One of my favorite stories in scripture is found in 1 Kings 19. After watching God dominate the prophets of Baal (Elijah holds a contest between God and Baal, and God shows up in a serious way), Queen Jezebel, the leader of the Baal worshipers, lets Elijah know she is going to hunt him until he is dead. Elijah has just watched God demonstrate His power in unimaginable ways, and yet, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
The story continues, “When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” What happens next always amazes me. God doesn’t get mad. He doesn’t question Elijah’s lack of faith, or chastise his fear. “All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.”
But Elijah was exhausted. The deep kind of exhausted. The kind that comes from running for your life, from three years of hiding in a culture that condemns faith to death. And God allows room for Elijah’s exhaustion. “The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.”
A 42-day journey from where he is supposed to be, Elijah meets with God, and God’s question is simple: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah presents his case to the God of the universe, unpacking all his doubts and fears, and then, God reveals himself to the exhausted prophet.
Throughout the story of scripture, the wilderness is where God’s people step into God’s presence. There is something sacred about getting “away”—removing ourselves from the demands and noise of the normal, and coming before God without pretense or performance—just us. Last month, 31 of us, youth and leaders from Journey and Fox Island, had a chance to leave. We figured an 84-day round trip might be a little much, so we settled for a 90-minute drive, but it’s the “away” that is important. Even a short journey creates space for each of us to answer that question from God, “what are you doing here?” and the underlying question, “how can I fill you, my child?”
Our youth answered that question in a lot of different ways. Some with renewed excitement and passion for what God is stirring in their hearts. Some with pain and grieving over the times when it feels like God is nowhere to be found. It’s not my place to share those stories, but I encourage you to ask our students, “what were they doing at camp” and “how did they experience God’s presence?” I think you may be surprised by the complexity and maturity of their answers.
As I was preparing for camp, the image I had in my prayers was that of Elijah on Mount Carmel. That if we as a church could be faithful in laying the stones and “preparing the altar,” so to speak, God would show up. And He did. We had 17 students from Journey attend summer camp, which is about three more than regularly attend our church. We had time to engage in deeper-level conversations and let conflict come to the surface. Our students were confronted with the gospel and responded to it. Now comes the hard part.
After Elijah met with God in the wilderness, he was sent back to finish his work. The respite was over and the prophetic call to repentance and discipleship in a culture that was far from the heart of God remained. We’re not at camp anymore, and the questions and stories returned with us. But one thing is true, both for Elijah and our youth: when Elijah returned from the wilderness, God provided. God raised up Elisha to succeed and support Elijah, and God has been building our church to engage and support our students.
We are back from the wilderness, and the work is still here, but thankfully our God is still faithful.
Thank you all for already making a huge, tangible investment in our youth! The Dinner & Auction on September 18th raised over $5,000 to support summer camp, scholarships, and youth ministry in 2019. That is twice the final cost of our 2018 camp—a downpayment on future growth and outreach!