, the theme at Wilderness Canoe Base and across each of the camps of Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp was based off of scripture from Joshua 1:9. Campers, retreaters, staff and all who joined in program at our sites focused conversation, Bible studies, and worship around the idea of being Fearless. We spent time reading stories from scripture about the fear of storms, fear of our neighbors, fear of ourselves, and fear of the future, and learned about the promises that we have received from God – promises that God is with us wherever we go. We talked about what it means to be Fearless and how this can help us to live our lives boldly because of those promises.
‘Do not be afraid’ is actually the most frequently written commandment in the Bible. For me, the repetition of this command serves as a reminder that fear is something that can permeate our life in so many different ways and in so many different contexts (and was just as real in Jesus’ time as it is today). In our conversations at camp, we spent time talking about how it isn’t healthy to try to pretend like we are not afraid or to avoid the feeling completely, but rather to realize that even in those moments where we feel fear and are afraid, God’s promise of unconditional love and grace is with us.
To be honest, I couldn’t have imagined a better theme for this year and better scripture to read again and again throughout this summer. Over and over throughout this past year, we have had opportunities within society to be afraid. From natural disasters like hurricanes and fires across our country, to violence in our communities and around the world, to xenophobia, deep-seeded racism and prejudice in words and in actions like we saw in Charlottesville and so many other places, to advertisements on television and across all forms of media telling us that we need to be afraid all the time, it seems like we are constantly bombarded with opportunities to be fearful. On a smaller (or at least a different) scale, though we work hard to offer an incredibly safe space for all who come up to Wilderness Canoe Base, fear can set in at many moments throughout the week at camp as well. From fears of the swim and swamp tests, to fears of portages, to fears of lightning and thunder while camping, to fears about the weird sounds at night that are heard from the tents or the latrines, to so many other moments, fear can permeate one’s thoughts and mind at Wilderness Canoe Base as well.
And yet, we are reminded and commanded in scripture over and over again to be Fearless, and to know that God is with us wherever we go. And out of that, we can live boldly and share our love with all those we meet. I remember one camper in particular who had significant anxiety up at Wilderness Canoe Base this past summer. When the time came for the group to get in the canoes and make their way out on trail, you could see her body get more and more stiff and you could see tears well up in her eyes. But it was precisely in that moment when the Guide of that group got out of her canoe, stood next to this camper, and toe-length by toe-length walked together into the water and into the canoe. What does it mean to be Fearless? For me, it isn’t blindly moving forward and pretending like everything will be okay all the time and it isn’t pretending like there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Rather, it is taking steps forward (in spite of your fears and sometimes it may only be a toe-length at a time) knowing that God is with us in those moments. To me, that camper was the most Fearless person that I encountered this summer because she wrestled with her fears but didn’t let those fears stop her. For me as I think back about this past summer (my first in this role) and this past year, I continue to be inspired by her, and continue to try my best to be as Fearless as she was.
In this Advent and soon-to-be Christmas season, the reminders that God is with us come alive through the life of Jesus Christ. We wait with great expectation and celebrate with great joy the birth of a child born in a manger, who arrived in the flesh to show each of us that we are loved beyond measure and cared for without any strings attached. It is in the birth of Jesus that we see the most radical example of God coming to us in the midst of this
messy and fear-filled world. As we celebrate Christmas, may the birth of Jesus be a reminder that we can be Fearless, knowing that God has promised to be with us wherever we go. And may that Fearlessness allow for us to boldly take steps in building up God’s kingdom and shining our light to all those we meet.
Merry Christmas to you all from the Wilderness Canoe Base and Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp staff!
-Nate Berkas, Wilderness Canoe Base Site Director