MiVoden Teen Camper Shares Personal Testimony

November 12, 2021 | Youth | Carlos Lopez

Dani’s bike skidded on the dirt trail, throwing dust into the drowsy afternoon air. After a few more pedals, he slowed down, caught his breath and grinned. He was almost there. In just a few miles lay what the 7-year-old thought to be the best place in the world: a steep, gravel hill.

The hill–lined with rust-red buildings, dry grass and a half-finished sidewalk–wasn’t much to look at. However, to Dani, it was heaven. After he finished his chores every day, he would race across town to meet his friends at the hill, where they’d dive into nearby businesses’ dumpsters, grab all the cardboard they could find and build “cars'' out of the trash. When there were enough other kids gathered to have a good audience, Dani would race his friends down the hill in their new rides. Only when the sky turned pink and he couldn’t walk up the hill anymore would Dani go home, but not before promising to return the next day for more cardboard contests.

Dani’s childhood in Bragança, Brazil was saturated with vibrant memories. The only thing he and his friends loved more than cardboard races was sports. He and his friends would often play soccer in the street, using whatever they had on hand to make a make-shift goal. On weekends, his mom would take him to his grandpa’s red brick farmhouse where he would help build a church for the surrounding community. When he wasn’t working or visiting with neighbors, Dani loved climbing his grandpa’s many trees, especially the mango ones. As he perched in the lush branches and slurped the sweet orange fruit, he’d look down at the world below and remember once again how much he loved his life.

Despite the happy memories, Dani’s life was far from easy. Growing up, he lived in severe poverty. The city he lived in was underfunded and his family never could afford to send him to school. When he was little, his sisters moved in with their aunt because the cost of living was cheaper. That resulted in never being able to really know his siblings. When he was five, his parents divorced. With his family living with a half of their previous income, money got even tighter. Something had to change for them.

A few years later, Dani’s sister moved to the United States to work as a nanny for her best friend’s new baby. By carefully saving money, Dani’s mom was able to take him to visit his sister in the summer. The first time he went, he was nine-years-old and absolutely terrified. He thought he had to stay in America forever and leave behind all his friends. In addition to that fear, he couldn’t even speak English! When the morning of the trip came, Dani got into his best clothes, loaded his luggage and proceeded to cry the whole way to the airport. By the end of the summer though, Dani loved America and was excited to visit again the following summer.

When he was 13, Dani moved to America. After his sister married an American, she convinced their mom to move the family from Brazil to live with her and her new husband. After Dani settled in, his sister enrolled him in a middle school. Not only was it his first time in any school, but he also came to the school not knowing how to speak English. Needless to say, making friends was difficult.

By the time he was in high school though, Dani had made it into a groove. He’d gotten used to the new culture and picked up a lot of the language. His naturally winning personality helped him make many good friends and he went into his sophomore year with hopes of making the football or basketball team.

Then, COVID-19 hit, and Dani’s life was suddenly jolted to a stop. Things turned monochromatic; every day was the same as the one before. He’d do online school, go to work, come home, eat by himself and occasionally play video games with his brother-in-law. Life became bland. The one bright spot throughout quarantine was taking care of his sister’s new baby, Benjamin. Every night, he’d read him books in Portuguese and English. If Benjamin hadn’t fallen asleep by the end, Dani would sing to him. Taking care of someone gave Dani a new purpose and helped ease his loneliness.

Dani had grown up in the church and had a steady relationship with God all his life. However, a few months before the summer of 2021, his faith was tested enormously when one of his dearest friends suddenly passed away. The friend had been like a father to Dani. Even though he was 61 and busy running a business, he’d always made an effort to spend time with Dani and supported him as he grew up.

One of Dani’s favorite memories with his friend was a race they did together. This fostered a bond between the two friends that Dani would remember his whole life.

A week after the race, while Dani and he were mountain biking together, a few people collided. His friend fell on his neck, which had already suffered previous injuries. When he didn’t survive, Dani felt like he’d lost another father.

Dani lost motivation and as grief gave way to apathy, he began struggling with God. A few months passed, and Dani still felt numb. His sister grew more and more concerned for him.

A few weeks before Camp Mivoden's Teen week, Dani's sister began pestering him to get out of the house and go to MiVoden. He’d gone two years prior and loved it. His sister hoped going now would help him engage with the world again. She was right; it did.

As Dani was one of the oldest campers and had a natural way with people, he quickly became a leader—not just for his cabin, but for the whole camp. Like an older brother, he took care of his cabinmates and helped build excitement for events like Mud Run throughout the week. While he loved the activities like sports and 9-square, the music at worship spoke to him. As he sang, he began letting God help his dry bones come alive.

Thursday night at camp is special. After the finale of the play and the camp pastor’s final sermon, cabins head to the lower ballfield, gather around a little lantern on the grass, and allow space for deep conversation. Dani had formed a special bond with his counselor all week and that night he got to hear his testimony. It had a few similarities to his own. When everyone had finished talking, the whole cabin laid down on the damp ground and looked at the night sky. As he gazed at the huge expanse of stars above, he felt God beside him. He smiled. When Dani returned home the next day, he was sure of one thing; he wanted to learn to walk with God. Maybe Dani could teach Him how to cardboard box race, too.