Whether or not you sent your kids and teens to church camp this Summer, the question at some point probably crossed your mind: Does church camp really make any difference other than just a giant sleep over and a bunch of junk food while playing games?
I spent some time at the youth camp our church attends last month. Here are my honest thoughts… but first, a little back story… I’ll try to keep it short…
I was born in the early 80’s, back when everyone went to some kind of camp every year. Whether church camp, scout camp, or another activity camp, almost all the kids I knew went to camp. The majority of my childhood was spent counting down until I could go to junior camp when I turned 7. From there on, my friends and I spent every year counting down until the next Summer when we would go to camp again.
It was that big of a deal, people. Really. I’ll spare you the view of a gazillion photos that I cherish to this day. Mostly because they involve embarrassing clothes and hair styles…
We would start planning our outfits around Easter, as back then we still dressed up for both services each day. Dresses, heels, hair, the works. Packing of the bags began in July. It was a major process… and in August, it would quickly come and go.
We learned something new about the God we served, made new friends, sang new songs, swapped addresses, and went home (Took the mountain with us! More on that later..) and started it all again. When I was 9 I had a really awesome (and very young) counselor named Sherry. She prayed with me, endured my sleep walking/talking, taught me all the awesomeness that is DC Talk, told us bedtime stories about Cinderella and the New Kids On The Block by flash light. Sherry was, like, so rad… She still rocks! (I can’t leave that out… 😉 ) That alone tells you about the relationships I formed during those years, as Sherry is one of my dearest friends today.
The camp I attended most as a kid and teen is the one I worked at this year. Formerly Bethel In The Hills (though many of us still call it by this name), now known as Mountain Pointe Campground, is a camp my family has attended for many years. As of this year, 4 generations of my family have now gone as either campers or workers. Founded in 1947 and owned by the SoCal District of the Pentecostal Church of God, this is the same camp that Sherry’s Grandpa along with my Grandpa and many others helped build to what it is today. It is where Sherry’s parents directed kids camp every summer for several years. So not only is church camp is one of my best childhood and teenage memories, without a doubt, it is also part of my legacy. Obviously church camp had a big impact on me and was definitely worth it.
But then I grew up… Right? Did anything come from what happened to me all those years at camp? Well, back to that later in this series. However, first let me tell you very honestly that for several years I began to wonder if church camp was worth it. Was it worth the time? The effort? The money? Are kids today still getting slammed by the presence of God and knowing just how real He is? Do they even get that they are there for God, or are they so stressed out without electronics that they can’t function without Wi-Fi to know how to have dive in to the presence of God and have fun when not in chapel? Well, in this series I will tell you how our camp went this year. Then I’ll let you decide for yourself…
Or as old people like me who can’t let go of the old labels call it: Junior Camp. (Whew, I feel better now… Okay, I’m not that bad. But I couldn’t get it through my head to stop using the old names.)
In attendance from our little church was my son, Tommy (8), 3 other boys, my pastor, and myself. No girls from our church so that meant I was bunking with a bunch of people I didn’t know… which a few years ago would have been enough to send me running home. Thanking God again for deliverance from anxiety! All together we had around 90 kids, I think. This is a big drop from the hundreds that were in attendance in my childhood, so I was a bit shocked when I first arrived. Kids camp was for those from 1st grade up to 5th grade.
Camp ran from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday morning with chapel in the morning and evening.
Each service began with a game or two and a warm up “get your wiggles out” song. The kids would then all do worship, with all of the songs including motions. Sometimes even balloons were part of worship, which to the kids was just the best thing ever. The sermon/lesson portion of the service followed a popular VBS curriculum with the sanctuary being decorated according to the theme.
The end always had an altar call, with kids coming down for prayer. The remainder of the children sitting or that had returned to their seats were gently reminded sometimes that we needed to be reverent and quiet so that the ones at the front could talk to Jesus, but not one of them complained and some would even begin to pray for those at the front from where they were sitting. Quite a few kids gave their lives to Jesus. Heartaches were mended. Lives were changed.
Let me clarify before we go any further… I want to make it clear that I DO believe that a child can give their life to Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit (and there isn’t a Junior Holy Spirit, either!), experience the gifts of God, etc… Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” He didn’t say, “They have no idea what I’m talking about and they can’t know Me until they are either 18 or 21 depending upon their state of residence.”
So yes, we had kids at church camp that were saved and came to know Jesus while at camp this year, kids that were filled with the Spirit and felt His presence strongly in a way that they will always remember. I’m sure there were also kids who may have returned home unchanged, but there is no doubt that seeds were sown and they will never forget that time they went to camp in the mountains with those people that loved Jesus.
There were things that kids told me that broke my heart, reports that made me leap, and stories that encouraged me that God is still moving in the younger generations. Our leaders from SoCal Youth, Roque and Nancy, did a great job of explaining how to pray and listen for God to these young children and how they could talk to Jesus about anything and everything. Oh, and did I mention that Nancy was pregnant and her due date was the first day of camp? That’s commitment, y’all. She didn’t have her baby until Senior Camp a week later and was probably tougher than anyone else in attendance. She put us all to shame.
The kids had a ton of fun in between services: good food, friends made, lizards caught/released, and dirt sticking to everyone. It was a blast! Hiking, basketball, dodge ball, water wars… there was a little down time but the kids didn’t seem to notice. Naturally, the kids loved being able to play outside at night for a bit after evening chapel. What kid doesn’t love running around in the dark?
You know what else kids love? Hot Cheetos, worshiping in chapel with a giant T-Rex that also makes appearances on other parts of the campground, banging on the chapel doors while chanting “CHAPEL!” or “LET US IN!”, and seeing their leaders slimed… Yes, slimed! Sometimes it was for having the dirtiest dorm, other times the cleanest. It seemed there was no avoiding it… but Teal Dorm did, thank you Jesus! 😉
I’m in quite a few Facebook groups for Children’s Pastors and while I have read horror (and rather hilarious) stories of kids not showering and other hygiene issues while at church camps, I did not see or hear any of this going on at our camp, thank goodness! Now, cleaning toilets after little people who have consumed about 90% sugar for a few days? My gag reflex is still healing… but hey! All to the glory of God and lives being changed! Amen? Amen! 😉
While a few kids had to be sent home for various ailments, it always seemed that the ones that had to go were the children who needed a touch from God the most. If church camp isn’t worth it, would the enemy fight so hard? One has to wonder… back to that later…
Part 2 can be read by clicking here.