I was a Calvinist Cadet for four years. I failed the program. Here are my only significant accomplishments:
- I earned only two merit badges and never made Recruit (the starter level).
- I was kicked out of the room for fooling around and lipping off to a counselor.
- I won the clandestine “karate chop the popsicle sticks” contest by breaking the most—so many there weren’t enough left to build the model fort.
- On the camping trip, I helped form the human chain across the river in the Elora Gorge so that we could raid the girls’ camp and drag one of their counselors’ tents into the river (with said counselors therein).
I was a Cadet counselor for one evening. I failed the program. As a second-year student at Trinity Christian College, I signed up with the Oak Lawn (Ill.) CRC program. I rode my Schwinn ten-speed out there and survived the Bible study and the round of dodge ball. But the only personal connection I made was during the craft session when a Pathfinder (second-level Cadet) asked if I was the new counselor. Yup. For reasons unknown, he then sucker-punched me in the bread basket.
I pedaled back to the dorm (in pouring rain), ending possibly the shortest counselor stint in Calvinist Cadet Corps history.
I failed the Cadet program. It did not fail me:
- The counselors always treated me with patience and respect, even when I was being a brat.
- In the Bible studies they showed love for God’s Word and modeled for me how to apply it in our everyday lives.
- They gave us fun stuff to do and showed interest in us and our lives while were working on our projects.
- They took us camping (though I haven’t forgiven them for making us sell lightbulbs door to door to pay for it).
- Humbly, lovingly, and—when necessary—firmly, they showed us Jesus.
Fast-forward 30 years, when I started working at the Christian Reformed Church’s U.S. denominational building. One of the gents in shipping turned out to be one of my former counselors. What amazed me about him was that he clearly remembered me and my participation in the program. But he had completely forgotten my (many) sins. If that isn’t being Christlike, what is?
What exactly is the Calvinist Cadet Corps?
Under the umbrella of Dynamic Youth Ministries, a partner organization with our denomination, the Cadet and GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) programs have, for decades, been a very rich blessing to so many boys and girls growing up in our congregations. (DYM also offers Youth Unlimited, but that’s another story—see page 12 in this issue.)
Through the dedicated service of volunteer counselors from our churches, these ministries provide inspiration, nurture, challenge, fellowship, and joy to our youths. They serve also as wonderful means of showing hospitality and fellowship to non-churched kids, giving them positive experiences and role models and helping them to find Jesus and a spiritual home.
It’s a huge commitment to become a GEMS or Cadets counselor. But the benefits you provide (and reap) are many—and often don’t become visible until decades later. Take it from a failed Cadet. You matter(ed). A lot!