A Mother's Reflection about Camp Kaibigan

Celesta Bargatze is training to become a certified midwife. Here, she holds one of the first baby that she caught on her own.

Celesta Bargatze is training to become a certified midwife. Here, she holds one of the first baby that she caught on her own.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an awesome mom.  Not just a mom—that seemed like a given to me—but an awesome mom.  You know, one of those moms who cuts sandwiches into hearts and always has fun and educational projects for her kids to do.  My first daughter, Esther Grace, was fairly young when I started to think maybe that was easier said than done.  As she grew, each new stage of her little life presented me with a unique blend of joy, challenges, and—at times—speechless bewilderment.  It only took a little time and humility to recognize that as much as I wanted to do for my daughter, I had also accepted God’s calling to be a midwife and to one day work and train other midwives in Africa, and I needed help.  When I first felt the Lord leading me to such work, I wondered how I could ever even complete the training and still be a “good mom.”  Like any other parents, my husband and I have high hopes for our children to one day be better than us.  We need the investment of other people into our (three) daughters’ lives in order to make this happen, especially since so much of my time and energy is spent training as a midwife.  Camp Kaibigan, a summer program for the elementary-aged children of employees of our organization, is one of the very special ways (and quite possibly Esther’s favorite way) that we have experienced God’s faithfulness and love enacted through our friends and coworkers in order to benefit our children.

Moriah Olson, Justice Garner, Kiah Roufs, Luci Munoz and Esther Bargatze laugh hysterically during a drama lesson at Camp Kaibigan.

I love Esther and I think she is wonderful and sweet and everything else a mother should think of her eldest daughter, but since she was a small squishy baby, the child was particular.  What do I mean by particular?  These tendencies manifest in different ways.  As a baby, very few people doing only a handful of things could get her to crack a smile, much less laugh.  As a toddler, she would work for hours on an art project only to crumple it up and throw it away because she felt there was a line or color out of place.  Now, as a 6 year-old, having learned some discretion and self-control, she will sweetly tell me why school, dance, soccer, et cetera was “ok, but not that great.”  I explain this, so that you can appreciate with me how rare and special her reaction to Camp Kaibigan was.  Last summer, my cautious little lady attended the first day suspiciously.  What was this new attempt of her mother to educate her under the thinly veiled guise of “fun”?  Much to my surprise, and I think perhaps hers as well, Esther LOVED IT!  Not the way she loves the last episode of My Little Pony or ice cream cones either, but she woke up excited every day to go because she loved her friends and teachers.  It became the comparison for every other activity, “it was fun, but not as much fun as Camp Kaibigan.”  When it was time for camp again this summer, she was ecstatic.

Esther Bargatze was one of the campers in Camp Kaibigan's inaugural year: 2012. This year, she was so excited for camp to start that she decorated a folder to take to camp with her.

As her mom, of course I am happy that she enjoys it so much, but my appreciation for this special program goes much deeper.  Kaibigan is Tagalog for “friend,” and developing friendships was one of the main goals of Alison Sherrod, the program’s creator.  Every parent wants their child to have good friends, and as I watch Esther with her sweet little friends, I am moved to tears.  Camp didn’t just give her friends; the activities and intentionality of facilitators have helped Esther develop the skills to cultivate relationships.  I’ve watched her, at 6 years old, resolve conflict through conversation and be able to verbalize feelings that would be difficult for some adults.  While the kids might think they are just having fun with their friends, they are given opportunities to serve.  The kinds of activities that are offered instill in them values that we try to reinforce at home.  For example, they have weekly times in the community garden and then prepare and distribute produce to widows in the surrounding neighborhood.  It is common for Esther to wave to our neighbors and then proceed to tell me about when she visited them and how much she enjoyed helping them.

In my never-ending quest to be a really good mom, I’ve become quite comfortable with the reality of my limitations.  In light of this, when people take the time to invest into my children’s development, I feel especially blessed.  I’m not sure that I can even find the words to express my thankfulness for the blessing of the Camp Kaibigan program.  Even Esther’s grandparents have commented on how her attitude and character have benefitted through the program.  As happy and grateful as we are, I am also reminded of that this is a sign of what God is doing in our organization.  To have four young and talented women (Ashley Moore, Kelly Jobe, Laura Voight, and Brittani Collinsworth) dedicate seven weeks of their summer to providing a quality experience for our children on a volunteer basis is a rare thing indeed.  In our culture where summer for college students is typically spent sleeping in or on vacation at the beach, these women have demonstrated generosity, love and their belief in Jesus’ teachings that caring for children is of utmost importance.

Kaibigan means "friend" in Tagalog, and the campers really are developing meaningful friendships. Because of the camp, parents of just this group of girls are able to serve in areas of Resource Management, teaching preschool, spearheading the Community Garden, planning the upcoming G.O.D. Elementary school, maintaining and developing the G.O.D. property, offering Resident Accountability to single students, planning for the upcoming year of classes at the Institute for G.O.D. International, including more participants in the Childbirth education program.

Without their investment, it would be much more difficult for me to fulfill my vocation in midwifery.  It honestly was not an easy thing for me to accept, and this was primarily because I knew the requirements of such work.  Caring for women throughout their pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences is a weighty task.  Learning this craft comes with a great deal of study and practical experience.  Furthermore, the hours are not predictable.  One week I may have ample time to spend with my family and the next, we have 4 new babies and I haven’t seen my kids in days.  There is a temptation to be fearful or worried.  Everything from the existential “will Esther resent me for missing her swim lesson again” to the practical “I hope the kids got their vitamins today” threatens to cloud my mind and I simply cannot let it take me from the very important task of caring for women and children, and learning the life-saving skills that women in Africa so desperately need.  However, accepting this call, I believed that God would be faithful to my family, because I knew they were even more important to him than they were to me.  I am often reminded of the midwives in Exodus 1 and how it is specifically noted that God’s blessing to them comes in the form of a family.  Children are so important to God, how could I ever think that he would call me to something that would be detrimental to them?

In the New Testament, we see Jesus teaching his disciples that they must value children.  In the Old Testament, God’s law stipulates the importance of families teaching their children.  Because we, as an organization, believe that God’s word and the life of Jesus should guide the way we operate in every aspect, we also highly value our children and their holistic development.  Camp Kaibigan is a sign of this and how we can only fulfill our God-given vocation as a whole, rather than as individuals.  As a mother, I can attest to experiencing God’s love and a sense of relief knowing that my children can excel while I help another woman safely welcome her child.  As a camper, Esther gets to live it up as she is loved and, in turn, learns to love others.