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Cover Story


Camp Meeting Ambush



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We called them vegecops. I don’t know who invented the name, but we thought it was pretty clever.

They were actually pastors who turned into security officers during the Minnesota camp meeting at the academy each June.

Wearing dark suits and ties, they patrolled the campus like grim Secret Service agents, stopping often to mumble mysterious messages into walkie-talkies.

We were the youth class. Whenever more than five of us assembled, vegecops descended faster than mosquitoes.

At first they tried a friendly assault. “Well, young folks, glad to see you’re enjoying the fellowship,” one of them would say, casually circling our huddle. When we didn’t reply, he would turn to his partner for help. “Hey, Elmer, what time do you have?”

“Hmm, looks like about 7:09, Bob.”

“Did you hear that, kids? Only 21 minutes until the youth meeting starts. Better head on over there so you won’t be late.”

We knew the vegecops didn’t like us.

“FRICHIK TO WHAM”

On the first Sunday afternoon of camp meeting, three of us wandered into the Adventist Book Center to buy Fruit Roll-Ups. Kyle started making jokes about carob bars, and then I accidentally bumped into a woman handing out soy milk samples in flowered Dixie cups. She glared. Before I could apologize, a hefty vegecop landed on us like an evil Superman.

Gripping our shoulders, he propelled us out the door. “This isn’t the time or the place for loitering,” he growled.

We fled before he finished the lecture. Vegecops disliked a lot of things, especially loitering.

After the youth meeting that night, I sat with my friends on the concrete steps in front of the boys’ dorm. Across campus, near the administration building, a smaller group of men in dark suits glanced nervously at us.

“I wonder if they know how silly they look,” Amanda said. “Grown men playing with walkie-talkies.”

“And they take it so seriously,” Kyle added. “Vegecopping must be the thrill of their summer.”

We tried to imagine their secret walkie-talkie conversations. Naturally, vegecops would have code names for each other.

“Agent FriChik calling Wham,” Mike imitated. “FriChik to Wham.”

“Wham speaking,” replied Kyle.

“Please advise all agents that we have a major disturbance in the primary division. We may need reinforcements. All available officers stand by.”

We giggled. The men in dark suits, probably sensing that we were talking about them, began to stroll in our direction. Lowering our voices, we scooted closer together.

“What do they want now? What kind of crime do they expect to find at camp meeting, anyway?” someone asked.

We didn’t know. Teenage couples kissing inthe bushes? Armed robbery at the Adventist Book Center?

As the vegecops passed, they buttoned their suit coats and stared sideways at us.

Mike stood boldly and called to one of them.

“Hey, you, sir,” he said.

A man with long gray hair greased over the top of his nearly bald head stopped and looked toward his friends, gripping their walkie-talkies more tightly now.

Mike continued, “Uh, we were wondering, like, what do you guys do?”

The vegecop cleared his throat. “What do we do?”

“Yeah, you know, when you’re walking around all week with those radios.”

The man wrinkled his forehead and pursed his lips. “Well, we’re security. We have to keep order. Make sure everyone is properly registered, watch for unauthorized

visitors, maintain quiet time.”

“So, do you get a lot of murders and robberies and stuff like that?” Mike continued.

“Well, no.”

“Any intruders?”

“No, not recently.”

We snickered.

The vegecop’s face turned red, and he blinked his left eye repeatedly. “But you never know what could happen. You have to be on the safe side.” He tucked his walkie-talkie into his belt, scowling as if we were pesky flies that needed to be slapped. He reminded us that quiet time began at 10:00 p.m. Then he stalked into the dorm.

We still didn’t know what the vegecops did, but we knew they felt important doing it. And we knew that whatever the crime, we were their major suspects.

By the end of the evening we had devised a plan to get revenge against these prowling spies who so recklessly invaded our territory, outlawed our skateboards, and turned down our music. We would set a trap.

For nearly an hour we discussed our options. None of us actually wanted to steal anything, and we didn’t know where to buy fireworks. Amanda pointed out that kidnapping a baby from the cradle roll room could bring in the real cops. Finally we took a vote and settled on a simple ambush.

COLD TREATMENT

The next night a dozen of us assembled in a dark stairwell carrying red, green, and yellow balloons filled with icy water. Kyle led us up to the hatch that opened onto the dorm roof, and he hastily pushed each of us through the opening.

Black thunderclouds darkened the campus. Lightning flashed beyond the tents and motor homes in the nearby fields.

Shivering, we lay down on the loose rocks to await our vegecop victims.

Kyle and Mike remained on the ground to slam doors, leave footprints, and lure the vegecops into our bombing range.

We waited 30 minutes. Then 40. The rain began, and the lightning split the air less than a mile away.

“I’m cold,” Crystal moaned. “Let’s go.”

“Shhhh!”

At last Kyle and Mike scrambled through the hatch, gasping for breath. “They’re oming! Get ready.”

We were ready. Twelve heads peered cautiously over the roof, waiting for the first vegecop to walk within range. We couldn’t see much in the darkness. When a faint shadow appeared, we hurled our weapons simultaneously. Then we ducked away from the edge, waiting for a reaction.

Silence.

“Isn’t there more than one?” we asked our scouts. Kyle and Mike shrugged.

We leaned over the edge and waited again. We were so intent on the sidewalk below that we didn’t notice that the hatch on the roof had opened. A flashlight beam slashed the darkness.

We whirled around to find a vegecop looming over us. It was the huge man who had kicked us out of the store. Water dripped from his beard, and a piece of yellow balloon hung from one shoulder.

“You know, water balloons don’t do much good when it’s raining,” he said. He paused, weighing his options. The flashlight beam flickered across each of our anxious faces.

He continued, “But I think all my friends are keeping dry down in the basement. Wanna hunt them down?”

Before we could answer, our new vegecop friend dropped to his knees and whispered, “Duck! Someone’s coming.”

Sure enough, a pair of his comrades hurried up the sidewalk toward the doorway under our ambush. Grabbing my biggest red balloon, the vegecop nudged me out of the way.

“My turn,” he whispered with a wink. “Do you think I can knock Elder Larson’s toupee off?”

We stifled our laughter long enough for him to hurl the weapon.

“Bull’s-eye!” he shouted. He held up his hand, and I grinned and gave him a high five.

Ed, the guy who threw that balloon, turned out to be pretty cool. We decided that some security officers weren’t all that bad.

I never did figure out why the vegecops followed the youth class around so much. But we really didn’t have a reason for hiding from them either. I guess it’s just an old camp meeting tradition.

This story originally appeared in the June 22, 1996, issue of Insight. Becky Lane Scoggins wrote this true story while a journalism major at Union College. After graduating with a B.A., she served as an editorial intern for Insight, Guide, and Women of Spirit magazines at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. She also earned a master’s degree in writing at Johns Hopkins University, and she currently works as a freelance writer and editor. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Maryland with their two sons.

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