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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

In Someone Else’s Shoes: How Falcon Camps broke my heart… and changed my life

on April 28, 2013

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In the summer of 1996, I spent a week at Halls Green activity centre a few miles down the road from my home in Kent that would change my outlook on life for good. I’d just finished my first year at Cambridge University, and hadn’t been a Christian very long. I had enjoyed a wonderfully sheltered, privileged childhood, and had gone straight to Cambridge from my private school. It is safe to say my experience of life was extremely limited; I didn’t know anyone whose life experiences weren’t pretty similar to my own.

As a young fresher and a new Christian I had become a member of St Andrew the Great Church (StAG to its friends!), a large thriving student church in the city centre. As the university year drew to a close, we students were encouraged to spend a week of our summer holidays serving on a summer camp. I did a bit of research and discovered Falcon Camps.  These are Christian camps for underprivileged kids who wouldn’t otherwise get a holiday. They take place in a variety of amazing locations across the country, and aim to give children and young people a fantastic break as well as to introduce them to the God who made them, and who loves them so very much. Straight away I knew that that was where I wanted to go. I applied to join the team at Halls Green Falcon Camp, was accepted, and so began a journey that would change my view of the world fundamentally.

When I arrived at Halls Green a couple of months later, I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect to meet boys who had no idea how to behave, as they had no positive male role models in their lives, but who responded to the gentle guidance and example of the male team members- but I did. I didn’t think I’d meet kids who thought having three meals a day was a treat- but I did. I didn’t anticipate meeting children who didn’t expect to live beyond 17 because where they came from, you live fast and die young, often from a knife or a gun- but I did. I met the most amazing bunch of kids, all of whom were dealing with issues that I couldn’t begin to comprehend: violence, poverty, deprivation, drug and alcohol abuse…. And although their behaviour was challenging at times (I’m sure I learned lots of words that week I’d never heard before!) they were so open, and funny, and there was a distinct lack of self-pity in their outlook on life that put me to shame.

I remember that week as being a complete emotional rollercoaster. It wasn’t so much out of my comfort zone as on a whole different planet. I fluctuated between feeling completely useless and on top of the world. I didn’t sleep much, and cried quite a lot. I realised that you don’t have to have been through the same experiences as someone to be there for them, stand with them, and support them- you just need to listen. I was also learning that although some people’s situations may seem completely hopeless from an earthly perspective, our God is in the life-changing business, and that nothing is impossible for Him. That week I prayed with a teenage girl as she became a Christian and invited Jesus into her life. The gospel message had given her something she had had precious little of in her life up to that point: hope.

And that was it- I was hooked. I did seven more Falcon Camps in subsequent years, and each time was challenged by God a bit more, and experienced at first hand His heart for his beautiful, hurting children. In that first summer seventeen years ago, I was woefully under-equipped for the task in hand- I spent most of the week ‘winging it’, completely out of my depth- yet God used me anyway. And that is how He loves to work. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless (Isaiah 40:29). God broke my heart that first Falcon Camp as I cried for these kids whose expectation of life was so different from mine, all because of where they’d been born, and to whom. He planted a seed within me which has been growing ever since: a heart for those who have never had the chance, through no fault of their own, to enjoy the same privileges I have had; a realisation of the unfairness of it. And of course there is a challenge that comes with those feelings- to try to do something about it. I am truly grateful that God used the experience of Falcon Camps to open my eyes, and my heart.

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Me and ‘Beth’, Halls Green Falcon Camp 1997

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4 responses to “In Someone Else’s Shoes: How Falcon Camps broke my heart… and changed my life

  1. Wow Emma, what a fantastic post!
    When people come to lead on Falcon Camps, I think they coming thinking they will “do some good”; to “make a difference”

    In the topsy-turvey world of the gospel, God says that the life to be changed, is ours! Not that those young people will have walked away without being affected by us and the gospel – primarily by us living it, but that God in his mercy and grace pours out gifts of compassion and hope in equal measure.

    I watch your princess-project with delight, and kind of knew it started somewhere like Halls Green! It really sounds amazing! Sorry we have sort of drifted apart….

    We still do Treginnis and still every year hear the stories of kids “normality” and line it up with our “normality” and choke, or cry, or get angry!

    Well done and if ever you coud use a fellow passionate pair of hands or a speaker or something, please let me know!

    God bless you
    Much love
    Rach

    • Emma Tanner says:

      Thanks Rachel, that means such a lot! It would be really great to have a catch up sometime. You and Simon played an important part in my journey of faith that I am very grateful for!

      I will definitely bear in mind your kind offer of help, and appreciate your commenting on this- writing (publicly) is quite a new venture for me 🙂

      Love from Emma x

  2. Jane Stephenson says:

    Emma that is a beautiful piece about Falcon Camps, God and you! Rachel has just sent me a link to you blog because I work at CPAS sorting out the Falcon programme these days. You have written so well about the 3 sided nature of leading on Camp, children, leaders and God, and how everyone is a winner! Thank you for talking about the difference it made for you, kind of humbling and inspiring at the same time! Jane Stephenson

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