Christian camping is not difficult, it is impossible.
The disciples were ready to call it a day. They were tired and eager to see the crowds melt into the countryside or surrounding villages. Piling on to their misery, Jesus put a totally unrealistic demand upon them, he said, “You give them something to eat.”
Give them something to eat? Out here? With no food and no cooking utensils or equipment? Not even a store for miles around! I imagine the disciples reacted with incredulity and exasperation when Jesus put a seemingly unrealistic demand upon them. Feeding hungry people is no easy chore and not something you want to address at the last minute.
I remember how helpless I felt years ago when the roads iced over and about 100 teenagers and leaders were stranded at camp for an extra night. We had no back-up meal for 100+ and no idea how to feed them dinner. But we soon cobbled together an unlikely combination; using leftovers and snippets, some ate hamburgers, some spaghetti and others enjoyed pancakes. It was not a perfect evening but we made it work and gasped a huge sigh of relief when the dishes were done. We had cold cereal and milk for breakfast; and the roads cleared in time for them to leave late morning.
Even in the best of situations food service is tough. Say a camp has 200 campers and staff; that’s only 4% of the challenge faced by the disciples. Camping leaders have weeks or months to prepare for meals and delivery trucks roll up to the back door of the kitchen. Stoves, burners, kettles, refrigerators, sinks, running water and a host of other conveniences help in today’s food preparation. Preparing group meals is always a chore but it is part of the routine of camp and there are systems that help and trained staff to lead the way.
With almost no resources and no idea what to do, the disciples were charged with feeding 5,000 hungry guests. That’s impossible!
But they forgot one critical fact. Jesus is Jesus.
There are two complementary principles that we need to remember when facing the impossible – in our personal lives or in our ministries. First, life and ministry are impossible without Jesus. Jesus said so. He directly stated the fact, Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5b).
The second gives us the positive complement. Paul reminds us, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
What Jesus was teaching the disciples, and us, is that if you are going to feed 5,000 people, you need to depend on him. And he wanted them to remember that if we are dependent upon him – we can feed 5,000 hungry people.
Christian camping is a busy, hands-on ministry; meals to cook, beds to make, toilets to clean, fences to mend, lawns to mow, Bible studies to teach, letters to write, and on and on. Forgetting that Jesus is Jesus is an easy mistake. The pressure and intensity of ministry can distract us from dependency; the demands of hospitality ministry can lead us to the false belief that success or failure rides on our shoulders.
But God expects our best. In humble dependency we are called to do the impossible – feed 5,000 hungry guests with nothing. Nothing except Jesus.