Christian camping is bigger than you think
Participating in a Christian camp can be the best experience of your life. I can assure you confidently, you will get more out of it than you put in. That’s because of the tremendous synergy at work when people of like mind get together to accomplish something significant and of lasting value.
As a movement, Christian camping got going in the late 1940s and has grown ever since, until now in the USA alone, an estimated 10 million children attend some 12,000 camps across the country. Christian camps are also popular in Canada and western Europe. It is rapidly growing in eastern Europe as well, including Ukraine and Russia.
Do I know what I’m talking about?
I am definitely speaking from experience, having attended camps as a camper from ages 8 to 17, as a “pots and pans wrangler” for a couple of years, as a counselor for four years, and as a Bible teacher for many years. I have attended camps New Mexico (2), Oklahoma, Texas (3), and New York, and visited additional camps in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine.
It was at camp that I made the decision to follow Jesus for the rest of my life and was baptized into Christ. You could say I have Christian camping in my blood.
Here are the top five reasons you should get involved in Christian camping, followed by five ways you can participate.
Reason #5: Make new friends and more
You cannot attend camp for more than 24 hours without making new friends. Sometimes you are drawn to someone because of common interests. Other times, the vast differences between you are what piques your interest. Some of the best and closest friends I have ever had are people I met at camp. Thrown together in a place where extended conversations are commonplace, you get to know your new friend in a hurry.
As friendships become deeper, they sometimes blossom into romance. My wife and I met at Camp Hunt, a wonderful Christian camp in upstate New York. One of my sons also met his wife there, and we know of several other “Camp Hunt connections.”
Reason #4: Get in touch with nature
Away from the bright lights of the big city, thousands of stars appear out of nowhere, as urbanites discover, some for the first time, the glow of the Milky Way. At Christian camps, I have encountered deer, rabbits, foxes, gophers, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, lizards, and a wide variety of spiders, insects, fish, and birds.
I have observed the mists hanging on the hills, imagined people and animals out of cloud-shapes, watched a rainbow extend across the entire sky and then double itself, felt lightning at close range (not recommended), smelt the smoke of a forest fire (also not), and enjoyed a snow storm in mid-July. I have hunted and found clover in patterns of three leaves, and four, and five, and six. I have found fossils of sea creatures at altitudes above 7,000 feet. I have felt the fervent heat of a campfire and joined in the fervent singing and prayers around its glow. I have laughed heartily and cried shamelessly.
Camp has enriched me with all of these experiences, from which I would have been deprived if I had stayed in my insulated and sanitized, suburban environment.
Reason #3: Unplug
Smartphones, laptops, video games, shows, and movies keep many of us informed, enthralled, and oblivious for large portions of every day. It is good once in a while to unplug and once more experience the place that the rest of the world inhabits. People talk to one another, making eye contact, shaking hands, and asking probing questions. Their conversations last longer than a sound bite. You will discover what they have known for a lifetime: one can survive and even flourish without being plugged in.
Kids especially need this lesson. At most camps, cell phones, MP3 players, and all other electronic devices are taboo. Counselors, teachers, and other adults like to have kids’ attention.
Reason #2: Get exercise without the gym
Most camps are laid out with quite a lot of space between buildings, especially between the boys’ and girls’ cabins, following the adage, “East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” As a result, everyone does a lot of walking just to keep up with the schedule. In the morning, you scramble to the flagpole for exercises and a short devotional. Then everyone walks to the mess hall for breakfast. Then it’s out to the playing fields for sports, to the teaching shelters for Bible class, and back to the mess hall for lunch.
The afternoon schedule often includes an hour for resting, one for swimming, and one or more for crafts, all in different locations. More walking happens in the evening as everyone gathers in the auditorium or around the campfire. At the end of the day, you are ready to sleep, and your sneakers are ready to cool off and dry out. Keep up this pace for five or six more days, and you probably have had more exercise in a week than you usually get in six. The camp nurse attends the overtaxed and treats the bumps and scrapes of everyone else. Most people depart in better shape than when they arrived.
Reason #1: You find the time to ask, “What’s important in my life?”
The most important reason to get involved in Christian camping is the perspective camping imparts to you. Among the hills and trees, enjoying the birdsong serenade, you are able to think meditatively. You can mull over the meaning of a Scripture text, prioritize your daily tasks back home, and reallocate your finances in a way that better suits your spiritual commitment and your assessment of what’s really, ultimately important in your life. My wife and I have often returned home from camp with firm resolutions to make positive and permanent changes in our lives, and I can testify that this happens with others as well.
How can I participate?
If at this point you are sold on the value of Christian camping, allow me to list five ways that you can participate.
#1: Send your kids
We tell ourselves that Christian camping exists primarily for the children. Certainly, they stand to benefit the most because of their change potentials. If you have kids, make sure that they attend a good, Christian camp this summer.
Ask around and investigate the camps in your area. Talk to people who have poured their life’s blood into camp, and get their recommendations. Listen to the advice of preachers and youth workers. Visit camps during their sessions to get a feel for what it is like. Compare prices; they can vary a lot.
Most camps operate on a shoestring and a prayer, depending heavily on volunteers to do the cooking, clean-up, teaching, and other logistics integral to the camp schedule. Even directors and counselors are either unpaid or underpaid for their efforts. You can contribute your time and talents to make a substantial difference at camp. Volunteer as early in the year as possible, before staffs fill up for each session.
Many camps have an annual week or more of work to get the camp ready for the summer season. Some combine this with an evening schedule of speakers and singing, inviting people to attend “Work-and-Worship Week.” Often, room-and-board prices for that week are either waived or greatly reduced.
#3: Serve on the camp board
Camps often have boards that set policy, manage staffs, make physical improvements, and raise funds. Your expertise in finance, marketing, logistics, or even engineering may be just what a camp board needs. You might also provide some spiritual wisdom or simply people skills that could greatly benefit the board. If you have a desire to help, contact any board member.
#4: Give dollars
Most camps maintain a waiting list of campers who would attend if only someone could fund a campership. They also have a list of physical improvements that must await funding. Your monetary contribution (nearly always tax-deductible) can make a tremendous difference in the life of some camper or would-be counselor.
#5: Pray for camp
All Christian camps desire Christian prayer warriors to intercede to the heavenly Father in their behalf. Camp improvements, such as acquiring a new site, building a new facility, or expanding its customer and contributor base into a new city, often happen in unexpected spurts, according to the providence of God.
Pray for your local camp and for its campers, staff, and board. Ask God to bless the camp with wisdom, spiritual maturity, safety, and growth this year. Beg Him to continue to use the camp experience to change lives and to connect human hearts to Himself and to each other.
Want to go deeper?
Here is a list of camps I have attended or visited that are still operating, with links to their home pages:
Camp Hunt, near Hubbardsville, New York
Camp Blue Haven, near Las Vegas, New Mexico
Black Mesa Bible Camp, near Kenton, Oklahoma
New Beginnings Christian Camp (formerly Iron Springs Christian Camp), near Whitney, Texas
NETSYS Camp (Northeast Texas Summer Youth Series), most recently at Forest Glen Christian Conference Center, near Rosebud, Texas
Camp Shiloh, near Woodridge, New York
Camp Manatawny, in Berks County, Pennsylvania
Camp Deer Run, near Winnsboro, Texas
Gander Brook Christian Camp, near Raymond, Maine
Ponderosa Christian Camp (renamed and relocated from Sandia Youth Camp, which I attended every year from ages 8 to 20), near Ponderosa, New Mexico
Current list of additional Christian camps and Christian camping associations