We’re just about to wrap up our time here at Bay Shore Camp in Sebewaing, MI. Summer is officially underway and what we like to call “the chaos” has begun. We’ve been hearing from friends around the country who are getting their camp season started to, and it gets us so pumped about this ministry. Camp families are growing, burdens are being lifted, and people are experiencing the excellent joy that comes from God. This is the good stuff, y’all.
We are firm believers that a little bit of crazy is what makes the camp world turn. After all, what camp session is complete without a roll in the mud and something involving a rubber chicken? That chaos factor, the tendency for camp to be just one notch louder/sillier/bigger, is what sets the stage for kids to get PUMPED. How will we be different that the everyday? How will camp be a true experience instead of a week of babysitting? One huge thing you can add to your camp program to “amp it up” is music.
I know. You’re giving up on me here. “Music? No kidding. Of course we have music at camp.” Hang in there. We know music is already an integral part of most camp programs, but the types of music and the ways they are used can make a huge difference in how they alter your camp experience.
Having a good, eclectic playlist of “pump up music” at camp is like having a first aid kit on field game day. It’s a good idea. You are ready for any situation. Use it in the dining hall as a low backdrop to conversations. (Yes, it’s noisy. It’s fine.) Blast it while campers are coming into session and encourage dancing to get the moving before they have to sit still and pay attention. On the bus for an hour? Turn it up! Put every single game to music. Minute to win it games, capture the flag, I don’t care – put some Family Force 5 on that. I can’t explain what a huge difference this makes in the energy for both participants and spectators.
Have a “camp sanctioned playlist” that your counselors have access to and put on current Christian music whenever there is a dull moment. You’re not only psychologically bringing up the energy – you’re introducing your campers to music that they will (hopefully) enjoy enough to listen to at home. As much as we love “Rock, Sword, Shield,” – no one is jamming to that on the weekends with their friends, and at camp we are trying to offer tools that campers can use to lead a Christian life when they go home. Introducing a wide variety of artists and genres (and sweet dance moves) at camp is an excellent way to show them that Christian music isn’t always lame. (You don't have to use exclusively Christian artists, but base decisions on the artist, not the song. If you wouldn't play all of Shakira's music at camp, don't play one of her songs. Kids have the internet.)
The second way you can use music to “amp up” your program is a little less about energy and more about focus. We can (and should) use music as part of our daily programming at camp, but it is also an integral part of the spiritual development we teach.
Lyrics are powerful. The songs we choose to use during times of study, prayer, and worship at camp are significant far beyond how popular or catchy they are. This is where we as camp staff have to choose wisely and prayerfully the words that will be on our campers’ lips. What an amazing, yet daunting, task.
It’s my personal belief that not all Christian songs are worship songs. Let me be clear that this isn’t about “cultivating an experience” or manipulating our campers into a certain state of mind. However, I believe that songs from the first-person, which cry out to God or proclaim His glory to Him, are those that bring about the most intentional space of worship. We teach our campers that prayer and worship are about talking to God and offering Him praise. Songs that allow campers to say “I love you, God” and “God, I need you” out loud give them the chance to see how those words feel in their mouths. Sam and I purposefully choose songs like this for worship, and then always instruct our campers to ask themselves questions about what they are singing. Do I believe these words? What do I have to say to God? What do I need to cry out to God or praise Him for today?
This has been amazing for our camp worship experiences and for the transformation of our campers. We may not always sing the super popular song of the moment or have extremely high energy sessions, but we can help our campers truly understand the meaning of worship. Then we will have a dance party.
We’ve put together two Spotify playlists for you; the pumped up playlist is your go-to high energy mix, and the intentional worship playlist has some great songs for a transformational worship session. What songs do you think should be added to these lists?
We're coming at you with a quick blog post today amid the chaos of THE FIRST DAY OF CAMP! This is game day. This is the big one. This is our Super Bowl. Camp people wait all year for that official summer kickoff and we LOVE it.
But registration (aka camp check-in) is rarely our favorite part. No matter how much excitement you've got flowing, people tend to turn into zombie lunch ladies as soon as registration begins. People have to wait in line, they're grumpy, the kids are bored, and Dad can't remember the last time Sally had a tetanus shot. It's just not fun. So here's the good news and the bad news:
Registration is really important to the camp experience.
This is your first impression – for Johnny and his mom and dad. From that first moment when their mini van rolls up and they start trying to figure out what this place is all about, it's on. They need to know where to go and what to do, but they also need to know that this week is going to be awesome, inspiring, safe, and beyond their expectations. It's a tall order, but we have a few pro-tips for camp registration day to help you get through to the fun part.
1. Do It Online and Do It Before
When it comes to paperwork and camper registration, we have it so much better than the camp staff who have gone before. Technology makes it possible for us to take the pressure off of parents on Sunday afternoon. They don't have to take the time to fill out paperwork in front of you when they arrive, and if it's all turned in online, they don't to worry about forgetting it (and neither do you.)
As much as you can, integrate online forms that are sent to parents as soon as they sign their child up for camp. Depending on the registration system you use, this may be an easily integrated option. Make sure to assign a staff member to check up paperwork status prior to camper arrival; they can contact parents and ensure that everyone has their “stuff” in when they arrive to camp. For those inevitable few who still forget, have a station with a laptop or iPad set up out of the flow of traffic. There is certainly a cultural shift involved, but making it clear that information must be turned in online and prior to registration will revolutionize that first day flow.
2. Stadium Level Energy
This isn't the DMV, people – it's SUMMER CAMP. We are about to put on the most insane week of the summer; you don't want the first moments of it to feel like everyone's slowly dying. Get your summer staff GOING. Get a staff RedBull fridge, offer incentives to the most enthusiastic staff member of the day, do whatever it takes. This should be a party. Get some music bumping, offer refreshments, let cheering and dancing abound – the more awkward, the better!
Camper arrival sets the tone for the week. By ramping up the energy in those first moments, you're not only showing them that camp is going to be super fun, you're showing them that YOU are excited about this week too. Kids are like tiny human lie-detectors. They will know in an instant if your summer staff are not “feeling it” this week. Right away that sets the tone that the staff don't want to be here and if they don't want to be here, they definitely don't care that I am here or about what I need. This is bigger than excitement. This is about showing our campers that they matter to us and that we are genuinely psyched about them being here.
3. Campers Here, Parents Here
Something we've seen recently that we really like is separating campers and parents (temporarily) early on in the process. There will be time for visiting the camp store and checking to make sure Timmy didn't forget his socks, but you can cultivate some independence right away too.
Once you've made sure you have the completed liability forms, see step 1, have staff round up campers and their luggage in groups and head off to meet their counselors in the cabin. Parents get to go through the rest of the registration line without entertaining their 10 year-old, they can ask questions, and you can even offer a “parent orientation” for newbies. Meanwhile in the cabin, campers are feeling out the situation without mom or dad's hovering to add stress to the situation. Counselors get a chance to hype kids up and help them feel integrated so when parents come around for their tour, they see their child excited, adjusted, and part of a group.
This is a totally new concept to us that we wish we would have thought of first. What better time is there to get kids signed up for camp than right after an amazing week at camp?! At registration, let parents know that they can lock in their camper's spot for next year when they pick them up. Send them home with the form or at least a flyer with the camp schedule so that when they are back at the end of the week, they are quickly and simply ready to go for next year. The camps we have seen do this require a short form and a deposit, but offer a free tshirt and a locked in price in return. Who doesn't love free swag?
5. Every Time is Someone's First Time
This step has a prerequisite that you know how to genuinely encourage and train staff. When campers and parents start arriving, everyone on your team should be committed to the mission and prepared to greet people with that mission in mind. There will be parents who barely even say goodbye to their camper, but there will also be moms and dads that don't trust these “kids” with their baby and still aren't convinced they are leaving without that baby in the car. Teach your staff to treat every encounter with a parent or camper as though that person is a first-timer. Even if they have done this for 15 years, they deserve to be paid attention to, have their questions answered, and to be confident about what's next.
Stress the importance of interactions and relationships on this day. Every encounter is significant. Prepare your staff to make eye contact and be reassuring even when they are full of butterflies themselves. Teach them to get down on their camper's level and to speak professionally with parents. The more your team can prove they care in those first few moments of camp, the better everyone will feel about the week ahead.
We hope you can incorporate some of these tips at your camp registration! If you haven't already started welcoming campers this summer, get excited! The campers are coming and the hard work is all going to pay off. It's like camp Christmas! And even if camp is well underway where you are, remember – every time is someone's first time. We are pumped for you! May your summer be full of joy and your registration be a party.
This weekend we were able to help with Family Fun Weekend at Bay Shore Camp in Sebewaing, MI. Every summer, the camp welcomes the community to come out, bring a tent or RV, and enjoy a weekend with their family – completely free. It’s an awesome outreach of this ministry, and we were so glad to be here in time to help out. So, the weekend wraps up Sunday morning with a casual worship service for those who are still around, hosted by one of the local churches. We showed up (late as always), sang a few songs along with a Bluetooth speaker, and looked out over the beautiful Saginaw Bay.
Because I am still more of a 4-year-old than a 24-year-old, I sometimes have a little trouble paying attention in church. I know, I’m a sinner, but an hour is a really long time, okay?! This morning, the little girl sitting in front of me was experiencing the same difficulty, so we spent a good amount of time making faces at each other and kicking cottonwood “snow.” It was great fun.
For a moment, I felt overwhelmed with the knowledge that this little girl, with her long blond hair and string bean legs, hasn’t really started the “life” part of life yet. The pastor started talking about Gideon and about having a different view of yourself than God has for you, and I thought about this little girl. She’s not worried yet. She’s not ashamed yet. She doesn’t feel responsible, guilty, afraid, or worthless in big ways yet. You could tell by her silly demeanor and soft eyes that, for the most part, her life was more good than bad and more hope than sorrow. I was so happy for her.
I started to pray for her. Nothing serious or specific, but just that God would use her life. I prayed that peace and silliness would last for her and that she would be guarded against darkness. I’m still not sure why out of all the kids I spent time with this weekend I wanted to pray for her, but even now I feel so drawn to her serenity. I wanted to protect it and keep the world from squishing her joy. I asked God to give her strength and community, and to make sure she goes to camp.
Yesterday was the “official” six-month mark on this project. We left for our first camp on January 10. That was 12 camps (technically 15) and 15 states ago. Something like 13,000 miles ago. It’s been a journey with a lot of things we expected, but more that we didn’t. We’ve been in awe of nature and seen amazing ministries at work. We saw Austin, White Sands, Picacho Peak, and fell in love with Prescott, AZ. We’ve been to San Diego, LA, and Vegas. We visited Death Valley, Moab, and Park City. We saw hot air balloons, an ocean, lakes, and mountains, mountains, mountains – and most importantly made THE BEST new friends. I’m overwhelmed already by the life we have lived together these past six months. But, we’ve also had awful fights, been lost and stuck, and let hopelessness/laziness/frustration take over. We’ve let our social anxiety get the best of us, been afraid, and not built relationships the way we wanted to. All the while we’ve been asking ourselves the same question; “what the heck are we doing here?”
I know that we had a lot of high hopes for this project – and we still do. We want to achieve the things we set out to do, no matter how many times we have to revise the how. But we’ve also learned humility in big ways. There’s been a lot of letting go and a lot of saying “whatever you want, God.” It’s a really big, hard moment when the depth of your passion for something doesn’t match up with the world’s response to the work you do. But we can’t let it go. It matters too much.
Through all the gray areas on this leg of the journey, one thing has become so clear. It was clear to me this morning, praying for that sweet little girl to have joy in her life, to know Jesus, and to have a community that supports, protects, and loves her. Camp is important. For kids who haven’t had to deal with “life” yet, and for people who have been hardened by it, camp can change everything. We love this ministry because it’s all about the good stuff – healing and joy and family and courage and Jesus. Camp exists for that one little girl with soft eyes, so that she can know she is loved and forgiven by the most amazing God and so that she can have honest relationships with people who will love her like Jesus. That’s too good not to share.
This summer, I would love to share the stories of people who have been changed by camp. As we serve in the thick of camp season, I want to be able to write about what all the work is for and encourage other “camp people” that it’s all worth it. If you’d like to be a part of that, please send me your camp story and a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org or share on our Facebook page.
For me, the greatest joy of traveling for a living is meeting new people. We’ve been fortunate enough in our full-time RVing experience to make real relationships and what I hope will be lifelong friendships. It feels as though each camp we visit adds to a family that is forming around us, cheering us on and uniting behind the desire to bring camping ministry – and Jesus – to all new people.
It’s a special kind of opportunity to meet another person who shares your passions and endeavors. A few months ago in New Mexico, I got to meet Ashley. Ashley and her husband work in Christian camping, are raising two beautiful (and silly) children, and maintain a home that welcomes you in and says “you’re family.” Ashley and Ford were wonderful to just hang out with and get to know, and I have so much respect for people who open their home earnestly to others. Sam and Ford had a great time talking about woodworking (check out Ford’s insta) and Ashley and I bonded over things we love – blogging and food.
Ashley is the hospitality guru behind Food and Fellowship – a blog about preparing delicious, homemade food and serving people with grace and love. For Ashley and her family, a table is not a flat surface with legs – it is “ the heart of the home, where love is expressed through food… where the body, mind, and soul are nourished and sustained.”
First of all, Ashley’s cooking is divine. It’s the kind of food you put in your mouth and think, “Is this a sin?” Her blog is fun to read, easy to follow, and will have you cultivating fellowship around your kitchen table like. a. boss. Ashley loves cooking for people, making them smile and laugh, and having honest conversations. I talked with her about my desire to have an “open door policy” no matter what our living situation is (entertaining in 70 square feet is NEAT). Sam and I have hosted a few guests since moving into the camper, but I want people to know they are still, and always will be, welcome in our home. Providing a safe place for others to land is a core value Sam and I share. Our door and our arms will be open for you, no matter what. Our door is just a little smaller now…
Ashley inspired me to try my hand at food blogging. I wanted to try coming up with my own recipe and sharing it with others this way. However, I am NOT A COOK. I should not be trusted. I still can’t figure out why there are two utensils both called spatulas (WHY?). No one should take culinary advice from me. But I have a blog and a camera and no one stopped me, so here it is!
Sticking with the “camp” theme, I wanted to make a meal that fills you up with memories of cooking over a fire, starry nights, and summer. I have always loved “hobo meals,” tin foil pouches filled with hearty ingredients and cooked over coals. As a kid, ground beef and potatoes was my JAM. As an adult… potatoes make me feel a little guilty. After a little brainstorming, I think I actually found a way to combine traditional camp food, entertaining guests, and healthy choices all in one recipe. It’s was like magic, friends. May I present, The Healthy Hobo.
The heart of hobo dinners is basic ingredients that meld well together. For this rendition, we went with ground turkey, sweet potatoes, onions, and peppers. I mixed yellow bell and poblano (and a teeny bit of serrano) because I am a pepper enthusiast, but really any pepper will work. The ingredients can easily be prepped beforehand so you and your company can just make a foil pouch, scoop in the goods, and chuck it in the campfire. These foil pouch meals also work great in a toaster oven for rainy nights.
Pick your favorite picnic basket and some baggies, then get your veggies read for pouch-filling:
Sweet potatoes peeled and cubed.
Peppers sliced (or diced).
And there you have it! Fill that basket up with your baggies, meat, foil, silverware, and tongs, and you have a beautiful bounty that you can present to your guests like a cornucopia. Very impressive.
CRAP. DON’T FORGET THE MARSHMALLOWS. That fluff is important.
When the party gets going, everyone can pick and choose what to fill their pouch with and nestle it into the coals. Be prepared – these will take a while to cook, but the conversations around the fire are the fun part. It’s good to flip the pouches every few minutes and peek inside about 15 minutes in – base the “doneness” on the sweet potatoes. When the pouch is good to go, just pop it open at the top and dig in – no need for dishes! We like to sprinkle ours with a little salt and some shaved parmesan, but you do you.
Be sure to round out the meal with a roasted marshmallow (or 4) and a healthy portion of laughter around the fire.
The Healthy Hobo
A health(ish) spin on the traditional camp hobo dinner. Feeds 4-6.