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Finding our own reasons to believe

There's a narrow, secluded dirt road that turns off a highway in a small town just south of Columbia, South Carolina.

After you turn, you have to drive a few miles. Soon you come upon what looks like a summer camp. There's a lake; there are cabins; there's even a cafeteria.

But it's not just another summer camp -- it's Camp Burnt Gin, and it's the reason I am a Christian, and it's how I know for a fact that God exists.

CBG is a camp for children with special needs and is the only place in this world where I've felt genuine, unquestionable joy. It's there I worked in the summer of 2002, providing care for these kids, many of whom come from unstable homes. There were more than a few, I learned, who would have a new set of foster parents almost every summer. Others showed signs of severe mental and physical abuse.

I discovered that the majority of them spend their school year in special education, where I surmised that their treatment at the hands of other schoolchildren probably wasn't the best. But once at camp, they're just like everyone else. It's where they fit in. It's where nobody can hurt them.

One day as she dropped off her son, a mother told me that her child was so excited for camp that he had his bags packed in March. It was July.

Ryan was a 15-year-old with a severe intellectual delay. He had the mental capacity of about a six-year-old, while physically he was about 6'4'' and weighed probably close to 200 pounds. He was also one of the happiest people I've ever met.

But sometimes I couldn't help but wonder if there was some sadness he was hiding. He knows he's different, as he'd speak often of "his condition." He is, in some people's eyes, an unfortunate case -- a young man too slow to function like everyone else.

But I'll never forget one day as we sat on the back porch of one of the cabins singing hymns, he turned to me and said in his slow, methodical drawl: "Our God is a good God, Mr. Elwood." If that isn't proof that God exists then I don't know what is.

Like Ryan, most of the children at CBG are probably pitied by a lot of people they come into contact with. I don't blame those people for that, and I understand. But where some see God in a tall, beautiful mountain or the planets rotating in perfect symmetry, I instead see the Almighty when a man partially paralyzed and without the use of his legs sits in his wheelchair and tells you how lucky he considers himself to be.

I sat in church this past Sunday listening to a sermon given by my preacher (who also happens to be my father-in-law). He told us that though it's a fantastic, amazing and almost unbelievable story, the Easter story is our story. It's my story; it's your story; it's Ryan's story. It's everyone's story.

Some may continue to see God in a mountain or in the planets. That's fine. I'll always see Him in Ryan and the children just like him. We all believe for our own reasons.

Web posted on Thursday, April 15, 2004

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