Ben Peeler, Bob Jones Seminary Student
I do not know what mental image or emotions come to your mind when you think about summer camp. Maybe you are like me and would be homesick Monday afternoon, 5 minutes after you arrive. My friends never seemed to suffer from “homesickness” like I did. For many of them, camp was not just the highlight of the summer, but it fueled memories and jokes for the remainder of the year. But regardless of how nervous I was or how much I really did not want to be there Monday afternoon, Saturday morning rolled around—I would have to say goodbye to my counsellor and cabin mates whom I did not want to leave. There is something special about any camp that takes children and teens out of their normal schedule and gives them the opportunity to experience unique things, meet new people, and get away from life’s distractions. There is something even more special about a Christian camp. I was a frequent attender of summer camps during my junior high and high school years. I had the opportunity to work at three separate summer camps during my college years. I now have the opportunity to attend summer camp as a youth sponsor and am so excited!
I want to offer three reasons why as a college student, you should commit to working at least one summer at a Christian camp.
Serving becomes a lifestyle
Jesus explained to His disciples in the book of Mark, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45) College is a very selfish time. Students are consumed with their homework, their schedules, their jobs, their friends, and their futures. Those are not inherently bad but can become consuming if not kept in check. Serving at a summer camp makes it obvious, quickly, that life is no longer about you. Your energy, time, and resources are spent serving campers who often use and abuse your good efforts.
While that goes against your nature, fed by college, eventually you adjust and even find serving others to be rewarding and fulfilling. Fellow counsellors struggle alongside you, encourage you, and work with you to accomplish one goal: pointing campers to Jesus. Then the summer ends, and you return to school, but you do not return unchanged. Rather, you carry with you that heart for service. You begin noticing the needs of your roommates, teachers, and friends, and try to help where you can. A life spent serving is never a life wasted.
Christ becomes your main motivation
I can remember meeting my camper who was able to attend camp because someone had paid his way. After about 3 minutes of talking with him, I realized that if someone had not paid his way, there was no way he would have chosen to come to camp. His language was foul, his jokes were crude, and his personality was abrasive. By Wednesday I was ready for him to get back on his bus and go home, because he was corrupting the other campers in my cabin. But I continued to pray that the preaching and personal time in the Word would change his heart. I had tears streaming down my cheeks as I sat with him Friday night and heard him cry out to God asking for forgiveness for his sins. What motivates someone to persevere and continue to pour into the life of a teenager? When you strip away all other motivations, the only thing that remains is Christ. Loving and serving others find their strength in the cross. You stop loving people because it makes you feel good. When you are running on little sleep and every part of your body aches, it no longer feels good. You stop serving people because it is easy, or it is the “cool” thing to do. You serve and love people because Jesus Christ perfectly demonstrated love and self-sacrifice by His death on the cross. Summer camp places a college student in positions to show the grace of God to those who are, like us, underserving.
The Gospel becomes real
This is not to say that a college student cannot experience the gospel in a secular job, but summer camp offers a unique opportunity. As the college student is submerged into a culture of constant spiritual warfare, the gospel ceases to be a nice thought, and it becomes one’s sole life-source. Every part of camp--from carrying a camper's luggage to playing a meaningless game for the hundredth time--immediately takes on more meaning. Steps are intentionally taken to break down walls so that the gospel can take hold of their hearts. As the college student returns to school in the fall, they cease to view the Dining Common as just a place to eat. They stop seeing societies as just a time to make friends and memories. These everyday experiences can and must be leveraged for the sake of the gospel. When they are, lives are changed. One final unique aspect of camp is that the college student has to verbalize their faith. One camp I worked at offered thirty minutes a day for a cabin discussion. I took each day and walked through a different aspect of the Christian Faith. We discussed the origin of sin, the narrative of the entire Bible, the life of the Apostle Paul, and why the Bible must be treasured. Through those seemingly large topics, I was able to meet my campers where they were at spiritually and proclaim the gospel in 4 unique ways every day. But for me to speak and teach, I had to study and confirm what I believed about the gospel. I remember coming back to school that Fall, and because those 4 topics were in my head every day for the previous 12 weeks, I could not help but share it with my roommates and friends who needed to hear. I have seen many summer camp workers return to school, and their passion for the gospel burns so brightly that they make an immediate impact. The gospel is not merely for the unbelieving, but it is truly for everyone. The good news of Jesus Christ never loses its power, and working at a summer camp positions you to be captivated by it all the more.
As I conclude, I wanted to make something clear. Jesus died on the cross and rose again, giving power to His church: the body of believers, fitly joint together. Jesus did not die for “summer camps.” He also did not die so that we could waste our lives going through the motions of “cultural Christianity.” All para-church organizations exist to encourage the church. Summer camps are an invaluable training ground for a young Christian. You will never regret committing a few weeks of your life growing, serving, and loving others as you stretch yourself and train for a life of ministry to Christ and His church.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.