I just read The Frog Who Never Became a Prince by James “Frog” Sullivan. He was present for the birth of camp and gives the rest of us a sneak peek. Of that first summer of Laity Lodge’s youth camps, he says:
…we only had 15 or 20 youngsters in each session, but I was to see perspectives that I had been learning over the years take form in our staff, and I began to see that these approaches worked positively. No matter how hurt a person is, and no matter how bad a person is, or what kind of trouble he is in, no matter how wealthy a background or home he comes from, he responds to love and he listens when you share what Jesus Christ has meant to you in a very quiet and warm way. This was what we began to do in those camps.
So basic. Loving on a handful of kids led to the camp we all love so dearly. The place is beautiful, to be sure, but it is the people that make LLYC what it is.
The very first summer, we saw kids come in that were not interested in the gospel, not interested particularly in God – who he was or what he had done for them – but we began to see these kids change. We saw them accept love, and we saw them give love, even those who had probably never loved anyone in their lives. The project became a burning passion in my life due to its potential and its possibilities.
Frog bears many failures in his memoir, but one thing shines in neon lights – he has a burning passion for young people to know the love of Christ. So much of what he experienced working with Young Life, both as a student and as a staffer, was brought into the Canyon, forming the foundations of what LLYC is today. And I am forever thankful that this “project became a burning passion” because it sure did a number on me!
In the next four years, with the help of Bill Cody, Dave Philpot, and Howard Butt, and the great crowd of kids who attended as counselors and staff, we built those sessions into one of the most successful camping enterprises in this county. Eventually every session of the summer was filled to capacity, and the number of kids returning year after year was phenomenal.
When I hear Holly Williams talk about staying multiple sessions and just popping over to Leakey to wash her clothes, I catch a glimpse of the relaxed environment of camp’s early days. Frog finishes:
I guess the most important experiment was being permissive with kids, letting them do what they wanted most to do, letting them choose the skills they wanted exercised and cultivated, the ones they wanted to develop. Having a warm Christian counselor personally involved in the life of each kid continually was important; that was something I had learned in Young Life. But now we wanted to take it one step farther: we wanted to see if we could tear down some more barriers and bring kids into making decisions on their own so that when they were confronted with Jesus Christ, they would be able to make their decisions about him and his love.
The schedule looks different now and camp has undergone some major cosmetic transformations, but that remains the essence of LLYC today. Forty five years later, this is still a place where kids can come and choose what they want to do. They have phenomenal mentors come alongside them. They are exposed to the gospel and loved whether they accept the free gift or not. But, most importantly, the decision (if made) is real because they are the ones making it.
So, Frog, for the “Hey, Dolls” when there was no way to remember thousands of camper’s names to the Cross Talks (year after year and session after session) to the Work Crew appreciation nights at your place up on Echo Bluff, thank you for letting us choose. We will miss you.