Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” - John 20:27
Planting the seeds of new beginnings with Jesus’ resurrection. Although we are not in the Easter season, the theme was “Resurrection” at this year’s National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus (NJAUMC) summer camp for high school students, specifically called Asian American Summer Christian Camp. It was a return to in-person camp after two years of online summer camp due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of campers were lower than usual, but this was expected. Summer high school camp usually reflects the local churches from the NJAUMC; therefore, as the numbers of our youth at our local churches dwindle, that reality trickles down to the camps as well. But that did not stop this year’s camp from experiencing God’s goodness any less than if the camp had a thousand campers. A large number of the clergy who have served Centenary UMC, Bishop Grant Hagiya, D.S. Rev. Mark Nakagawa, D.S. Rev. Dave Nieda, and many others were influenced by their rich spiritual experiences at Asian American Christian Summer Camp. Even though the name of the camp may feel like the camp is organized for Asian Americans specifically, this is not the case. The camp had its origins as a space for Asian Americans to experience their Christian faith journey from their Asian American identity and experience during a time when there were no such resources. So, the camp has come a long way from its genesis, but the camp continues to grow and change with the times, and it is reflected by its current multi-cultural representation.
At this year’s camp, Centenary UMC sent four students who represented our church: Haley Shirai, LizBeth Rios, Eli Choi, and Josiah Suhr (officially a member of his father’s church, Aldersgate UMC in Tustin, CA.). The theme, “Resurrection” created a learning experience that gave our campers the opportunity to dig into the meaning of this miracle we celebrate every Easter Sunday. The theme reminded our students that when we think life on earth is finished, in God’s Kingdom, we are just beginning. The story of Jesus’ resurrection was the reminder of the miracle -new life, which we will have after we pass from this life to the next, as well as new life, which we experience now in and through Jesus Christ. When Jesus rose from death back to life, Jesus did not come back to life without blemishes, the new life of Jesus Christ showed the disciples that new life has wounds and scars. Jesus appeared in the upper room and invited the doubting Thomas to put his finger where Jesus’ wounds were. This story reminded the campers that new life with Jesus comes with wounds. New life happens because of our wounds and scars. Many times, we want to hide our scars, and for good reasons, yet, Jesus teaches that it is because of our wounds and scars, new life is possible. Our campers learned that they could experience the seed of new life now. I pray for them to plant the seed of courage so that they would allow God to help them find others who may be willing to walk the road towards Jesus’ new life by sharing their scars and wounds with one another. It was such an important camp, especially in a time such as this. I hope more of our church’s high school students will participate in next summer’s opportunity.