I did not want to go to camp.

It was 1974 and we had not lived in Homestead, Florida, very long. Church camps were OK in my book, but I had only been to those my preacher father was compelled to attend in some capacity. This time would be different. No parents, and as a newcomer, very few friends either.

Secretly, I was stubbornly committed to a same-day return even as I packed, was driven to camp and delivered to my cabin. The crying and feigned stomach ache prevailed, and I felt no guilt abandoning my sister and retreating to the comfort of my bedroom.

Fast forward to last month.

I did not want to go to camp. I was just returning from vacation and wanted to sleep more than one night in my own bed. The forecast was bleak – typical Texas summer heat with an added degree or two for good measure. Visions of bee stings and West Nile-laden mosquitos danced in my head. But my presence was needed as a sponsor for some youths who were excitedly awaiting their first out-of-town camp experience, so I headed to camp.

The camp’s cabins are named for Bible characters: Rachel, Deborah, Abraham, Caleb, and my assignment: Barnabas. When I heard that name, my Church of Christ biblical training led me to fill in the blanks … Son of Encouragement.

Was this some kind of cruel joke? For a number of reasons, I had not felt much like either giving or receiving encouragement lately. And it wasn’t just camp grouchiness. The mood had been hanging around for a while. So, I certainly didn’t want to be faced with the legacy of Barnabas every time I returned to my cabin, looking for the wood-burned sign etched with his name.

Barnabas was the quintessential encourager. His given name was Joseph, but after getting to know him, the apostles dubbed him Barnabas, and it stuck. We first encounter Barnabas in Acts. He has sold a field and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to be used for those in need.

Later, Barnabas goes out on a limb to commend to the apostles the authentic new heart of Saul turned Paul. Barnabas is willing to be sent to Antioch to help out with the church there and accompany Paul on his first missionary journey. He is a second-chance guy willing to take Mark along on his travels even when Paul adamantly disagrees because Mark was flighty on an earlier excursion.

A generous heart that offers the gifts of his hands in encouragement to those in need. Courage to stand up for those who need to be vouched for. The willingness to leave his comfort zone for the task of encouraging others. And the patience to offer a second chance to someone with potential. 

You can see why I was overwhelmed in my little cabin bearing his name.


Our efforts to encourage one another may not be so spectacular as to earn us a new name, but we have all been called to take a stab at it, even when we aren’t feeling up to the task. Encouragement is a discipline that requires time, practice and intentionality. It is necessary. The world needs encouragers – maybe more now than ever.  Without them we risk losing hope. Without hope, we quit fighting to right the wrongs, free the captives and relieve the burdens of the oppressed.

Back outside my own bedroom, an early-summer storm blew over the spindly tree that was awkwardly occupying a corner of the flower bed pressed uncomfortably against the fence. So close in fact that the fence builder had decided to bolt the fence to the trunk rather than add another crossbar for support, which worked fine until the storm intervened.

The tree landed on the opposite end of the fence, miraculously sparing the newly planted, pollinator-friendly flowers and bushes – my Mother’s Day gifts. After the tree had been successfully removed under this mother’s critical stare and chopped into firewood, we reflected on how fortuitous that storm had been -- it was nice having that useless tree out of the way.

In the next few weeks, though, some of the flowers began to droop and fade. The fallen tree may have been spindly and thin-leafed, but it was providing shade for those nearby.

So are you, whether you know it or not. You are in a unique position to encourage someone. Without you, that someone may begin to droop and fade.

And right now, our world needs all the bright spots we can get

Janet MendenhallComment