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Branch Church Makes CedarS Possible for Children New to the US


In March of 2021, a Christian Scientist attending First Church, Des Moines, Iowa reached out to CedarS about a group of children in the church’s Sunday School. The parents and six children had arrived in the United States as refugees just a few months earlier, in the midst of the pandemic. The father is an active Christian Scientist, having served as a Reader and Christian Science Lecture organizer in the overseas refugee camp. The children primarily spoke Swahili, and there had been little opportunity to learn English in America without in-person schooling since their arrival.

"Will it work for the children to come to camp?" was the question for CedarS. We reached out to a camp Christian Science nurse who speaks fluent Swahili, who supported us in putting on a virtual video show for these children, their parents, and church friends. Four of the six children were old enough for camp, and they and their parents were enthusiastic about moving forward with the idea, so CedarS worked with the local representatives to figure out the details. Tuition was covered by donations from The Campership Fund (TCF) and CedarS Camperships. Branch church members and Christian Science friends ensured that the children had the necessary items on the camp packing list and funds for the camp store. A Christian Science volunteer from St. Louis even drove to camp, got certified on CedarS 15-passenger vans, and chauffeured the campers at the beginning and end of their stay at camp. Talk about blessing others with the gifts of time, prayer, and care!

The group grows to seven: Between March and the start of camp, three more children who were also new to the US and attended Sunday School regularly expressed interest in going to camp.  Their parents and Sunday School teachers felt they would learn so much about Christian Science from being at camp and supported the idea. And so the group eventually became seven precious children, ranging from second graders through a high schooler, who all attended camp for five weeks.

Divine Mind’s coordination: While this undertaking required a lot of coordination, it was clear that divine Mind was truly the Coordinator, calling each person who needed to be at camp to bless and be blessed by these campers. We were grateful to have Christian Science nurses who spoke Swahili fluently for each of the five weeks the children were at camp. It was beautiful how these Christian Science nurses' summer availability opened up to support this need. One of the Christian Science nurses was accomplished in braiding hair and devoted over 20 hours to this act of kindness for the children, as well as cooking the children a special traditional meal from home between each session. One of our Housekeeping staff was a certified ESL instructor who volunteered to provide additional language support. We also found ways to teach the staff some basic Swahili phrases. We were grateful to have enough counselors available to devote 1:1 support, as needed, to help the children with adjusting to camp schedules and structures.

Five wonderful weeks: Staff were inspired by how courageously the campers embraced swimming, how quickly they learned English, how willing they were to teach Swahili to new friends, and how much joy and laughter they brought to all. On the campers' departing day, we invited the group and their counselors onto the Mary’s Chapel stage. The counselors spoke about each of the campers, highlighting growth they had witnessed and how the campers had also blessed them. There were tears, hugs, and a standing ovation from the entire camp. They had clearly become treasured members of the CedarS family.

First-hand perspectives: Below are some highlights from the campers, the parents, local Christian Science and church friends, fellow cabin-mates, and CedarS staff. What blesses one, truly blesses all.

Campers: Here are a few comments from the campers about their favorite parts of camp:

  • The daily metaphysical meetings where I learned about God and Christian Science with many teens my own age; the Junior Leadership counselors who helped guide me; and the zipline and body-boarding.
  • Learning to be a more confident swimmer; cable skiing for the first time; playing soccer with my cabin-mates and counselors; the waterslide.
  • Getting up on a horse and learning to ride it without fear; creative drawing; building an airplane during crafts; jumping on a trampoline; games at the swimming pool.
  • Writing new words and singing new hymns in English in Sunday School; drawing and building things in crafts; jumping off the diving board.
  • Becoming comfortable enough in the water to swim down and touch the bottom of the deep end of the pool; jumping off the diving board; riding a big horse; making new friends.
  • Playing basketball; trying American food, including s’mores; the very loving counselors; all the fun, safe outdoor activities.
  • Learning to speak English better with so many friends; trying things I’d never even imagined, like cable skiing; and having lots of wonderful things to tell my younger siblings all about.

The parents of these campers saw their children grow in awareness, helpfulness, maturity, and their ability to communicate. A church friend shared, “It’s clear to the parents that the children had an incredible experience. They are deeply grateful to donors like you, some of whom they’ve never met, who made this life-changing experience possible.”

Their cabin-mates were also blessed by the opportunity to become friends with Christian Science youth from different backgrounds. As fellow campers share,

  • “This was by far my best Cedars session yet! Everybody was so kind and supportive. One of the best parts of camp for me was making friends with all the interesting campers that came from other countries. Hearing their stories about their home was so cool and my best friend was from a different country too!“ -High School camper
  • “I had a wonderful cabin! I especially loved being with two girls from the Iowa group. They were the most fun people I’ve probably ever met, and they were so humorous, loving, kind, gentle, bold, out-going, and especially brave!!!” - Middle School camper
  • “I’m grateful that [Name] and I got to be good friends. He taught me a lot of Swahili words and helped make camp even more fun. I noticed that he didn’t have a stuffed animal, and I was able to give one to him. This made me feel really good inside.” -Elementary School camper

The CedarS staff members (high school and college students) rose to the opportunity, helping the new arrivals understand how camp works, supporting them through challenges, and showering them with love.  The staff were equally blessed by their interactions with the children, as reflected in these sample comments:

  • “At the beginning of the session, my co-counselors and I, along with the Christian Science practitioners and nurses, talked about overcoming the language barrier with Love. Love is the true communicator, and that’s what I kept in mind above all else when interacting with the campers. I learned so much from being their counselor: how to really see from a different perspective, how to change the way I explain something, to have better patience, to laugh frequently, and so much more. The way they cared for other campers, how they shared with both campers and staff, and their willingness to try new activities inspired me anew each day. Their comfort level with speaking English improved so much as well. I was truly blessed to have them in my cabin. I loved every minute of it, and the challenges were well worth the experience. I think that Love truly brought us closer together, and the cabin was so harmonious. I am forever grateful for being their counselor this summer!” -Kenna Heroy
  • “I would have to say that this summer working with [Name] was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Cedars Camps. I was once in [Name’s] shoes, moving to the United States at a young age just a few years older than him. I did not know any English-- only my tribal language and Swahili, a language he also spoke. It was difficult for me to communicate and make friends; however, entering the gates of CedarS Camps changed that. I made friends and I was accepted for who I was. Now looking at [Name of camper], who was in the same situation, it shows that the local branch church took a step to change a life and Cedars Camps executed, making the biggest impact on these campers just like CedarS has done for so many others including myself. This experience has inspired me to continue doing what I do, which is working with children [Name’s] age as my career path.” - David Omondi
  • “Being [Name’s] counselor this summer was the best opportunity of my life. Having him at camp for five weeks was a life-changing experience for me and for him. Being his counselor, I got to see his growth from when he first came and it would have been tempting for us all to give up, to the last week of camp when he didn’t want to go home. Being with him, I gained so much patience and humility. I hope that churches all around the country keep supporting young kids to come to camp because it really is such a unique and important experience.” -Gavin Brustman
  • “When I heard about these campers who would be joining us for the first time, I was so excited but the language barrier made me feel a little nervous. As soon as I met these kids, all of my worries disappeared. They greeted the cabin with such big smiles and instantly shared laughs with the group. Not only was it a wonderful thing for the counselors, but the rest of the campers in our cabin were so excited to meet their new friends. One of my favorite memories in our cabin was one night before bed when we read the book, Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet. As a group, we learned how to say different words in Swahili and the girls in our cabin loved teaching us these new phrases! Being a counselor and watching the campers grow out of their shells by trying new things is such a wonderful experience that words could never describe. I love that the CedarS Camps theme of this summer, "Grace to go forward"(Hymn 278), reminds us that progress is the law of God and things are always moving forward with divine Love. I am already looking forward to being back with these campers next summer.” -Rachel Stewart

The Christian Science nurses and practitioners were an integral part of this unfoldment, actively supporting the campers and staff and witnessing wonderful growth and healing. Here is some fruitage from their perspective:

  • “God’s universal Love and ever-present care that leaves no one out was evident at CedarS Camps this summer with this special group of campers. I witnessed God meet every need harmoniously. I love the opportunity of growth it provided me, and am sure all, to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ -- a wider embrace of God’s larger family. God sure has a way of humbling us through this holy work of service to ALL His/Her children. It was the “Best Summer Yet.” -Terry Ambugo, Christian Science nurse
  • “I will never think the same about global prayer because of these children. While I do dedicate a bit of time each day to prayer for the world, these children and especially one of them, with whom I became close, really inspired me to deepen my prayers. I especially address the welfare of families such as these that are coming from precarious situations in countries in turmoil. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t send at least a small prayerful hug toward my friend. As I homeschool my own boys this year, we are spending a good amount of time looking at parts of the globe newer to us, drawing maps of these areas, and finding out a few facts about a new country each day. I know my work with these amazing children has opened my thought to a wider embrace of our world community, and I feel so inspired by my time helping them through prayer at camp. It was also obvious that they were readily responsive and hungry for the love we were sharing. The young man that I worked with most seemed to struggle mightily from some very difficult circumstances involving leaving his home country. Over just the two weeks I was with him he responded to the love and steadfastness of staff. I continued to support him for a time as we transitioned into the next session and some of his staff friends left camp. Over the next three weeks the changes in his behavior, his obviously deeper sense of peace, and his ready joy were apparent. I am really grateful I had the opportunity to support this growth, and to be a part of this experience. It has blessed me tremendously.” -Kerry Jenkins, CS, Main Camp Christian Science practitioner
  • “Just a few days before coming to CedarS Camps this summer, I had a phone call from the father of the campers, who informed me that his kids had been at CedarS for several weeks. I have known their father, who is a friend of mine, for over 20 years. I visited them several times when they lived at the refugee camp overseas, which is my home country, although most of the children were too young to remember me. Upon arriving at CedarS Camps, I was able to meet these campers and speak to them in Swahili. They were so happy to learn I have known their parents for many years from overseas!  I was amazed how much they loved being at CedarS. I remember one of the children asking me if I could help talk to her Dad and ask him if he was ok for them to move to CedarS Camps so they could live there . . . The spiritual foundation established in them through prayer, unconditional love and support from all the staff and volunteers must have inspired them to feel so blessed that they left with their ‘residency’ well established at CedarS Camps, ready to come back soon next summer!”  -Mussa Tongori, Christian Science Nurse
  • "It is impossible to measure who was blessed most by the amazing opportunity with these children.   Fortunately, we don’t have to measure.  And, fortunately the blessings are not over.  Not only was everyone blessed by the experiences this summer, these children will continue to bless their communities and will very likely serve as CedarS staff members someday, blessing more and more children.” -Christie Hanzlik, CS, Main Camp Christian Science practitioner

The Christian Science church friends and sponsors shared this perspective: “What began as merely an idea grew into full expression this summer as you and others acted individually at God’s direction, lovingly meeting needs along the way. Mary Baker Eddy asks, ‘What cannot God do?’ (Science and Health 135: 20). Thank you so much for your inspired living of God’s love for each of His children.”

Grace in Action: This entire unfoldment was a demonstration of our summer theme of “grace.” It was clearly God’s grace that brought us all together, and we all grew in grace from being in fellowship with one another. We all learned, a little more fully, how Christian Science truly is the universal law of Love that allows so many individuals from such different walks of life to come together in peace and harmony, and for God’s glory. My grandmother Ruth Huff used to always say, “This is God’s camp,” and the truth of her insight was once again shown through this beautiful experience.

Respectfully submitted,

Holly Huff Bruland, Executive Director

*To protect the children's privacy, we have not used their names.

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