Jr. A Camp dawned bright and sunny. Normally, we hold this retreat for 4th to 6th graders over the fourth of July. We finally decided to move it this year and the result, twice as many campers!
The lodge thrummed with nervous energy as forty-eight children leapt into the activities with gusto, some for the very first time.
This is such a great age group. Each new activity is an adventure. Every new experience is a victory for children who have never dared to play night games, ride a horse, or even stay overnight away from home.
Junior campers bubble with excitement as they face a week of camp with young fresh eyes.
Junior campers are young and brave and full of hope.
All of that innocent excitement is catching.
Even us old folk, some of whom have lived in a camp setting for over thirty years (cough cough … Boo Boo) are jolted back to a simpler time when surrounded by all of that energy.
It is a joy and an honor to facilitate a child’s first experiences with camp.
Our speaker for this week was Thing.
Scruffy and I remember when Thing was a baby. He is the son of the one Christian teen who was kind to Scruff in high school, years before he decided to follow Christ. Thing’s siblings were both campers and camp counselors, especially his little sister. The one we all miss so much. We’re still grieving her loss today.
This was the first time he’s served at camp since losing her and it wasn’t easy. Camp was a huge part of Sis’s life and she was a huge part of ours. We see her everywhere.
What did Thing choose to speak on this week?
Could he have possibly chosen a topic that was so simple a nine-year-old could completely understand it and also so difficult that the adults at camp were just as challenged by the messages as those kiddos?
Now, this might be a surprise to you, but children do not attend camp for the chapel sessions no matter how carefully they are crafted.
But that is one of the beautiful things about camp. Just as camp ministry isn’t just about fun and games, it isn’t just about lessons and learning either. Camp is an incredible experience made up of so many different vital pieces. One of which, you guessed it, is GaGa Ball!
Every single element of camp is a vital part to showing kids the love of Jesus.
Why do children suddenly start sharing from the heart at camp?
Little ones who were content to just stand on their heads and pretend to listen during cabin discussion on Monday were inexplicably standing up at the campfire on Friday to share about what God did in their lives during the week, what they learned, how they saw Him in new and amazing ways.
How is this even possible?
Well, it wasn’t sudden. That is how.
One of our staff said it this way. “Campers started the week just wanting to play the games, but slowly, as the week went on they had a longer attention span for talking about God as they saw Him in the counselors.”
That, my friends, is the beauty of camp ministry.
Absolutely nothing is wasted.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner campers eat with their counselors around the table. They drink two cups of water to stay hydrated, sing at the tops of their voices, help each other by getting a second platter of pancakes, clean up together, and perhaps even play that cup rhythm game that is so loud the whole lodge rattles with the epic sound of it.
At morning jam and chapel campers sing!
Not like they sing at church, or school, or on their own. They sing camp songs! There are hand motions. There is running and leaping and praising God. There are both soft melodies of stunning beauty and raucous squawks as some hand motions require flapping like a bird.
Campers play! They play meadow games as a huge group. They play carpet ball, gaga ball, archery, dunk tank, slip-n-slide, and board games in smaller groups. The whole camp thunders through the forest in the dark for night games. Campers even enjoy quiet crafts with just one or two buddies.
Scruffy leads at least two short hikes during each week of camp.
One of them, the “Star Walk” involves following an old logging road at night up to Inspiration Point.
It is only a quarter mile from the main lodge but feels like a different world as campers stare up at an explosion of stars in the heavens above.
Campers grow and stretch and try new things.
There were campers this week who were nervous around animals, but went horseback riding anyway!
Some campers had never run through tall meadow grass at full tilt, played a group game at night, or opened up a Bible with their friends.
Some campers had never spent five minutes in utter silence listening to the wind in the treetops or seen an endangered flower.
This week, the endangered Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow (pictured earlier) grew right next to the path the children traveled to and from the meadow.
Some campers had never been away from home for six whole days!
This is why the spiritual growth that happens at camp is never truly sudden or haphazard.
Each crazy song, delicious meal, rowdy activity, and stunning look at nature is an amazing experience that campers have with someone. With their cabin, with their counselors, with their new friends.
These shared experiences build strong bonds.
When the speaker who went on that amazing hike with them talks about surrendering to God, campers listen.
When the camp nurse who bandaged their scrape and brought them a cool drink asks if they are all right, campers know they will be heard.
When the camp counselor who led them through the forest playing capture the flag, led them in singing “I’ll Fly Away” a zillion times and always flapped like a bird for the motions opens up their Bible to share, campers can truly hear them.
They hear them, because they trust them. Campers trust them, because these same counselors spent six whole days being trustworthy.
Day and night. From breakfast in the morning to that moment someone had a nightmare or suddenly felt sick or homesick or thought they heard a Sasquatch or a squirrel or simply needed a flashlight glowing at 3:00am because they ate extra sugar and then zoomed around their cabin right before bed.
Those counselors spent six days showing their campers that Jesus loves them, because they spent those six days loving them, too.
During the chapel on the last full day, many children raised their hands wanting to follow Jesus. Three children called home so that they could arrange with their families to be baptized at camp. During the campfire on Friday night so many shared that they had learned something new about God. That they had heard about following Jesus before but never knew about surrendering to Him.
One camper said, “I thought the Bible was just a big old boring book.” After a week of camp he learned that it was so much more and inspired by a God who is so much more, too.
Camp may appear chaotic and random when viewed from the outside. It is not. Nothing is wasted. Every single crazy game, rowdy song, and yummy pancake is an act of love intended to lead children to the one who loves them the very most. Their maker and savior and Lord. Jesus.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14