You Deserve to Know What It’s Like to Belong
"We shuffled out of the customs gate with our big bags and swollen ankles to be greeted by three jumping, cheerful Uruguayan amigos clutching tightly to their thermos of Mate. That’s what hospitality looks like."
At Parque summer camp on the southern coast of Uruguay, the sun is hot and the beach is picturesque. At Parque summer camp on the southern coast of Uruguay the barbecue is unparalleled, the staff are often barefoot, and there are brightly colored flowers at every turn. At Parque summer camp on the southern coast of Uruguay, “El Pan”—the bread, of body and of life—is at the center of the grace we say before every meal. At Parque summer camp on the southern coast of Uruguay, there’s always enough time. At Parque summer camp on the southern coast of Uruguay, all people are welcome. Even three tired Americans with limited Spanish.
We arrived in Uruguay after nearly 48 hours of travel; after missed flights and unexpected hotel stays, and hardly any sleep. We shuffled out of the customs gate with our big bags and swollen ankles to be greeted by three jumping, cheerful Uruguayan amigos clutching tightly to their thermos of Mate. That’s what hospitality looks like.
We arrived to Parque summer camp and were immediately served a big, hot meal of egg tarts and stuffed peppers and plenty of water to rehydrate our bodies. We were welcomed with big hugs by Blanca, the Kent Busman of Parque and kisses on the cheek from all the staff here. That’s what hospitality looks like.
The children and the staff here speak English with us even when it’s harder for them, even when it makes them vulnerable, even when it might make them feel stupid, that’s what hospitality looks like.
The staff offered to wash our sheets and clean our bathrooms and buy us food that is more familiar for us just to make us feel more at home, that’s what hospitality looks like.
We are three American Camp Staff from a crunchy hippie Jesus camp in the New York mountains and we’re trying to find our place in this Spanish-speaking, Evangelical Waldensian beach camp in Uruguay, but at each and every turn there are adults and youth and children who are making that easy. They hold our hands and invite us to sit with them and explain things to us time and time again. They make it clear that we’re wanted here, clear that we’re part of their community even though we have done nothing to earn such a place. That’s what hospitality looks like.
And that’s what Camp Fowler tries to practice too. It often feels like there aren’t very many places left in the world where true hospitality is practiced; where all people are truly welcome; where you don’t have to earn your place. Too many places, too many groups, too many communities require that you prove you’re enough before you can “get in”; you have to earn your right to belong. As Christians, we see this as unjust, unkind, and not in alignment with how Jesus lived.
So, as a Christian camp, we try to be hospitable. We try to be like the people at Parque: as soon as you get here, you are part of our community, no questions asked, whether you speak English or not, whether you like canoeing or not. We try to be like Jesus, who welcomed all people and fed them: the children, the hurting, the crooked, the broken. We do it because Jesus did it. We do it because having you here makes us better. We do it because it makes our community richer. We do it because we have a lot to learn from each other. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.
So, why should you come to Camp Fowler? Because, no matter who you are or where you come, no matter what language you speak or what foods you like, no matter your sexual orientation or your race, no matter your gender or your abilities, we want you here. We want you exactly as you are and we want you to bring your dreams and interests and skills and fears. We want to break bread with you and canoe with you and make sure you know that you’re a part of our community. All you have to do is show up.