by Joanie Butman
Last week I saw love in action. The Holy Spirit was palpable from the moment I entered Ron Burton’s Training Village (RBTV). Immediately, I was engulfed in the serene setting while I Surrender All played softly through the sound system into the extensive gardens. I knew I was about to experience something special, so I did as the song suggested and surrendered to the moment. Everywhere I looked there were young men sitting alone in quiet contemplation. In our tech-obsessed society, that alone was extraordinary.
This surreal environment was not the football camp I had envisioned. In fact, this place wasn’t a football camp at all as I had previously assumed, since Ron Burton was a professional football player for the New England Patriots. These campers aren’t being trained for the gridiron but for the playing field of life, which is infinitely more important. There are four core values of the camp: Love, Peace, Patience and Humility. The camp’s philosophy is to inspire the consideration of others before yourself and motivate an understanding that faith and morals need to be the foundation of the mentality through which they approach life.* If they offered an adult session, I would have enrolled on the spot.
We enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a panel discussion with leaders of industry where the campers could interact and seek advice from elders. We were then served a gourmet meal complements of the owner of Davio’s, a restaurant group in Massachusetts, and avid supporter of RBTV. Conversing with attendees was particularly impressive as they were engaging in a way seldom seen today, eager to share what they’ve learned through the Ron Burton program. It was quite refreshing to discuss scripture with adolescents sans the eye rolling.
After lunch I had the opportunity to chat with JoAnn Burton, Ron’s widow and matriarch of the lovefest I was witnessing. She shared the story of the first time her husband brought her to this remote location. He walked her to the top of the hill, and as they gazed over the 80-acre parcel he wanted to purchase, Ron described his dream to create a village where kids could come to train and attain personal growth. “Can’t you just see it?” he inquired enthusiastically. She responded, “Ron, I don’t see anything but trees!” What he said next was the most profound lesson I learned that day. He replied, “JoAnn, you don’t have to believe in the camp. I just need you to believe in me.” That, she said, was something she could wrap her head around. Thus, RBTV was born.
And so it is with God. We don’t share His ability to see the big picture. Life is hard and His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Psalm 55:8-9). We often can’t understand or see the purpose behind much of His plan – especially as it pertains to suffering. However, we can choose to believe in Him. And that is enough. We can choose to trust and follow God even when (especially when) it defies logic. In fact, if you find yourself thinking, “This is crazy,” you’re most likely right where He wants you. He specializes in the improbable and seemingly impossible. It’s His way of announcing Himself to a deaf world.
Ron Burton understood that despite his many successes as a professional athlete, his most important and lasting legacy would be one of love. Mrs. Burton explained that Ron recognized that All American is temporary, the NFL is temporary, but changing one person’s life lasts forever. This understanding is illustrated in one of my favorite plaques in the Ron Burton room where his many awards are displayed. It reads, “He was a Patriot. Then he became a giant.” Most of us will never accomplish the feats of athleticism Ron Burton did, but we can all follow his lead to become giants of love in our family, our community, our world.
Choosing to follow the Lord is the beginning of a grand adventure leading you to people and places you never expected. It might be a remote outpost in Massachusetts, across the globe in Calcutta, or perhaps in your own backyard. There isn’t a place in the world that couldn’t benefit from a fresh infusion of God’s love in action. The home page of RBTV states, “We are big on love and we are big on family. Every child that enters the village becomes a part of the RBTV family.” The same can be said of God’s family. As Christians, we too should be big on love and big on family, caring for God’s children of any age because it does indeed “take a village.”