Anyone who’s been to a Young Life camp will tell you that a highlight of the week is the carnival and square dance. The night looks a bit different depending on the camp, but it involves a lot of laughter, fun games, dancing, and the infamous opportunity to “get” your leader.
In Vida Joven Guatemala, we have our own set of carnival games. Giant pieces of painted wood, hefty ring toss contraptions, and more. All large. All heavy. All fun. None of which fit on the bus for our 6 hour drive to camp. In a pre camp meeting, our staff was worried that we wouldn’t be able to have a carnival without the stuff. I responded, “don’t worry. I’ll handle it. We don’t need all that stuff.” The staff looked at me skeptically, but said ok.
Now, know that in my mind, I wasn’t just envisioning a carnival. I was envisioning magic. I’m not talking Arrested-Development-it’s-not-magic-it’s-an-illusion magic. I’m talking Disney-world-walk-in-pinch-myself-is-this-real-I can-hardly-breath magic. In Guatemala, we do not have our own camp property. We don’t have assigned teams. If we want magic, we have to make it.
So I started plotting and planning for the carnival – bringing together games from my childhood, yard games, pinterest games. We had soccer bowling, bozo’s buckets, bobbing for apples, frisbee toss, magic ball (some college students may call this game beer pong, but thankfully, that concept doesn’t exist here, so we redeemed it and called it magic ball). As prizes, we had shaving cream hairstyles, water balloon toss, and a muck toss. We had elotes locos (corn on the cob with ketchup, mayo and cheese – a staple in Guatemalan festivals), popcorn, drinks, and cupcakes. We had music and dancing.
As we were setting up, the carnival looked far from my Disney vision. It started raining and blowing and most of my carefully crafted signs smeared. A baby smashed our ping pong balls. The magic seemed to be fizzling.
But throughout the night, we heard the following comments:
“This is all for ME?”
“I get to eat even though I don’t have money?”
“I’ve never seen so many games, can I really play them all?”
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“You’re going to LET me put shaving cream in your hair?”
“I can have another?”
“I think I’m going to cry. Is this really for me?”
That’s magic. To be more specific, that’s kingdom.
I didn’t want to prepare a magical carnival just to get a pat on the back or to take a step toward a career in planning birthday parties. I wanted to prepare a magical carnival because in fun, in laughter, in games, in abundance, in a safe, loving environment, kids have the opportunity to “taste and feel that the Lord is good.” I wanted to prepare a magical carnival so kids could get a tangible feel for grace, for being given what they didn’t earn.
And they did. In every bite of elote loco kids tasted God’s goodness and grace.
Our challenge, now, as leaders and staff is to invite kids into the reality that kingdom magic can fill their everyday lives, that Jesus is continually inviting us to his banquet, and that we are his honored guests. That’s a great challenge, one that we’re up for.