The band was on fire. Around 200 Alongsiders, with their 200 little brothers and sisters standing next to them, sang out praises together, eyes shining and faces glistening in the lamplight, as industrial-size fans at the corners beat back the heat. With a sudden POP a glitter bomb burst over the heads of everyone on the front row, filling the air with flecks of light wafted on streams of air, and the crowd cheered.
That was the scene unfolding last Friday evening at the Alongsiders Cambodia annual camp. Most attendees had travelled many hours, on multiple vans and buses—even by boat—on Thursday to the seaside resort town of Kampong Som. We had less than 48 hours together, so they wasted no time jumping in.
Alongsiders is a discipleship movement. Every structure and activity is intended to support the making of disciples as Alongsiders love and serve their little brothers and sisters. Camp is a big event, but it's not an end in itself. It plays an important role though.
It's a time to gather together in numbers, share meals and stories, receive and give training, see and celebrate growth, worship and pray, and have some serious fun.
Those 48 hours were packed with teaching, testimonies, workshops, more singing, prayer, meals together, trips to the beach, games, and even some time to sleep. Every activity had a purpose, generally focused on strengthening relationships and trust.
All of this set the stage for some wonderful moments. One of the joys of community in Christ is gathering with a sense of calling and enjoying one another in love. That happened.
But it wasn’t all perfect. Let's be honest. Some Alongsiders found it hard to disconnect from their smart phones; and as a result they didn’t always focus on their little brothers and sisters as much as they should have. That’s another thing about any community; it’s full of human beings in process. It's a mixed bag of nuts, so to speak!
We don't expect these disciple-makers to appear fully formed and 100% ready for the task.
The essence of a disciple-making movement is that the members are in a process of being formed into disciples of Jesus, and some are naturally further along in their willingness and understanding than others. Most Alongsiders have not been discipled at this depth of love and trust, because, frankly, few churches know how to make disciples this way.
They have mistaken growing in knowledge and attendance at meetings with discipleship, but real discipleship is far more than that.
Bill Hull, in a very short (and free) ebook, has written that discipleship is about knowing the love of the Father, who has already drawn close to us. We don't have to climb ladders to get closer to the Father and receive his love, but we know the Father's love as we love and serve others in the same way He loves us, that he showed us through Jesus!
Does that sound familiar? This inspiring and affirming description of discipleship is what the Alongsiders movement is all about!
On the last day of camp, one of the little brothers went up to the microphone and shared how much his Alongsider has meant to him. Later, one of the coordinators told me the following backstory.
That little brother’s Alongsider showed up at camp last year just wanting to have fun, but something happened that changed his thinking. He started to consider his little brother and how he was living with his aunt in poverty, having lost his parents. He was moved, and he committed to spending more time with his little brother. He had relocated to Phnom Penh to find work, so it took an extra effort to return home on weekends to see his little brother, but he began to do it faithfully.
This year he signed up to attend camp, but at the last minute he almost cancelled. The problem was that he had made separate plans to go on a fun beach trip with friends his own age. He didn’t know if he could afford both trips. But then he thought about how much this trip would mean to his little brother. Plus, he really wanted to see his little brother’s life change, so he made his decision.
This Alongsider is becoming more like Jesus. He is loving another with Jesus’ love, and he himself knows the love of Jesus better than before. That’s discipleship. It’s a process. It's a relationship. The fun and challenge of camp merely (or importantly) facilitated as he worked that out.
Following are a few more photos from the Alongsiders Cambodia Camp (October 29-31, 2015). I will let them tell their own stories from here.