Camp can be a significant life-changing event for children. Camp is a spiritual investment unlike anything most kids experience at home. Attending camp allows students to retreat from the norm of life, limit distractions and focus on truth.
I serve as the children’s program director at Camp Caraway near Asheboro, N.C., and much of our ministry emphasizes experiential learning. As my first boss taught me on a farm at age 14, “You learn by doing.” We focus on four core values to guide us as we intentionally disciple campers — growing faith in Jesus, developing relationships, learning skills and serving others.
At Caraway, everything is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. During a week of camp, students see, hear, and experience the gospel continuously through worship, teaching, personal quiet times, interactions with staff or chaperone, and being in God’s creation. We never pressure or coerce students to trust Jesus, but we strive to make the gospel message simple to understand.
Just as Jesus’ ministry was based around relationships, camp is all about relationships, too. No matter the quality of the camp facility, the food, the music or the activities, relationships between campers, staff and chaperones trump everything else. God uses people, and we are focused on connecting people (especially campers) with Christian mentors who love Jesus and live out that love daily while going about their normal, everyday life.
Author John Eldridge wrote, “There is a humility and a seasoned wisdom to be learned in the natural world.” Much of our camp programing is done outside with people.
At camp, kids will learn that if you lean too far in a kayak, it will tip. If you rub your hand along a grain of wood, it will splinter. They will work through homesickness and there may conflict with other campers.
All of these experiences provide teachable moments and memories that allow campers to grow, even after they return home. At camp, they can experience things in a safe environment where staff members or chaperones encourage growth and spiritual formation as they work through different experiences. When truth is reinforced through life experiences, students are more likely to remember.
One recent example of how God uses camp is of a boy who attended camp with the children’s group from his church. He had been introduced to Jesus and truth at an early age through home discipleship and church ministry. While kayaking on a lake during summer camp, he was able to be alone with his thoughts as he reflected on his life at the foot of a cross that stands along the lakeshore.
The Holy Spirit had been speaking to him, and in that moment in a kayak on a lake at camp near the cross on the bank, he said yes to Jesus. When he returned from boating, there were staff and chaperones that welcomed the news and began to encourage and support him. This boy didn’t come to faith in Jesus just because of camp. He came to faith in Jesus through God’s divine plan using his family, church, other relationships, life experiences and camp.
At camp we use fun to create an environment like no other to partner with churches in accomplishing their mission of making disciples. Let’s serve God faithfully and see what God can do through us, through church ministry and through camp.