by Dave B
My experience at a pentecostal bible camp when the spirit moves...
|The camp stood in the northern reaches of Minnesota, one of the few bastions of civilization that slowly gave way to the great North Woods near the fringes of society. Built on a large hill, it included the basic amenities that all camps require: small, under-furnished cabins, a large hall for consuming great quantities of food, and a rocky and poorly-groomed beach near a lake full of bacteria. However, the central location, the first prominent building that all eyes were drawn to upon driving up the winding, gravel road, was the chapel. Its awkward design gave it the look of an oversized lean-to in which the roof was slowly devouring the base of the structure. Yet despite the unsightly architecture, it was a place that all campers revered because of the powerful works of God that were a matter of spiritual folklore amongst the returning campers.
The chapel was a place of spiritual fervor, of expectation that was palpable each night as the 7:00 o’clock bell rang inviting all to partake in the mystery of the movement of the Spirit. One night in particular, the last night of camp, was expected to be the great finale of the spiritual crescendo that had been building slowly each night throughout the week. As campers made their way down the embankment, there was a nervous electricity accentuated by a heavy humidity in the air. A silent reverence hung over the camp as campers, individually and in small clumps, began filing into the metal folding chairs that surrounded the central altar implicitly reminding all of the collective purpose of the night. I, too young to be an official camper, made my way down to the chapel with my three siblings, each of us carrying an unspoken expectation of signs and wonders.
The service began with music. The beat of the drum kept the steady pace of ecstasy as sweat poured down into my eyes, blurring the sightlines of raised hands and outpoured hearts. The music spoke of intimacy, of unabashed love, of the future glories of heaven with words that assured:
We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great son of man
When every tongue and tribe and nation
Will join in the song of the lamb
As the music slowly diminished—not abruptly, but like cooling embers of a well-loved fire in the early dawn—the speaker rose to once again fan the flames into an inferno. This particular message did not stand out, as it was normal in its high intensity and emotive pleas. The messages almost always fell into a similar mold: we have all sinned, we need to be separate from the world living in the gifts of the spirit, God can forgive us and set us on the course to becoming a strong witness for Christ in our schools.
As the sermon winded down, he begin the rhetorical questions. Are you living a life pleasing to God? If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go? Do you want to be freed from your sins? With each question, the intensity gathered like the kinetic energy of a rolling stone. Conviction could be seen falling upon the faces of the gathered as they waited for a response, a way to relieve the tension and once again find the missing peace of God. When the momentum was at an apex, the speaker invited people to the altar to seek that which was lacking in their lives.
The dam burst as children longing to be freed from the heavy burdens of doubt, shame, and guilt came flooding forward. The river of humanity raged forward with myself in its strong current. The altar was a sobbing, kneeling organism that slowly began to spread and feed out of the epicenter until the entire chapel was awash in the Spirit. I too cried-- my knees chaffing against the rough orange carpet and head buried within my arms--for the sins of my youth, the knowledge of my imperfections.
The adults and leaders of the camp began moving among those who were standing, their outstretched hand placed upon the forehead of the repentant camper. As the prayers began in earnest, the camper, overcome by the Spirit, fell to the ground. The adult moved to the next student and before he even lifted his hand, the child fell into the waiting arms of two other men who had been assigned to ensure the safety of the slain. Soon, half the campers lay prostrate on the ground. I knew my time was fast approaching as the prayer team progressed rapidly through the ranks. I eagerly awaited the Spirit overcoming me, my body in total surrender to God.
The pastor was soon in front of me. He placed his hand on my sweaty forehead and began praying. I waited to be knocked over, to be driven to the ground in a holy swoon, but nothing happened. Soon, the prayer intensified and was now in an unidentifiable tongue. I became increasingly aware that I was the only one who hadn’t been overcome by the Spirit. Maybe it wasn’t a total overcoming, I thought to myself, maybe I had to help it along. I began talking my legs into swooning, each time being encouraged by the spotters behind me to let myself go. As I would lean backwards with nowhere to put my feet amongst the fallen, the hand on my brow would take advantage and continue forward pleading with my body to descend. Finally, with a lack of balance, a desire to be within the spiritually elite, and a belief that maybe this feeling of imbalance was from the Spirit, I dropped.
As I lay there fully conscious, I silently began estimating what the duration of my collapse should be. If I immediately ascended, it was proof that I was a holy hoax. So, I bided my time until the pastors were in a far corner of the chapel and slowly got on one knee and transferred into a nearby folding chair. As I paced out of the chapel that night into the heavy Minnesota night, I climbed towards my family’s cabin feeling like a fraud. I was not in tune with the Spirit and did not measure up to those around me who had obviously experienced the Holy Spirit in a real and powerful way.
I slowly got undressed and crawled into bed, swatting away flies and guilt, and timidly asked my sisters and brother about their slain in the Spirit experiences.
“Oh, I didn’t get bowled over,” she timidly confessed, “I just fell like everyone else.”
“Same here!” my younger sister declared with obvious relief.
“Yeah, I fell on purpose too. I figured if everyone else was falling, I better too,” my brother acknowledged with a smirk.
I also admitted to my theatrical performance, and with a smile on my face, put my head against the pillow and relaxed. If I was a spiritual hypocrite, at least I was in good company.