What I Learned at Summer Camp

A couple of weeks ago I went away to summer camp for the first time ever in 38 years. Now don’t get me wrong, I was outside a lot in the summers- I didn’t only sit inside and eat cookies and read Tolkien books. But I had never gone away to a sleepover camp.

A friend of mine heard about Lighthouse Christian Camp through a presentation at her church. This organization provides the camp experience to about 60 children a week who otherwise would not be able to afford it. They have counselors on staff, but they also like to have volunteers come so the kids can have more positive adult interactions. My friend wanted to do it and asked me to go with her. I said yes! That was a month or so before our camp week was scheduled, and I’d been thinking a lot about sharing my faith with others. I was looking forward to camp being a time to invest in the lives of the girls attending. Finally, the day arrived.

My counselor and I were assigned ten girls ages nine to eleven, and from that Monday morning until Friday afternoon we had a full schedule. We went horseback riding, hiking, swimming, and boating on the lake. There were skits, a hay ride, two campfires, and in between it all three meals a day (plus a snack!) featuring everything from biscuits and gravy, to meatloaf, to banana pudding. I probably don’t need to tell all you camp connoisseurs that there was constant singing of silly camp songs. I kept getting surprised when someone would start a song for the 20th time that day and everyone would join in- again- with equal vigor. I’m just now getting those tunes out of my head. The girls also attended daily chapel services during which they sang worship songs and listened to a message. In the afternoons they had time to discuss what they had heard and learn Bible verses as well.

Through it all my job was to ask questions, listen, and of course make sure no one tumbled off the boat, horse, or trail. I felt a sense of urgency to connect with my girls, knowing that the time was short and moving fast. I had to pay attention and grasp those opportunities, like when one of my girls forgot her towel during swim time. She didn’t really need to have it right then, but I offered to walk her back to the cabin to get it. We were always walking, waiting, or standing in line; those were the moments I could ask, “What’s your favorite movie? Do you like school? Who is a part of your family?” and in that way get to know each girl better and also tell them about myself.

Towards the end of the week we had times of prayer after chapel where the girls could go out to their counselors and share what was on their hearts. This was the part I was most nervous about. Would I say the wrong thing or be awkward? We were not to ask them if they wanted to follow Christ- they had to come to that decision completely on their own. Our role was to simply ask, “What brings you out here tonight?” and then listen. Of course a few of them really had no clue and just came out because others did, but one girl wanted to ask for forgiveness for being mean to her brothers. Okay, I told myself. Just listen. She prayed a beautiful prayer and I followed with my own afterwards.

Another girl was moved to tears over a death in the family. Oh dear, I thought. What are the right words to say in this situation? Lord, help me to be sensitive and give me wisdom! I hesitantly asked her if she felt like God was speaking to her heart and she said yes. “What do you feel He is saying to you?” She just shrugged. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I tried to comfort her as best I could. I felt woefully inadequate as I told her that it was okay to feel sad and that she could always pray and ask God to comfort her and give her peace. Then, as with the other camper, I let her pray and then said a prayer after.

At the Thursday night campfire, after we had finished the s’mores, we turned off all the flashlights except one and allowed each camper, staffer, and volunteer to say what camp had meant to them. The girls spoke, some quite eloquently, of how they had made friends and learned about God. When it was my turn I said that if they would keep reading the Bible and keep praying, they would continue to learn about the God to whom they had been introduced. I believe that with my whole heart.

I left camp with a sunburn, a lot of bug bites, and the realization that sharing my faith can take different forms. Sometimes I will have the opportunity to present the gospel and lead someone through a prayer, but sometimes it’s just about listening, asking questions, and being aware of where God is already at work. My words may not be brilliant or profound, but they should be from the heart.  I believe God was moving in the hearts of those girls; it was evident when they worshiped, when they worked so diligently on learning Bible verses, and when they prayed. I’m so happy that I got to be a part of their individual journeys. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (I Corinthians 3:7).

Camp Website: Lighthouse Christian Camp

Video of the girls’ favorite worship song: Lord, Prepare me to be a Sanctuary

Recommended reading: Share Jesus Without Fear by William Fay

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