I’ve come to the conclusion that camp is amazing, exhausting, wonderful, challenging, and transformative. There are endless bumps, bruises, and bug bites. But there are also endless opportunities. And a lot of what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. I know that for a lot of campers, they are at a liminal moment, a threshold time between where they are and where they are going.
Yesterday at dinner we had a hunger banquet. At the door, all 225 campers along with the 30 senior counselors were given a ticket at the door that directed them to an upper-class section (with tables and chairs), middle-class section (with chairs), or lower-class section (on the floor). We embodied the reality that the earth’s resources, which are sufficient for everyone, are not fairly distributed.
The 15% in the upper-class enjoyed a 3 course meal served to them in their seats, with two people nearby to get them whatever they wanted. The middle-class folks received rice and beans on a plate as they went through a buffet line. The lower-class folks were given a pot of rice and a large bowl of water on the floor. There were not enough bowls, cups, or napkins for all of them so they had to figure it out. You can learn more about hunger banquets at Oxfam.
I had never attempted this sort of experiential activity with so large a group. I was apprehensive about whether or not the campers would embrace it or just try to ignore it. Many of them asked me, “Is this all we’re getting tonight?” My response, “This is dinner.” It was a statement of fact to let them live in the moment without comforting themselves that there would be pizza later in the evening.
It was startling to see how quickly the folks relegated to the lower-class group turned on each other and their fellow campers as they tried to get food. Some chose not to eat since they didn’t like rice, which is not an option for folks who are truly hungry. And when the upper-class got cheesecake for dessert, there was an audible outcry from the other parts of the room.
It was a great social experiment to bring these things together in one room. In our debriefing, we noted that most of the time the poor are invisible because we push them to the margins, out of our sight so that we are not bothered by our self-indulgence and waste. One of the girls who was sitting in the upper-class said at the end of the meal, “I feel bad throwing away this food.” The impact of seeing many of her fellow youth go hungry had hit home. I nodded and asked, “Did you throw away any food at lunch?” I saw her eyes go wide as she realized she had, but she had been unaware of the impact that had made.
We also noted that they are junior high youth and they may not get much say in what food their parents buy and how resources are used. But they are not powerless. There is always something we can do. When we imaginatively perform small acts, the world can be transformed. Glory be to God!