Sitting on the floor in a circle, holding coffee cups and wearing their volunteer shirts, the elementary small group leaders at our Waterford 11 a.m. service had gathered for their weekly team meeting. I casually made a suggestion that was met with great enthusiasm— a goodbye book for the Rapp family. As we discussed the details that morning, Ezekiel Rapp came bounding into the room, early as usual and too excited to wait. He tapped the shoulders of Ms. Sierra, his special-needs-buddy, and his small group leaders. He was eager to play.
Zeke, his parents (Rick and Katrina), and his younger sisters (Aspen and Iris) have been a part of our Waterford campus for four years. But with Rick’s graduation from medical school at the end of this past May, the family’s long-anticipated move to Wisconsin for his Residency became a reality. And with that news, Zeke’s leaders went to work on a special goodbye for him. Zeke has had several volunteer leaders during his years at Summit, but he’s especially close with this current group. Due to language delays, Zeke has been limited in his communication in the past. But this year, with a spurt of verbal development, he underwent a personal transformation— it became normal to see him chattering to his leaders, organizing games with other kids, and belting out worship lyrics in the hall. We’ve all gotten to experience his wonderful personality in new ways, and it’s been an amazing process for all of us.
To prepare for the Rapp’s departure, the volunteers began snapping selfies with Zeke and documenting his Sunday morning experience for the photobook. A picture of Mr. Mark, a much-beloved nursery volunteer, and baby Iris was followed by a moving letter from Mark to the family—another contribution for the book. Aspen’s leaders followed suit, and in no time we had a book’s worth of pictures and heartfelt personal notes.
All of the letters to the kids were full of memories of dancing, coloring, baby giggles, trips to the Lobby for hot chocolate, and countless other joyful scenes. The letters to Katrina (a long-standing Base Camp volunteer) centered on her warmth and engagement. A theme emerged as I compiled the messages: “A joy… a privilege… life-changing… your openness... your love.”
Mr. Mark, in his note to Katrina, wrote that “The Holy Spirit fills the Base Camp rooms every week with warmth and happiness, like one big family, drawing us all closer to God, and it’s wonderful. Thanks again for opening your heart and sharing your family with mine.”
I was moved by the closeness of the community I was witnessing. I was seeing one of my greatest hopes for Base Camp— that it would be a true extension of the church community— realized in this family and the volunteers who had invested so deeply in their kids.
It had happened so organically that I’d almost missed it, but at the same time it made so much sense! This close-knit group had formed through a combination of openness, a commitment to show up, a willingness to serve, and a desire to be in real relationships with others at Summit. By being invested and present, the Rapps had become part of a family within the Base Camp environment. I’m so thankful for Rick, Katrina, their kids, and the blessing it’s been to share requests for prayer, triumphs, and tears with them. They, along with the other families and volunteers who have poured into one another over the years, have given me a vision for what it looks like when Base Camp is more than just a weekly event, but a place to put down roots and to share life with others. I believe that’s part of our calling as a church, and something that we’re all invited to take part in. And I hope that one day it’s true for every family who calls Summit their home.
Keely Hardaway is the Waterford Children's Ministry Director. She loves getting to be a part of showing the children in Base Camp the love of Jesus! If you'd like to get in touch with Keely to ask her any questions or say 'hey, thanks for pouring into the lives of my kids," you can email her at email@example.com.