“Well, at my camp, we always did it this way.”
We are just over a year into this project, and currently visiting our 20th (!!!) camp in sunny Florida. We’ve seen a lot of camps and a lot of ways of doing camp. A plethora of ideas and creativity and things we never thought of have all been at our fingertips… So, you’d think we would have learned to stop saying the above phrase all the time. But, of course, we have not.
clearly not hating our time in Florida
I hope at least some of the other camp people out there are willing to admit that we always, inevitably, compare every experience to “our camp.” Regardless of the promises I made and ultimatums I gave myself before this trip started, I can’t help but go back to what I know. At 20 camps now, I have tried to take it all in, observe, and learn without bringing Wesley Woods into the picture, but I always manage to say (or at least think) something like, “Oh yeah, at our camp we had/did/made…” All this knowledge of other camps, and I am still stuck on that one, first place. I’ve noticed it in others too. Even folks who have worked professionally at three, four, five camps seem to always bring up one as their compass experience.
I’m not sure that there is anything inherently bad about this comparison, except this:
We will always view our home camp through rose-colored glasses.
Growing up as a camper and then transitioning into a leadership role at camp is super weird. I spent a good chunk of my childhood thinking literal magic happened each summer at camp, and I assumed that working there must be the most amazing, stress-free, butterflies and rainbows job you could ever have. (Are you laughing? Good.) Everything about that place was perfect. The trees were perfect. The counselors were perfect. The camp songs were perfect. Every week I spent there convinced me more that God had smiled on that place and nothing ever went wrong there.
Then I joined summer staff. I got a taste of the actual work that goes into making the “magic” happen. The trees sometimes fell in storms and were actually quite scary. The counselors were certainly not perfect – I was one of them! And those stupid, repetitive, nonsense camp songs were certainly not perfect anymore. But even though I had seen behind the curtain, I still thought the sun rose and set just for Wesley Woods. Knowing the “secrets” didn’t make it feel less like home, but quite the opposite. I was in on it. Part of the family. A piece of the legacy. It was absolutely the best job in the world – the best camp in the world – and I knew no place could ever compare.
Unfortunately, I was right.
The transition from summer leadership to an actual career in camping is even weirder. Did you know camp is a business? With profit and loss and liability and marketing strategy? (Don’t worry – it was news to me too.) This magical, sparkling unicorn I had worshiped suddenly had hard edges and bills to pay. I’ll admit, learning that it costs money to share Jesus with people was hard for me. I’m still coming to terms with it, honestly. But learning how big and dynamic the world of camping really is pushed me to come out here and experience it all. There is so much more to camping ministry than that little picture I knew so well. And yet, I can’t get that picture out of my head.
Try as I might to push it away, it’s becoming clear to me that the comparison game will never go away. My first instincts will always come from what I learned at Wesley Woods. And I think the real reason we hold on so dearly to those camps we love is that those are the places our lives were changed. That’s where we were when God said, “Hey you…” and we answered, “Yes God, I’m here.” The fact that we still work at camp means that something so profound happened in those early years that we couldn’t ever let go.
I know there will always be a Wesley Woods sized hole in my heart that I will try to make every other camp fit into. But of course, they never will. So, I’m challenging myself and all my camp friends to make a little room. It’s hard to compare our precious things to those of others and see how wonderful theirs really are. But, I know that each camp we visit is a place where real magic happened for someone else, and I want to be open to learn from their story.
Tell us about your "home camp!"