I am getting ready to take my oldest daughter to overnight camp for the first time tonight. It got me thinking about all the years I have spent at camp, both as a camper and as a leader. All told, I’ve spent probably 30 weeks of my life at camp, over half of a year’s worth! If I’ve spent so much time there, and am now sending my children there, then I clearly think it has a lot of value.
A number of years ago I was reading a major Christian publication (that shall remain nameless for the sake of its “journalistic integrity”) and they were doing a big camp special. Being the big christian camp supporter that I am, I decided to give it a read. The first article was about reasons to go to camp. The article did not start off on the right foot, though, as the author had only attended camp once many years ago and ended up leaving halfway through because of homesickness. I immediately said (out loud) “This is the best person you can find to write about camp?” After I was sure no one had noticed my outburst, I continued reading in the hope that this person had observed from afar the benefits of camp. Unfortunately, no. The best that this person could come up with as reasons to go to camp were to have a good time and learn how to relate with the opposite sex. No lie. In my disbelief that this was supposed to promote camp, I saved the article and after all these years it still has reverberated with me (its currently packed away, somewhere, and hopefully will remain buried there forever).
Is that what camp is? A fun time to get away from parents and flirt with the girls? Or is it something more? I have been attending camp ever since I was a little kid. I’ve attended probably 30+ weeks of camp in my life, some as a camper, many more as a faculty member or dean. I’ve seen hundreds of teens give their lives to Christ. I’ve seen hundreds more rededicate their lives to Him or finally figure out what it really means to be a Christian. I’ve seen dozens devote their lives to ministry.
Camp is more than fun and flirting. It is a vital part of ministry. Camp is important because it provides a “mountaintop experience” where students get to experience God in new and exciting ways. It is often a time of maturing and ripening after months or years of parental and youth group influence has prepared the heart for change. What is it about camp that causes these major changes? Here are some thoughts…
1. Students get away from the daily grind – There is a reason camps are often located far out in the country with sparse facilities and isolation from “the real world.” Every now and then we need to be removed from our habits, our environment, and our influences. What happens is our lives get so noisy and cluttered that we can’t hear God. Sometimes getting away is the best thing to reduce the noise and give God an opening to speak into our lives.
2. Teens receive a heavy dose of Bible – It’ll take students 2 to 3 months of dedicated youth group attendance to get the same amount of Bible teaching they get at a solid week of camp. Yeah, some camps are high on fluff, but most are good about have a strong Bible component. With morning devotions, a few class sessions, and a worship session each day students get immersed in the Word.
3. Worship is a core component – I have never worshipped God as fervently as I did at camp. I can’t completely explain it, but a combination of the time away, worshipping with a hundred other teens, and the closeness with God led to some powerful worship times.
4. Perspectives are challenged – A good camp will challenge students to look at the world differently. Instead of being given stock answers to life’s issues, teens are pushed to think about things and combine biblical answers with real problems. Again, getting them out of their comfort zone helps. They are brought into contact with new people. Their routine is messed up. They’re worshipping God and brought into His presence. They are being inundated with scripture.
5. Lifelong friendships are developed – This one is a little less intense as the others, but no less important. I took a quick scan of my facebook friends, and I counted at least 80 friendships that were started or deepened during camp. Over 120 of those friends attended camp with me at one time or another. When you go to the mountaintop with someone, you’re changed together. Those bonds forged are tougher than the ones based around a favorite sports team or music group.
These aren’t the only ways that camp helps to change teens lives, but they are the main ones. I have seen too many great things happen through summer camp to dismiss it or lessen its impact on teens. How have you seen camp change lives?