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Upon arriving at Royal Family Kids Camp on Monday, one girl made it perfectly clear that she had been forced to attend the camp. By Thursday, however, she was asking her counselor, “Can camp be forever?”

This was the same 11-year-old girl who had been told by her biological mother that she could never wear a dress because she was overweight. This was the same girl who had been told by her foster parents that dresses are overrated. This was the same girl whose RFKC counselor bought her her very first dress. She received the dress during the camp-wide Birthday Party and continued to wear it for the entirety of her stay. She was given more than a dress. She was seen. She was loved. She was given dignity.

This is what Royal Family Kids Camp is all about.

This past week, ROCKHARBOR Church (in conjunction with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and Irvine Presbyterian) took 85 children, ages 6-11, to Royal Family Kids Camp. What all these kids have in common is that at one point in their lives, they’ve all been taken from their biological parents due to abuse or neglect. Many of these children have experienced abuse, abandonment, and starvation. They’ve witnessed rape, murder, and addictions. Some of the stories that the kids have shared range from being abandoned by their biological mother in a motel room, to their knuckles being broken by a hammer as a form of discipline, to being molested by an older sibling. These stories are the reasons they were taken away from their homes and placed in either a group home, with a foster family, or with a nearby relative.

Once a child is removed, he or she is placed in Foster Care. The child becomes a dependent of the court and experiences a journey either towards reunification with their bio parents or towards adoption. This journey should only be about two years but typically ends up being much longer, when court dates lag or an adoptive home cannot be found. Often times, a child can be in the Foster Care system until they age out at 18, and are never adopted or reunified. Children experience multiple placements, copious trauma, and learn that the only way to survive is to trust only in themselves.

At RFKC, the kids are matched up in either a 1:1 or 1:2 counselor-to-camper ratio, which allows them to receive the love and attention they need. Throughout the week, they are able to do activities like archery, woodworking, arts & crafts, sports, zip-lining, hiking, pinewood derby, and much more. They also attend chapel every day, where they worship through music and dive into a story from the Bible. This past week, the theme was “Journeys with Joseph,” where they learned about how they can trust in God even when they feel abandoned.

The campers are so desperate for love, but they’ve been rendered incapable of expressing their need for love. The child who needs love the most will often be manipulative or physically and verbally aggressive. They have learned that vulnerability is dangerous. Throughout the week, though, these children tend to soften as they sense the love of God.

There are so many stories that demonstrate just how desperate these kids are for love. One boy, Dominic, was the biggest bully at camp. At 11 years old, Dominic cussed out many counselors using every swear word under the sun and was resistant to everything. On the last day, he allowed himself to be hugged by a counselor and broke down crying for the first time.

Another boy, Kevin, had been staying in a group home for months after he attempted to murder his younger brother and violently lashed out at his grandmother. Prior to camp, he was kept in a room by himself for over a month, only saw a psychiatrist, and refused to see anyone else. I met Kevin the previous year at camp but didn’t realize how much of an impact I had on him. This year, he ran up to me and said, “I was asking where you were!” He told me he knew the song “One Thing Remains” by heart, and that he loved me very much.

Alexandra told her counselor that she sees the devil before she goes to sleep. She wet the bed the first two nights, but after we prayed over her, she was able to sleep throughout the night and did not wet the bed after that.

Lizzie shared that before she was relocated to California, she lived in a motorhome with six people and 5 dogs in the middle of Arizona. She never had a birthday party of her own before she came to camp. At RFKC, she was celebrated.

When I first attended RFKC in 2014, I was completely overwhelmed by how severe and diverse the backgrounds of the campers were. My eyes were open to a world that was previously invisible. RFKC is like heaven on earth, full of love and unity as the body of Christ. Kids from 6 years old all the way to volunteers at 80 years old are present. The staff loves each other, the staff love the kids, and the kids love the staff. Everyone is built up in the strength and love of Christ.

Every year, despite little to no sleep, I leave feeling full and invigorated. Through RFKC, these kids can be seen. They are called out by God, we can call them by name, and can continue to pray for them throughout our lives.  Even though camp can only be a week, any intervention of God at all is vital to these kids who are trapped in fear and the unknown. Our prayers do not go unheard. The seeds we plant will not die. Across the globe, people involved in the Royal Family movement are praying for these children every day. And they are being prayed for by their first names.

Upon departure, I too was asking myself, “Can camp be forever?”

written by Elizabeth Torres