By Stefani Carmichael
One February day in 2013 I arrived in French Camp for the first time. My husband, children and I had driven along the Natchez Trace. The trees glittered with icicles and snow, an uncommon sight in Mississippi. The small town greeted us with log cabins and children making snow men and throwing snow balls. We had an awe-filled first impression.
That summer we returned to French Camp with a U-Haul. We were moving in to become dorm parents to teenage girls. God had placed a burden on our hearts to help in whatever way we could.
You might think that as time wore on, my impression of French Camp would be less awe-filled.
After all, reality quickly set in. Trying to love and help up to 16 teenage girls in addition to your own family comes with a unique set of challenges and difficulties that most people could not imagine.
Year two of the job was even harder as I walked through a difficult pregnancy. My morning-noon-and-night sickness came on at the smell of any food (or other substances like trees, lotion, and baby powder). It made cooking for my hoard incredibly difficult, and so did the fatigue that set in later.
I have watched house parents around me bombarded with medical problems, surgeries, and various other struggles plod away still caring for those in their charge, as if we were not already caring for those who have been beaten and broken in the world, watching those far too young face their share of troubles.
This year I have watched new house parents come and see both the captivating first impressions, and the stark realities of the job. Yet they voiced something quickly that I think we all have felt. Sitting in houseparent meeting one of them said, “We thought we were coming to help them, we didn’t know we were coming for us.”
Because somehow, this place really does help all of us. But it is not the place itself that helps us.
We were reminded recently by Edwin Faughn at Rainwater Observatory as my girls and I stared in amazement at the vast night sky, French Camp is only a dot. It is a dot in Mississippi, which is a tiny state in the United States, which is a country in this world, which is orbiting around just one of the stars in this vast universe.
This location is not what helps us. But, in this location are so many people indwelt by the Spirit of the Living God whose glory is declared by the vast heavens he created. As we all come together here and take off our masks, we see ourselves and each other as we truly are.
In this tiny town of French Camp, many lives have been changed. God has changed children’s lives, but he has also changed ours. He has shown us just like he showed Gideon that sometimes we need to face a battle where the enemy far outnumbers us so that we can see that God is the one who brings the victory.
How big is your God? If we must carry everything ourselves, then the weight of our problems is far too great and crushes us. But we don’t have to carry everything ourselves. If we look at everything from a different perspective, we realize the size of our problems compared to the size of the God who made this universe and we have hope. Because that God can handle our problems. He gives us hope, working His awe in us and healing both children and house parents alike.