The humorous comment that always comes to mind when recounting my becoming Director of Operations with Mount Jubilee Ministries is that “here, there is plenty of room for growth.”  You see, the story of my involvement with MJM began back in 2012 with rather humble beginnings – I started out as a dishwasher!  It was that year that I finally gave in to my wife, Marisa’s, yearly urgings to come and be a part of Camp Jubilee, the ministries bedrock program.  As she was the nurse for Camp Jubilee, she would accompany the rest of the staff on its yearly pilgrimage to whichever new digs they had discovered to host their “special place for special people” and had always bid me to come and join her.  But me, being a school teacher, coveted my June exodus from the classroom and subsequent (and what I felt, necessary) trip to the backyard hammock for recovery from the long hard slog that each school year represented.  So, off she would go to who knows where in the wilderness, and off I would go to the backyard for rest.  While she was away for the week tending Janice and Cecil’s lost sheep, I would be vegging out wondering along with King David,  “How long will you look on?  Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions?”  Actually, the school I worked at had as its mascot the panther, but you get my point.   This session of R & R was, I thought, absolutely necessary to my survival as a public school teacher. Finally, though, in 2012, I told her I would come…but with the condition that I would only come to serve silently somewhere deep in the background.  I didn’t want to be involved, didn’t want to get to the point where I was going to be engaging anyone.  I offered my services (but not my heart) and was thus put to work in the camp kitchen.  

Well, I was able to succeed in my heart-less work as I busied myself over plastic trays and cups and plates and a sink.  The work was quite easy.  Go into the kitchen, talk with the kitchen workers, talk about our lives.  I did not think too much of the campers, at first.  They seemed friendly enough, happy, HUNGRY, but what kid isn’t at camp.  Soon, though, I began to notice that each of the campers, when bringing up their trays for cleaning, were saying hello, asking me my name, or just thanking me for taking their dishes from them.  I began engaging them in little conversations and enjoyed the banter back and forth.  Their looks at me were not the looks of disinterested, haggard students put in a place they wished not to be, but of genuine involvement, warm engagement, and totally genuine interest in this new man in the kitchen.  They asked me for my name; they wanted to know who I was.  This was different from my experiences in the classroom, where students would come and go, most not willing to share a greeting or a “see you tomorrow, Mr. C.”  These campers were different.  I felt I was being received – a welcome guest at their camp.  As this continued for the first few days, I sensed something was going on inside of me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.   

In the evenings, I would help my wife as she prepared for her med passes.  Marisa is an exceptional nurse, who takes her job all the way into the deepest parts of her heart.  I remember her setting out the ziploc baggies of all the campers’ medications and just being overwhelmed by all the bottles and push-packs and dosage directions.  At first, I was startled, and a bit wounded to see that these folks who the world views as little more than incomplete, or broken or handicapped due to their intellectual limitations, should also be taxed with other physical circumstances that require the ingesting of significant amounts of medications that could, in time, lead to further physical issues.  Marisa’s job required portioning out meds for all the campers (a number which had grown from 5 in 2005 to around 24 by the year 2012) 3 times a day!  Together, she and I developed a bit of a system that made this easier to perform.  As she would leave to conduct her med pass rounds, I continued to feel something welling up inside me about this population.  These folks, who seem so challenged by the kind of life situations that would definitely have me down, never complained, threw no pity parties, smiled and said, “Hi,” each time we made contact.  What was wrong with me!?

Then, Tuesday night.  If you know anything about Camp Jubilee, you know that Tuesday night is Talent Night (back then, it was called Share and Tell).  Campers had the opportunity to get up in front of everyone and show off a favorite item or picture or sing a song…however their personality led them.  So, you would see one show a favorite picture of some family member, another, a baseball, still another, a favorite stuffed animal.  One from-the-heart story after another came before us all.  Each showing forth a little piece of his or her God-given life.  Each receiving rousing applause – a celebration of “the me that God has made.”  I remember, though, it was Danny Bishop, playing his harmonica in an absolutely off key and positively beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” that, like the Grinch in that old American Christmas classic, forced my heart to break through every last barrier containing it within my chest.  Share and Tell time was a place of no pretentiousness, no ego.  Just a place of being who you are…and being embraced by those who are like-minded.  The entire camp sang along with Danny.  And, with tears filling my eyes, I did, too.  God helped me to realize just how special a place Camp Jubilee truly is.  It was not only for those who the world deems as broken.  It is for the broken parts in all of us.  It is for me.  

Attending every year since then, I began to take an increasingly more prominent role:  counselor, assisting Janice with some of the programming.  I was now “all in” on Camp Jubilee and was happy to share in the lives of my new special friends.  One day toward the end of the school year I received a call from Janice asking if I would accept the role as Camp Director (big gulp!)  She was feeling the need for passing the baton and saw in me something that might benefit the camp. I was scared to death.  Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  David asked, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?”  After prayerful consideration, I realized that God was showing me who I am.  He was beginning to allow me to see His moving in my life in a way I had not seen before.  I was moving from dishwasher to director?  No, the Lord was using my past, the teaching, the leadership inside the classroom to fit me for this new work.  The idea of becoming a disinterested dishwasher was mine.  The idea of becoming a director of camp was His.  

Now, after several years of camp direction, after putting down my chalk and eraser for the last time (I retired from teaching this past June), the Lord has led me to step into yet another level of involvement:  Director of Operations for Mount Jubilee Ministries.  That is a lot of job title to carry around!  But, it is the work that God has for me.  He first had to fit me for this work through a bit of refining, a bit training.  The relatively mindless work of washing dishes afforded me the opportunity to see the ministry from the inside.  There, I discovered the joy expressed in God’s “special friends”–the folks served by MJM.  After allowing me to discover their hearts, God lit a fire in mine:  to serve the underserved; to participate in a work that is pure.  And, so, I praise Him for the work He has done/is doing in my life in bringing me to this special place for special people.  

-Dave Cullen