I recognize that there have been approximately one million articles written about working at camp. You’ve already read that it will change your life, you’ll make amazing friends, you’ll have so much fun, blah blah blah. Those things are very true, and I’d be happy to tell you how they all apply to me, but there’s something else you need to know.
Jesus is, among other things, an amazing teacher. He is one of those teachers that I love learning from. His heart is for his students and his words guide us to freedom and life. Most of all, I love the way that Jesus teaches. He asks us to follow him, put our hands in, and be a part of what he is doing. With the disciples, Jesus had so much to teach them. He could have sat them down in a classroom and written “Christianity 101” on the blackboard (minus the fact that those didn’t exist yet). He could have given them a guidebook and went on his merry way. Instead, he said, “just come with me and let me show you.”
I think this is the way Jesus hopes we will seek him; that we would be hungry to learn and desire to imitate him. I think he hopes we will be like disciples. Think of the way their lives – and the world – were radically changed because twelve dudes were willing to go and do. I’m sure they weren’t all instantly psyched about it. I imagine at least a few of them said, “Listen Jesus, I’ve got some stuff going on. I have bills to pay, fish to catch – I’m sure you understand.” But Jesus still asked them to go, because there was work to be done and he had things to teach them.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21
Working at camp is a lot like being a disciple. I would say it’s one of the closest modern interpretations of that gig. In a lot of ways, you have to be willing to walk away from what makes sense. You have to put down your nets. You have to leave what you know. In bold truth – you may be making a decision that is not financially, academically, socially, or emotionally practical. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that’s what Jesus expects of us. He wasn’t an “easy button” kind of guy. Poor Peter had to follow Jesus out onto open water for Pete’s sake (please laugh). All you have to do is buy some Chacos, get a watch tan, and go change lives.
If you hear God whispering and know that something needs to change in your life this year, please work at camp. Give up your excuses. Hear Him calling and go. You’re going to have an amazing time. You’re going to make THE BEST friends. You will be uncomfortable, challenged, and changed. But you also get to learn to live like Jesus. You get to show radical, unchanging love and share unfathomable freedom. At camp, you have the opportunity to introduce people to life in the light of God. You will cast out darkness in the name of the Lord. You will invite joy and change into broken lives. You will show the world what it looks like to live in grace and peace, the way that was always intended for us.
God has something for you. I think it might be at camp.
These are a couple of our friends that reached out to us in search of disciples for this summer. There are many, many others. If you have any questions about working at camp, feel free to reach out. We’d love to help you find your new home.
Youth Haven – Michigan & Arizona: https://www.youthhaven.org/summerstaff
UCYC – Prescott, AZ: https://ucyc.com/jobs/summer-staff/
Forest Home – Forest Falls, CA: https://www.foresthome.org/about/employment/
(This camp also has some pretty rad full-time positions open. Let us know if this is something you’re interested in and we’ll get you details.)
If you are also a camp looking for summer staff, leave some info in a comment!
Some people are criers. They have one emotion – tears. No matter the situation, the moment any feelings bring themselves to the surface, crying is inevitable. I happen to be one of those people, and this trip has not been very good for solving that problem.
It’s no secret that Sam and I think camp is pretty awesome. There are plenty of reasons we feel that way, but at the top of the list is definitely the freedom people can experience there. There’s nothing quite like watching a kid discover that, at camp, they can be their whole self – weirdness and all. It starts with a couple of silly songs, works its way up to giving the rock wall a try, and eventually you can give them the floor to share their story, judgement free. Something clicks and joy blooms on their face as they see that camp isn’t like anywhere else. From that moment, there is freedom, and then we have the extraordinary opportunity to share the truest freedom of all.
Something happens at camp that allows people to open themselves up, not just to each other, but to the love God has waiting for them. You get to just be. Just laugh. Just listen. Just dance. Just sing.
Recently, we got the chance to sit in on a camp worship session. We just went to get a little video footage and be on our way. But, standing in the back of the room, I had the perfect vantage point to watch the session unfold. (Here’s where the crying bit comes in.) It wasn’t serious or somber. It wasn’t a huge production. It didn’t have to be any of those things, because in that moment the kids felt safe and free enough to sing, dance, and praise God. The team leaders led motions to help the kids focus. As they started to catch on to the lyrics, they sang louder and louder. I sang along too and got caught up in the lyrics.
“I won't fear what tomorrow brings/With each morning I'll rise and sing/My God's love will lead me through/You are the peace in my troubled sea”
At that point, I was welling up. I couldn’t help it. I thought about how many kids fear tomorrow and my heart overflowed to hear them sing words of freedom. And then the bridge (and the waterworks) kicked in…
“Fire before us, You're the brightest/You will lead us through the storms”
God has promised and faithfully shown up to guide me through so many storms in my life. He provided a visual image of a pillar of fire to guide us through the desert; we wandered, and he provided a ridiculous sign. So many of the kids/youth/people we serve at camp are desperately seeking a guide through their own storm. Tomorrow brings fear, worry, doubt, loss, and more of the unknown. When we invite them into a safe place, into freedom, and into worship, we give campers the opportunity to throw their hands up and say, “I’m afraid!” so that God can step in and whisper, “It’s okay.”
One of the first things I had to learn in camping ministry is that we don’t get to fix people. It’s not our place to turn people’s lives around or make everything better. That might not even be possible. What we can do is provide a place where it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be your whole weird self. It’s okay to give up control, admit defeat, and just sing. Just laugh. Just cry. Excuse my “Christianese,” but I LOVE watching chains fall off in camp worship. If all we can do is invite people to experience the freedom and unconditional love of Jesus, I’m okay with that.
In fact, I’ll probably cry over it.
Sam and I grew up United Methodists. If you know anything about Methodists, you know they love to eat. We (Methodists) may not have invented the pot-luck, but we tend to believe we perfected it. On any given Sunday, if you find yourself a little hungry about the time church lets out, wander on in to the nearest UMC – you won’t leave hungry.
I think this goes for most denominations and perhaps all churches. We love to eat, and will find an excuse to do so in almost any situation (including seasons of self-denial), so it’s not really a surprise that food service is often at the center of planning at Christian camps.
If you’ve ever worked or volunteered at a camping ministry, you’ve probably seen the “mock schedule.” At least three things were already blocked into that blank schedule when it was handed to you – breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and mid-morning snack and campfire snack and…). Excellent food service is often a huge selling point for camps. Little kids frequently say their favorite thing about camp was the food. We put a huge emphasis on when, where, and what our guests will eat – but I don’t think it’s because of the food.
Sam and I are on what we consider to be the trip of a lifetime. We get to see amazing things across the country, watch ministry in action, visit world famous cities – but I remember the meals the most. We’ve been welcomed to meals in camp dining halls, invited to share meals with staff in their homes, and enjoyed evenings at local favorite restaurants (so many tacos). We got to know people and felt like part of the family. I don’t think I could tell you what I ate in most of those situations (probably tacos), but I can still taste the laughter and fellowship around the table. There’s something much more filling about sharing a meal with friends than what we put in our mouths.
Camps work hard to ensure their food and food service are excellent, arguably because that’s how we keep people “coming back to the table.” But I’ve been learning that this element of camping is an integral piece of the ministry – one that can be way more premeditated than I thought. A comfortable space and a satisfying meal push away distractions. Round tables and good acoustic spaces facilitate conversation. Staff who eat meals together are not only being fed, but are also building relationships as a team. In “normal life,” some of the most cherished memories are around the table with family and friends. It just makes sense that it would also happen at camp.
At a church we attended along the road, the pastor was preparing the congregation for communion – the Lord’s supper. He talked about the way Jesus liked to meet with people, in their homes, over a meal which he may or may not have invited himself to. Our greatest teacher preferred to sit next to his students and friends, break bread together, and talk. I can only imagine what it must have been like to share a meal with Jesus and hear his stories and insight. Even when he knew it would be his last Earthly meal with his friends, Jesus sat with them. He talked with them, probably laughed with them. He made a memory with them, even specifically telling them to remember the moment. He passed the bread to the left and to the right. They shared a drink. It was a serious moment, but I wonder if at the time it was just a final meal between friends who would soon have to say goodbye.
We are so grateful to have been welcomed to the table by camp families. As we earnestly seek to learn from these camps in interviews and meetings, poring over curriculum and master plans, I long for the moments where we sit together over a meal and hear their stories. Even five camps into the trip, I find myself missing these new friends. At the same time, I am so looking forward to the path ahead and the partners in ministry we will meet. I can’t wait to make memories (read: eat tacos) with future friends.