Victims of violence find healing at camp
BY MELISSA LAUBER
The sun was barely up and Drusilla Bunch was sitting on a bench by some flowers in the prayer garden at West River Camp looking and wishing for a butterfly.
"I collect butterflies," she said. "They're free spirits." They're also symbols of resurrection hope and that's something Bunch feels like she could use a bit more of in her life.
On April 1, shortly before 1 a.m., her son Darius, 32, was shot numerous times in the back of the head near a playground where his three children played on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore.
Two suspects are in custody for the shooting. A third man, with ties to the Crips gang, is being sought by police in connection to the murder.
Darius was a single father and left behind three children, ages 13, 11 and 9. His mother is now raising them. Now retired and on disability, this is her second time raising two boys and a girl.
It is, she said, a labor of absolute love. But it is also a challenge. Grief can overwhelm, she said. Heartache, fear and uncertainty can make a day difficult to live through.
But because of her faith, Bunch believes "we are more than conquerors," and she is intent on helping her grandchildren to heal and thrive.
She has gotten them into grief counseling through the school system; and Unity UMC in Baltimore, where Bunch is a member, keeps them in constant prayer. But one of the things she's most excited about is summer camp.
This summer, the Baltimore-Washington Conference sent Bunch and her grandchildren for a week of camping at West River, near Annapolis. The camperships, paid for with funds from the Board of Child Care, are part of the conference's Hope for the City initiative.
The Hope for the City camperships are available to any child in Baltimore whose families have been affected by violence. Before the summer is over, 46 participants are expected to attend camp sessions.
"The Baltimore campership ministry is an important partnership between the churches in Baltimore, our conference camping ministries and the Board of Child Care," said the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, director of the Hope Council and superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District. "Our ongoing vision is for the church to offer hope and healing to those children affected by violence in the city. Our camping experiences offer a safe and sacred place for our children to have fun and to experience the presence of God."
Bunch was fortunate because her grandchildren were able to accom-pany her to grandparent's camp July 7-11.
She's been amazed at the impact it's had on them. "They love it," Bunch said. They weren't at camp long before her 11-year old grandson confided to her, "You don't have to worry about having a lot of drama here."
At home, the children are not allowed to play outdoors because of the threat of violence in their neighborhood. At camp, they can pour themselves out physically, running and playing. There's no TV or video.
"They're beginning to use their minds. They're being creative. I can see them actually thinking again," said Bunch. "The conference should definitely send more kids here. My grand kids are trying things. Children could be saved."
At the camp, the children are also learning about the Bible from their grandmother.
The primary lesson she wants them to learn is, "Having Jesus in your life is the only thing that gets you through. We sometimes don't know how or why, but God works everything to good for his purposes," she said.
"My advice to the kids is focus on the good," Bunch said. "I tell them, ‘your father's looking down from heaven at you. He wants you to find the good.'"
The Rev. Patricia Johnson, pastor of Unity UMC, celebrates Bunch's faith, but notes that some of the
bullets fired at Darius Bunch are still lodged in his house, where his children live. It's an eerie detail that illuminates the horror that fills the daily lives of many of Baltimore's children.
"Violence in the city is so prevalent that young people are becoming immune to it," Johnson said. "They don't perceive the depth of the loss."
While people of faith are sick and tired of the violence, Johnson hopes their frustration moves further beyond candlelight vigils. Children need intense grief counseling. They need professional services that aren't available in the scale they're needed. The church needs to be partnering with city agencies, she said.
The Hope Council is excited about tapping into the expertise and resources being offered by the Board of Child Care, which works with proven, cutting edge methods to assist abused, abandoned, neglected and troubled children and their families.
With such partnerships, the camperships are just the beginning of what might be offered to the children of Baltimore, Hunt said.
Johnson applauds these efforts. The conference camps, she said, are "a unique resource" for healing.
But a one-time experience is not what's needed, she said. Drusilla Bunch's 11-year-old grandson needs to be able to come back to camp at age 15 and work as a counselor or mentor, sharing his story with tomorrow's 11-year-old boys.
"The kids need a way to tell their stories, to share their experiences with other children. As Christians that's what we do, we collectively share our experiences," Johnson said. "We don't recount the story of Jesus just once. We tell our stories again and again to each other. We need to get the young people involved. This is the start of something we can really build on."
It is the people of Unity UMC, continually sharing and living the story of Jesus with her over the years, that has allowed Bunch to forgive the young men who shot her son. She prays for their parents, unable to imagine what it would be like to learn that Darius had taken a life.
"So many grandmothers in Baltimore are raising their grandchildren due to tragedy," she said, "and many of them are bitter for years. They can't let go of their anger, their hurt. I tell them, ‘God has not left you. As long as God is in your life, nothing is impossible.'"
But that doesn't always take away the pain.
"I miss my son," Bunch said. "Every time he left, he would tell me, ‘Mommy, I love you' - by phone or in person - every time, he told me. Remembering that brings the tears."
On her bench at West River, Bunch never did see her butterfly. But she's determined to keep looking. "Too much in this world is negative," she said. "It hides the beauty."