The camouflage coat of the frog feels slimy to the teen-age boy.
"Watch me squish his guts out," he announces to other inner-city boys
attending Camp Melody in rural Pennsylvania. A curious cluster gathers,
as if witnessing some street gang execution. Stanley Jackson, another
boy, quickly emerges.
"Let him go."
The first teens gaze shifts from the frog to his friend. "What?"
"Let him go. It aint right to kill him."
The boy swallows hard. He looks at the frog, then back into Stanleys
unyielding eyes that look like they did when he shared about his mothers
recent death from cancer. The boy slowly relaxes his grip and the other
boys cheer as the frog hops to freedom.
From left, Mike Cumberland, Brandon Traenkner, Jesmar Matos, Samuel
Drayton, Tiaheem Thomas and Joshua Fontanez form lasting friendships
at Camp Melody.
"A year earlier, he would have killed the frog anyway," says Dawn Fossnes,
member of New Life Assembly of God in Ocean City, N.J., and founder
of Melody Ministries, Inc., a Christian outreach for underprivileged
boys ages 10-14. "Each year, the boys learn a little more about proper
choices and serving God."
Camp Melody named after Fossness goddaughter Melody McTamney
who died of leukemia at three weeks old opened in 1999, fulfilling
a 15-year dream Fossnes had of starting a free camp for those
from troubled homes. The camps have been held at rented grounds while
Fossnes seeks a permanent site.
"My mom is a drug addict, and my dad was a Christian but died in 1996,"
says 13-year-old Howard Ayllon of the Bronx, who is originally from
Puerto Rico. "My aunt is raising me, my brother and three sisters. She
was a drug addict, but accepted Christ as her Savior when Dad died."
Howard wants to become a preacher. He helps with the food pantry at
his inner-city mission church, and hands out church fliers and gospel
tracts on subways. At the camp last year Howard heeded a sermon about
boldly sharing Gods truths. "God spoke to me and I stood up and
said yes I am ready to tell the world about Jesus," he says.
Testimonies such as Howards are why Fossnes plans to expand Melody
Ministries. To keep contact throughout the year, adult volunteers make
a commitment to pray for and write to one of the boys periodically,
including for his birthday. "The boys get their first letter from this
prayer partner on the last day of camp," Fossnes says. "These partners
make a commitment until the boy is out of high school. Its good
for the prayer partners, too. It gives the boys permanence, hope and
love where there hadnt been any."
Fossnes says the boys respond enthusiastically to any attention. "The
speaker at camp last year asked if anyone needed a hug and they all