Let me describe a friend of mine: Gary is severely mentally handicapped, with a (usually) messy head of hair. He wears thick glasses, speaks with one word at a time; words that express his wants or needs for daily living. And, Gary uses a wheelchair. He never “walked” a day in his life…until he came to “Handi-Camp.”
Gary led a life that is the stuff of books written about tragic life experiences; like that awful morning when, as a baby, he was thrown in a dumpster near the apartment where he & his mother lived. He could tell you about being passed from one foster home to another; homes where some cared, and lots didn’t.
But, Gary lives in a group home now…one where they take Gary and some of his friends to Handi-Camp.
Like most “Handi-Campers”, Gary was excited about his first experience in a swimming pool. And, you should have seen the look in his eyes when he realized his feet were touching the bottom of the pool. He was “standing up!” He shouted with glee; and stood there flapping his hands.
Then, he took his first step. “Walk”, he said.
Then he took a few more steps. “Walk!!”, He yelled at the top of his lungs.
“Walk!…Walk!!”, Gary shouted as he circled the pool.
If you’ve ever been to a “Church Camp”, you know that swim time is usually just an hour or two. But, do you think we got Gary out of the pool after two hours? You’d be kidding yourself if you think we did. No, he kept walking around from person to person shouting, “Walk!”, until he was hoarse. His body looked like a shriveled prune. After about three hours, we were able to coax him to the side of the pool where we could get him back in his wheelchair.
The next day, he was in the pool again…another three-hour session. And, he cried when we hoisted him out of the pool again.
The next day, he cried again; because there was no swim time. That’s because it was time to go home; back to his group home.
The last day of Handi-Camp brings tears to the eyes of many. The camper buddies cry, especially the “first-timers”, because they’ve experienced what it’s like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, by shining His light…being His hands & feet for someone who may or may not be able to use his or her own.
The campers cry, because many know that they won’t be back at Handi-Camp for another year. There are few opportunities like Handi-Camp in their lives.
As Gary was being loaded into his group home’s lift-van, I approached him with the question we try to ask all of our campers, “Gary, what did you like about Handi-Camp?”
You might guess the word he chose? “Walk!!”, he shouted.
“That’s great Gary”, I smiled. And, just to see if I could get a response, I asked, “And, how did you walk Gary?” He looked puzzled at first, so I asked again, “How did you walk, Gary?”
I must admit that I really thought that he’d say something like, “Water”, or, “Friend”. But, he didn’t use any such word. His answer was indeed, just one word; but it was a name.
He said, “Jesus!”
Then, he added, “Walk!…Jesus!…Walk!…Jesus…Walk!…Jesus Walk!
Two separate words slowly, but surely were put together as he shouted over and over again, “Jesus Walk!…Jesus Walk!
The group home driver standing next to the van with us had tears in his eyes too. He told me, “In ten years at the group home, this is the first time I’ve ever heard that ‘boy’ put two words together.”
For someone like Gary, there couldn’t be two more appropriate words to be his first, “Jesus, walk.”
Of course, Gary won’t need a swimming pool one day. One day he will walk in the presence of God.