Wednesday, Jun. 29th 2016

Beyond Conception: Cruz at Camp Tekakwitha

This summer I was assigned to Camp Tekakwitha in Williamsburg, KS. It is operated by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and run by Deacon Dana Nearmyer and his wife Debbie Nearmyer. Deacon Nearmyer and his wife bring an intense energy to the camp that I once described as “it’s so crazy, it just works!”

Having done Totus Tuus last year, Camp Tekakwitha sounded like a good opportunity to work in an environment which serves Archbishop Naumann by bringing the youth of northeast Kansas closer to God. I had never been to camp as a camper, and so all I knew of it was from what I heard from youth who attended. Other staffers were always positive about their experience, saying it was the hardest but most rewarding summer of their lives. However, I still had to question why these people would give up their entire summers. I was super nervous.

Training was so much information that I was glad I got a break in between to attend the diocesan priestly ordinations. I was nervous about returning to camp, fearing that I would probably be fired at some point for messing up. THERE WERE SO MANY RULES!

I didn’t know what to expect, but Prairie Star Ranch is a cabin styled place outside of a small town that has so much in store for an unassuming camper (or unsure staff member like me). They have so many activities such as horse care and riding, mountain bikes and boards, zip lining, high ropes, rock climbing, canoeing, a large water slide, and even a swimming lake. It serves youth from 5th grade to high school and often offers scholarships so kids are not turned away.

Fun is not hard to find here, but what can’t be found at your average camp is the spiritual uplifting that the directors and staff have created. I have personally witnessed certain kids come in acting one way, yet after five days they are leaving more joyful, more peaceful, and more loving. I can sense a change that is undeniable. I think it has to do with the Mass and adoration experience that is here. I am one of four seminarians here who serve at Mass with a band and a beautiful chapel with no seats. It sounds awful, I know, but I really believe it puts people in a position to feel they are the presence of a friend, similar to how I imagine the disciples sitting the upper room when they received the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ death.

But adoration changes people. It invites you to personally confront the Lord who is inviting you to share in his love. The songs that sometimes have the words you just can’t express also bring out a sense of peace within your heart. Like the saying “singing is praying twice.” It brings you outside a comfort zone and into deeper into adoration with friends, and the campers entrusted into your care.

It’s truly beautiful being a counselor here. It is definitely a 24/7 commitment. I have also had my share of humble moments and will never forget the little goofball that asked me “Is Cruz your real name?” I replied, “Yes,” with a confused expression. He continued, “Did your parents name you that?” and I said, “Yeah man, it’s Spanish for Cross.”

He took a moment, but with quick wit replied “Is it because you were their cross to bear?”

I decided to pray over him immediately in an effort to tone down his sarcasm.

I have been very blessed to be given the opportunity to work at this job (and I use that word lightly because it doesn’t feel like just a job), and I have come to love the camp experience as a staff member. It has been an interesting experience, and every day I fall asleep with a completely exhausted body and there is no feeling better than that.

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