Last week nearly 300 Alongsider mentors with their little brothers and sisters, plus staff and other leaders, traveled from six provinces and converged in Siem Reap for the Alongsiders annual camp.
Their ages ranged from about 5 to 35. The event lasted for two full days, with travel days on each end; it was enough to burn through even this group's abundance of youthful energy.
As for the staff and older leaders, they were exhausted. It was a lot of work! And this was really just one HALF of the annual camp. Alongsiders Cambodia has grown to the extent that it's difficult to gather everyone together at the same time, so the annual camp is split in two. The other half experienced camp in May.
Besides taking a tremendous amount of preparation, leadership, and energy to pull off, the annual camp is also the single greatest expense for Alongsiders Cambodia.
You may well ask why we do it.
Following are five reasons why we have an annual camp along with some colorful pictures to illustrate.
1. The annual camp is a rallying point for the movement.
Throughout the year Alongsider mentors and their little brothers and sisters are dispersed throughout the country. Provincial leaders provide limited supervision and training, but most of the time mentors are meeting with their little brothers and sisters on their own. They may not feel like much is changing, but the movement as a whole is on the move and growing and changing as it goes.
When dispersed groups are on the move, they need rallying points in order to keep moving together. Otherwise people drift away or get left behind. Actually, the four points below all follow from this one.
2. Camp puts things in perspective.
Mentors see other mentors. They learn from each other, and some stand out as inspiring examples. Others may realize the need to make corrections. The little brothers and sisters also meet each other, and they can see in a new way they are far from alone. There are other children all over Cambodia who have found big brothers and sisters, too. All the people gathered can see that they are part of something exciting - a movement of like-minded people that is bigger than themselves.
3. Camp is an opportunity to empower the Alongsider mentors.
This year, while the little brothers and sisters joined in a day of fun educational activities, the mentors got to choose from three one-day workshops: finding your spiritual gifts, growing in intimacy with God, and team building. The workshops were run by volunteers and Cambodian leaders who came to serve the mentors. Afterwards, one mentor said, "For the first time, I think I know what my spiritual gifts are." Another said, "I love God more than I did before." We focus heavily on the little brothers and sisters, but the vision of Alongsiders actually relies on empowering and transforming the mentors:
We equip compassionate young Christians in poor nations to walk alongside those who walk alone: to love, welcome and encourage the most vulnerable children and orphans, in their own communities.
4. Camp is a time to celebrate how far we've come.
Camp is fun. We eat good food. We visit interesting places. We have raucous meetings and creative activities. All of these are forms of celebration, the sort of things you might do at a party.
This year everyone who attended camp went to see Angkor Wat and had a great evening at the Cambodian Cultural Village in Siem Reap. We also celebrated in more formal ways, like recognizing all the second generation Alongsider mentors (former little brothers and sisters who have become Alongsiders themselves) and affirming what they've done.
In celebration we rest, recharge, and renew vision. People who don't know how to stop and celebrate won't travel far together.
5. It is a time of extended worship and prayer.
Christian movements throughout history have grown as participants have turned toward God in worship and prayer.
We believe God is the source of the transformation we seek in this country and around the world. We long for the Kingdom Jesus announced: of forgiveness and reconciled relationships, peace overcoming violence, and justice for the poor and oppressed. And we are drawn to his grace personally.
For all these reasons we worship and pray. Alongsider mentors pray with the little brothers and sisters all the time. Once a year they join to worship and pray together, and it's powerful.