Let’s Go Back To Camp!

June 26, 2018

by Carroll Harris

One of the things I love about camp is how when kids go to camp they end up on an “even playing field”.  When kids show up in their shorts and t shirts, they all look the same.  Even if they bring a friend with them they come a bit anxious, ready to have fun, explore their environment, and maybe make some new friends.  What they end up with is a whole lot more.  If done correctly, kids are put into a safe community where Christian values are modeled, taught, and not only expected but accepted! For one short week, kids live the life of hope and possibility we dream for our everyday world.

When you are at camp you tend to play hard, talk openly, and worship with gusto! These kids spend at least a week of their life experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through their counselors and their experiences.  They get to talk about it, live it, learn about it, and practice it in a safe place.  Many of those kids don’t get to experience that in their everyday lives.  They live in homes where they have to worry about whether or not they will get to eat.  They go to schools where they constantly feel like it’s a game of “survival of the fittest”. Even those who come from what we might call “good” environments struggle in our everyday world.  This is one week of their lives they leave behind the stresses of the everyday and embrace what grace and forgiveness looks and feels like.

It makes me wonder what it would be like if everyone was required to go to camp for at least a week every summer all our lives.  When we become adults we seem to forget some of those lessons we learn as kids at camp and at school.  We get so caught up in “adulting” we forget that being childlike is not such a bad thing. For instance:
  • Many of us forget how to play. Somewhere along the way we get all serious. We think we’re supposed to be serious because we’re adults. There’s value in playing, some of us forget that. 
  • We forget to practice what we preach. When we’re at camp, there’s no room or time to let offenses get in our way of grace and forgiveness.  We live in pretty close quarters.  If someone is upset, it’s important to talk and resolve it quickly for the good of the community. We certainly can’t get away with talking about people behind their backs.
  • We become inhibited! Why is it that as kids and campers we can sing at the top of our lungs, sing songs with motions, laugh loudly in worship, and cry openly? When we become adults these things aren’t necessarily acceptable anymore. Why is that?  At camp there is a safety that allows our campers to do all those things and know without a doubt a set of arms will be there to hug them when they are crying, accept them at their best and at their worst, and assure them of God’s love and grace. What if all of our communities could be like that too?
Don’t get me wrong.  I know camp isn’t for everyone.  My youngest is not a camp person and will never spend a week at camp.  But he has gone on a weekend retreat with his school every year that ends up being at a camp.  He makes it clear before he leaves what he will NOT be doing and guess what? He’s done them all!  The best part is watching his classmates who during the school year aren’t always nice and give him a hard time for his quirks, stand around him and encourage him to try.  They clap and cheer for him! The counselors model patience and grace. They all learn to exist together peacefully and work together as a community, as a family.

What would happen if we all went to camp for a week every year?  Would we be a better community?  Would we be a better world? Would we remember what it feels like to truly feel safe and express ourselves? Could we learn to have our differences but figure out how to move forward together? I think so.  Maybe I’m being idealistic.  I understand that.  But what’s wrong with a little idealism in today’s world?  Without hope and dreaming we have nothing to work towards or look forward to. I see the “camp effect” all the time.  I see it every summer in my own kids and others I watch.  I see it when I talk to you about your experiences at camp and why camp is such an important part of our faith and personal development. I think it’s time we all go back to camp!

Carroll Harris is the church vitality strategist in the Uwharrie District, and works as the coordinator of camping and outdoor ministries for the conference.
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