On Superhero Supper day, the kids at Mountain View summer camp in Houston are loudly lining up for lunch wearing beach-towel capes.
The girls’ and boys’ lines wriggle and bunch, quickly losing shape as one more camper runs up or shows off a superhero pose.
“C’mon Bears, you can do it!” shouts camp director Erica Azak, clapping to cheer them on.
The four cabins—Bears, Ravens, Wolves and Eagles—finally form two lines and file in for lunch, singing and a talent show.
Today’s lunch is hot dogs and fries. But tomorrow night, Formal Dinner day, Amy “Foxy” Fox and her sister, Bethany “Chef B” Whalen will serve roast chicken and focaccia bread.
Outside, where it’s suddenly quiet, Erica Azak takes me for a tour of the Salvation Army camp that she and her husband Damian have co-directed for the last year. Erica first came from Newfoundland as a camp counsellor in 2002—for Damian, a former camper, it’s his 11th year.
We walk down to Valley Lake, which Erica says is full of leeches but great for canoes, and stop at a small lookout where counsellors can take kids who need some quiet or a chance to talk.
Most kids who come to Mountain View have their camp fees covered by the Salvation Army or by band councils. During the year, Azak said few of them get to enjoy the kind of organized play they find at Mountain View: archery, ropes, Bible study, crafts and canoe activities.
“I learned much more at camp than I did getting a psychology or an education degree,” she said.
At the ropes course where kids walk tight-rope style on a thick rope slung between trees, Azak explains how she connects the rope walk to everyday life.
“If you keep your eye on one thing, like that tree there—if you keep your eye on that one spot it’s easier,” she said, balancing on the rope. “We tell the kids to focus on God and the good things we’ve talked about.”
Like Azak, camp counsellor Dorcas Muigai trained as a teacher before she came to Mountain View.
She studied Early Childhood Education in her hometown, Nairobi, where she plans to teach elementary school.
Getting to Houston from Nairobi was a wild trip, she said.
After hearing about the camp from a friend, Muigai flew 8 hours to London and 15 hours to Vancouver before taking a Greyhound to Prince George and then getting a three-hour ride to the camp just north of Houston.
She was jet-lagged, she said, and her first day, May 23rd, was also her first chance to have a snowball fight. Until then, the coldest she’d felt in Kenya was 10 degrees.
Today, Muigai sits at a sunny picnic table where the kids are geting leopard spots, birds and butterflies painted on their faces.
Though it’s her first year in Houston, this is Muigai’s second summer at a Christian camp. Muigai said she was quite young when she herself became a Christian, and she is eager to pass on that positive experience.
Mountain View is the first place where Muigai has met children who have very challenging home lives, she said. When the kids arrive, she said they often take a few days to test the waters.
She remembers how closed-off one girl was at first, refusing to be touched. Now that girl is opening up, she said, talking and holding her hand.
“That’s the greatest satisfaction for most of the staff,” said Muigai. “We pray that just one camp will plant a seed in their lives.”