Monday, August 29, 2011

Update letter before I leave

Hello friends,

Back in October, I thought that this time would never arrive! At this time next week I will be packed and ready to leave. My departure date is set for September 5th with a return date of January 5th.

Serving at camp this summer has been amazing! I saw God do some really incredible things for His Kingdom as I was over and over reminded that I am His and He is mine. I was so blessed to build new relationships with the staff this summer. Being back here at camp has been a true adventure and an amazing journey. Thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me to take this step to be at camp.

As I prepare to leave in the next several days, please continue to partner with me in prayer in a few areas:

  1. Please continue to pray over the campers that I listed in my previous letter, Michael and Ethan.
  2. Please pray for certain members of my family as this is difficult for them. Pray that they would not allow the fear to continue to overtake them but that they will learn to trust in the Father's provision for me. Rejoice with me over the family members who are so very encouraging and supportive.
  3. Pray for the interns that will be on their way to Kenya until November and for the community that we will have at the Transformed International compound. There will be a good mix of individuals with different talents and gifts; pray that we all learn to work together to glorify God.
  4. Pray for specific interactions with people that I meet as I travel. I will have the opportunity to tour London during my 12 hour layover. Pray that as I go from airport to airport and city to city that I will go as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Again I want to thank you all for your support during this new adventure. Please let me know how I can be praying for and rejoicing with you.

Blessings friends,


Sunday, August 14, 2011

10 lessons from the summer

It's been a great summer!  There have been some challenges, but things all worked out.  And I've learned a lot this summer.  Below are some of the things I've learned.  Some may be a bit deeper than others:

1.  I learned how to drive a tractor.  Yes!  It's been pretty cool.  I even learned how to back up with a trailer on the tractor.  I'm FAR from perfect at it, but I enjoy trying.  And it may take a while, but I finally get it where it needs to go most of the time.

2.  I learned that I know who I am.  I realized that I've stopped looking so desperately for everyone else's approval.  I realized that I am confident in the man that I am.  My identity is not placed in a job or any material possessions.  My identity comes from my passions and my faith in Christ.

3.  I've learned to look at my passions closely.  I have a strong passion to see the broken hearted healed.  I desire to see the lost be found.  I desire to see people set free from their pasts.

4.  I learned that it is NOT a good idea to shoot a 12 gauge, break action shotgun from the hip with one hand.  Seriously, that thing kicked back and the trigger guard hit me square in the knuckles!  The other guy running the range with me tried it and the barrel came up and hit him the forehead.  BAD IDEA.  But still a fun thing to try.  Don't worry, no kids were nearby at this time.

5.  I learned that even though I may not like conflict, I can handle it.  I know the difference between petty conflict that really will resolve on its own and something that needs to be dealt with.  I used to be far more quick to speak and get angry.  I've learned that I can be level headed and think about things.  I can sit down and explain my position and listen to the other side.  And if I am wrong, I can admit that.

6.  The summer staff at camp will take you literally with what you say.  It's fairly well know that at the dinner table you DON'T ask someone to "pass everything".  You ask for each individual item of food at a time.  Only one person made that mistake this summer.  Within a few moments quite literally everything from that table was in front of this guy.  Then everything from other tables was added.  Also, the last week of camp I asked the staff to build a big bonfire for the last night of camp.  I said that I want the flames to be seen by the martians.  The guys went out and cut down a dead tree.  The fire was about 15-20 feet high before it was lit.  I don't even want to venture a guess as to how high the flames were.  We dumped about 50 gallons of water on it at the end of the night and by morning it was still smoking.  The giant logs that made up the log cabin were still full sized at the end of the night.  By morning they were gone.

7.  I'm think I know where home is.  I was thinking of this Friday night as I was driving down to West Chester for the weekend.  I haven't thought of my mom's place as home since I graduated high school.  Where ever I lived in college was home and I spent summers at camp.  I never lived at dad's house that he is in now.  Not that I'm unwelcome, I just haven't.  I lived in West Chester since 2002 with the exception of summers and a few months here or there.  The house I called home for the last three years caught fire a couple of weeks ago (no one was hurt).  I also moved from West Chester.  I've called camp home this summer but I leave in three weeks.  I will probably call the TI compound in Kenya home while I'm there.  But come January when I get home, I don't know where I will go.  As I thought about this, my iPod was on shuffle play and "I feel Home" by OAR came on.  These words summed it up for me:  "Cause to me throughout eternity there's somewhere where you're welcome to go.  I said it's something free that means a lot to me when I'm with my friends I feel home".  I may not have a true physical home right now and I'm okay with that.  But as I spent time with friends from church on Friday night, I felt home.  I spent Friday night at a dear friend's house.  I looked at my friend at one point and realized that I was in fact HOME.  I had one of my best friends with me and that's home.  I spent last night with my friends the Gyza's.  I woke up this morning and as I held their baby Annie and she smiled and laughed as Dave said, "Uncle Ray is here!".  I was at home there.  Home truly isn't a physical location.  It's an emotion location.  When I'm with my friends I feel home.

8.  What I need verses what I want.  This started back when I was packing to move to camp.  I started to sell and give things away to raise funds for Kenya.  Also, if I end up going for longer than this trip, I really have no reason to keep things like my kayak.  Still, it was interesting parting with some of those things.  I sold my kayak to my friend Chris at camp.  As I watched him load it to the top of his car before driving back to Colorado I was happy that it would be going to good use.  At the same time, I knew that I'd miss it.  It was a strange feeling watching it be carried away.  But I have no regrets at all.

9.  All you need for a good movie are some nerf dart guns, pool noodles, a crazy costume and 4 unsuspecting individuals.  My friend at camp, Jared, and I made a short film called Saints and Sinners.  We shot most of it in one afternoon and the last part that same night.  We spent a week editing it and came out with a 6 minute movie that rivals The Godfather!  Okay, maybe not, but we still managed to sell a few copies to staff.  That means that we are paid producers, directors and actors!  And our movie is a limited edition, individually numbered and autographed masterpiece!  If IMDB wasn't so specific in what films it lists, we'd be up on it by now.

10.  Just have fun!  This hit me one day when we celebrated Christmas in July.  I spent my entire day doing nothing but decorating the dining hall for Christmas dinner.  I started after breakfast as I made my way to the attic to pull out and sort decorations.  After lunch I started hanging them.  Dinner was at 6PM.  By 6:45Pm I was taking down the decorations.  It was almost depressing that I spent so much time just to make a 45 minute dinner different.  Then it hit me that people had fun.  That's what matters.  So I may have spent an entire day just to make dinner exciting.  It was worth it because the kids had fun.  The had a new memory.  What if we all just learned to have some more fun?

There are plenty more, but that's it for now.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"he came early so he could leave early"

On most Thursdays at camp Willard comes to volunteer.  He often drives the backhoe and fills in pot holes in the road, drives things around on the tractor and does a ton of other manual labor.  This summer he dug a 4 foot deep trench around on of our bathrooms because we needed to find a water pipe that was leaking (still looking for it...).  Willard came up and for a few days dug around with the backhoe and by hand.  He sits on the backhoe in the sweltering heat, wearing jeans and a work shirt.  He made the comment during the week where it was a hundred plus degrees outside that it had to be another 20 degrees hotter on top of the backhoe.  Yet he still did it willingly.  In fact, when asked if he would rather do something else inside, he said no because that project was important to get done.  I went with Willard and another staff member Jay to pick up some logs from a home near here.  A gentleman had cut down some cedar trees from his property and was donating them.  We needed to cut them into smaller pieces and load them into the back of a van and on a trailer.  I thought that Willard would come out with us and use the chainsaw to cut the logs. No.  Willard went straight for the pieces that were already cut and told me to hop on the other end to start carrying them with him.

I went up to breakfast this morning and saw that Willard was here already.  I made the comment to Jay (also the maintenance guy) that Willard is here early.  He told me that Willard came early so he could leave a bit early today.  Here's the cool part.  Willard is into his 80's!  He's lived life and is retired.  He doesn't have to come to camp to do all this manual labor.  He just does it.  He does it because he cares about this place and the ministry happening here.  He does it because he believes in what this camp is.  He's a wonderful man who is giving up his Thursdays to help out with manual labor.  And because he needs to leave early today, he showed up early so that he could give the same amount of time as he usually does.

This was really inspiring to me!  He could have just as easily taken the day off or just left early anyway.  Instead, he showed up an hour or two before he usually would and got right to work.  Right now, I can hear him out on the tractor taking stuff to the burn pit with Jay.  I hope that when I am in my 80's I can still be half as active and half the man that Willard is!  The guy is a true champion!  He's a man of very few words but when he does talk, he's inspiring.  A man of few words, but lots of action.  A man whose actions can teach so much.

Thank you Willard!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Update letter!

Hi Everyone!
Well, summer has come and nearly gone as the first part of my new adventure is nears an end. This summer at camp has seen a lot! We started the summer off with about 50 girls showing up for girls week. We brought in a female program director along with an all female staff. The girls did all of the regular camp activities that the boys do, including skeet shooting and rock climbing!
In my last update letter I asked for prayer in a few areas. At the time of my last update letter we had 160 kids signed up for the summer. My prayer was that that number would be doubled. Praise God that we ended the summer with somewhere around 300 kids! Out of that 300, 44 boys and girls made decissions to follow Jesus or to grow deeper in relationship!  While we praise God for those kids, would you also pray over two very specific kids. Ethan came to camp while his older brother stayed home this summer. Their father is not in their lives and their mother is dying of advanced cancer. Ethan and his family decided that he needed to be away with other boys for the week. He did very well at camp but will very soon feel a hurt that is like no other.
Would you please also pray over Mike. I wrote a blog about Mike that you can check out at my blog site (  The specific blog is here: 
Mike came to camp and had to be sent home half way through the week due to behavioral issues. As his story unfolded we learned that he was adopted from an orphanage and is dealing with a lot of hurt. Please pray for him to find true peace.
I asked for prayer in guidance for Kenya as well. About two weeks ago I had enough money set aside and courage to finally book my plane ticket. I fly out of Newark, NJ on September 5th. It will get to Nairobi, Kenya on September 7th in the morning. Please continue to pray as I am still a little short on the support I need to raise. Also, please pray that I remain open to the Lord's calling as I go to be a learner. There are a lot of decissions to be made in the next 5 months, but pray that I remain in the moment and not spend too much time worrying about the future.
A final prayer request is for my family as we learn new ways to communicate and are not on the same continent during the holidays this year. I am very blessed to have two beautiful families. I am confident that our relationships can and will grow stronger during this time as communication becomes more and more intentional.
Thank you all for your support during this new season of my life. I love you all and would love to hear how your life is going. What is God doing in your world?

Be blessed my friends,
Ray Smith

Tax deductible donations can be sent to:

Payable to Sequoia International
ATTN: Faith Wise
PO Box 56
Exton, PA 19341
Memo: Kenya, Ray Smith

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Sometimes our attitudes choose us"

Again, I wrote this last night:

Tonight was a tough one for me.  Seems like a theme of this week right now.  My buddy Keith is up here as a counselor for the week.  Keith is an EMT and is jacked; I think his biceps are the size of my head!  The first time I met this guy he was rooming with me in the lodge (the camp staff house) a few years ago.  I heard stories of this guy picking up junior staff and putting them in the trash can and all kinds of stuff like that.  When I heard he was not only moving to camp that summer, but also rooming in my room, I was…cautious.  I met him and he immediately pulls out his new machine gun with a bayonet on the front of it.  He says "yo Ray-man!  Check this out!" as he jams the gun into the bed frame, lets go and the gun is hanging there.  In the bed frame.  I liked him right away.  

Keith is the guy that you don't mess with.  You behave if he's your counselor.  His groups always have a blast.  Most end up with a new nickname.  Most will hear him joke that you need to "man up, cupcake".  And Keith can take a lot of stuff and keep his group in control.  That's why when on Sunday night he told me and Chris (camp director) that he just about had it with one kid I got a bit worried.  Keith must have sat this kid down close to 20 times before today to talk to him about his behavior.  I watched as this kid mouthed off to him and ignored him.  I talked to him earlier today about why he needs to behave.  I told him that if he keeps acting out and picking fights and ruining everyone else's week I'd have no choice but to send him home.  That was about 2 hours after lunch.  By dinner time I had to go out to this groups' lean-to site because the kid was acting out again.  The way it was told to me was that he picked a fight and another kid was ready to throw punches.  I walked out with Keith and the kid is laying on the trail.  I wasn't going to send the kid home yet.  I was going to make him pack his bags and tell him that if he doesn't shape up he'd be packing bags for real.  Then I saw the kid he picked the fight with.  A good 10 minutes had gone by and this kid was still sitting with clenched fists.  It was obvious that I couldn't keep this kid in the same group.  And if he wouldn't listen to Keith, he sure wouldn't listen to anyone else.  So we made the decision to send him home.  

Sounds like the right thing to do.  And I agree.  There're 10 other kids in that group that were being affected.  But still, it breaks my heart.  The parents showed up and as I talked to the dad, this kid's story came out a little bit more.  He is 13 years old and adopted.  He was the kid that no one else wanted.  He was the kid that had to fight for attention.  He was me at his age.  The more of his story the dad told me the more I looked at him and saw me at his age.  I know exactly how he feels.  I know the anger that he feels.  I know the abandonment.  And I know how much it sucks that we just did the same thing to him.  We kicked him out too.  We were very clear many times that we don't want to send him home and would rather keep him here if his behavior changed.  We also stressed that he was welcome back again next summer.  I even invited him and his dad to a father/son canoe trip in September.  But I also know how the 13 year old mind of a kid with his background thinks.  And all he sees is that we kicked him out.  Part of that is his own attitude.  Part is his own hurt.  Whatever the reason, he's hurting because of us.  He's looking for acceptance.  If he's like I was, he's even looking to be kicked out.  It sounds strange but it's what I did too.  I wanted to see how far I could push people until they booted me too.  

I stand firm by the decision to send him home.  But it still really sucks.  My heart breaks for this kid.  You can say the same old crap that "we all choose our own attitude" and maybe you're right for - most people. But sometimes our attitudes choose us.  When you go through what this kid did it's not so easy to choose a different attitude.  It can be done.  I did it.  But it takes a lot of effort.  It takes a lot of time.  And it takes a lot of patience from others.  It takes a lot of healing.  When you experience the kind of hurt and betrayal that he has you're heart is naturally filled with a lot of anger and hurt.  And it's not easy to turn it off.  No, let me rephrase that:  you can't just turn it off.  Not until you begin to deal with the betrayal and hurt.  That's what takes time.  What really sucks is that I understand this kid's heart and can't do anything for him.  That really breaks my heart.      

On a different level, I think about this kid 20 years from now.  I think about how just like I understand his pain better than anyone else here, he too may find himself in a situation where he can help someone else through their pain.  But for now, it just sucks.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

A scary adventure

I wrote this last night but couldn't post it until this morning...

Have you ever had that feeling deep down?  You know the one.  The one where you realize suddenly that something bad happened?  Someone could be hurt?  Or worse?  That was tonight for me.  

Today began the last week of our core program at camp.  Things were going great.  We had the kids playing some sports outside after dinner.  We lined everyone up to do a head count as we usually do.  We had everyone and then moved the 61 kids to an outdoor pavilion for a quick puppet show to kick off the spiritual theme for the week.  I took a moment to grab a drink and sit down outside of the dining hall to take a quick break.  Also, I've seen the puppet show a few times already.  Then I saw a couple of counselors come back as they were looking for a camper.  They said that one from a group was missing.  This actually happens often as campers stop to use the bathroom or get something to drink.  Sometimes they go back to their cabin to grab a flashlight.  It's usually not a big deal.  So I told them to check the cabins and bathrooms and get back to me.  

Then it happened.  The words that I was hoping not to hear: "he's not here".  I had the kids' counselor check the pavilion a few more times.  I watched as he looked every single kid in the face and reported back that he wasn't there.  Then the search began.  We rechecked the cabins, the bathrooms, the nurse's station, everywhere at upper camp.  No sign from him as we looked and called his name.  We started checking under buildings and inside of staff buildings.  I checked the pool about 3 times to make sure he didn't sneak there and climb the fence.  Nothing.  No sign of him and it was getting dark.  Our search party slowly grew as a few others who didn't have campers started to help.  We spent about an hour and a half running all over camp looking for this camper.  We searched the ranges, the staff houses and office on the lower camp, the woods around our lean-to sites.  We even had someone out on the roads driving around looking for him.  The puppet show ended and was being stalled to keep everyone else in one area.  The sinking feeling in my gut grew more intense the more we searched and came up empty handed.  Finally, the kid was found.  As it turns out, he was in the pavilion the entire time.  In the front row, actually.  

After an hour and a half of searching for a kid that isn't really missing, I was pretty ticked off that the kid's counselor didn't see him sitting in the front row.  But at the same time I was also very relieved.  Relieved that the kid wasn't missing and wasn't ever missing.  I was also proud.  I was, and still am, very proud of the way that the staff responded.  Our cook asked me what the plan is for something like this.  I was able to answer that our plan was exactly what we just did.  Our next step was to call the parents and police.  Luckily we found him before this.  The staff here responded the exact way that they should have.  The counselors with groups stayed with their groups and carried on.  Chris, the director of camp, was performing the puppet show and he carried on and allowed the rest of us to search as he kept the rest of the kids occupied and in one area.  We split into teams and searched everywhere we needed to.  It was a job very well done by the staff here and I am so proud of them!  

Something else hit me too.  After an hour and a half of running there was a bit of sweat on my shirt (it's pretty hot here!).  Someone pointed out to me that the front of my shirt had a heart shaped sweat stain.  I found that interesting as I joked that I sweat pure love.  It reminds me of how God the Father dropped everything to find us when we were lost.  He is all over searching for us and calling out to us.  Desiring to find us.  In that hour and a half my sole desire was to find this kid.  Not to yell at him, but to find him and make sure he was safe.  That's God right there!  His sole desire is to rescue us.  He's not looking to yell and punish us.  His heart shaped sweat stain looked more like a bloody Roman cross.  That's how passionate He is for us!  

This was a scary experience.  But how awesome it is to look back now and see God's grace on the situation.  This could have been so much worse.  This kid could have been really missing or even worse.  But he wasn't.  He was still safely where he was supposed to be.  And our staff got to practice our emergency action plan.  It's good to know that if this had been real we did the right thing.

"Be still and know that I am God".  Psalm 46:10