If you’re looking for a quick way to get conversation going in a room full of camp people, ask this question: “What is the best camp game?” After the yelling dies down and you get that one guy out of a headlock, you’ll be in just about the same place you were before. Everyone has their go-to games and each camp has it’s tried and true list of games they teach counselors every year. When you’re in a pinch and need to get a game going NOW, you’re going to play that same one that you’ve been leaning on since summer one. And it works. So, what’s the point of playing new games? And why are games so important to begin with?
Camp games, along with just about everything else we do at camp, are intended to facilitate experience, conversation, and relationships. From the “time wasters” around the table to the crazy competitions on the field, the games you play with your campers should be integral to the transformation you want to see in them at the end of the week. The point might not always come across as clearly as an initiative breakdown – “we each had a role in the game like we all have a role in the body of Christ, etc. etc.” – but you should know the purpose and impact of each activity whether you’re letting the campers in on it or not. Building trust, encouraging creativity, emphasizing the importance of diversity, removing barriers, developing confidence, and creating memorable moments are just some of the “side effects” of playing a game.
The more games you can add to your arsenal, the better. As someone involved in youth ministry/camping/any social setting, you become an asset to your team when you can facilitate purpose-driven activities – especially ones that are new and exciting. When week 8 rolls around and your senior high campers are getting sassy – “I already know ~the point~ of this game, Sara – you can hit them with a challenge that gets them functioning as a team in new ways (and you can have the last word which is fun).
I know there is no way I could sit here and serve up THE list of camp games. That would make me camp Yoda and I would be getting paid lots of money for my knowledge and gracing others with my presence (I’m not). I can however facilitate a conversation on what games Sam and I love, the categories we see games fall into, and what games YOU love at your camp. Check out some of our favorites, then share yours – and how you use them to create transformation at camp.
The GTKYs (Get To Know You Games)
These games are the foundation for building your team. Some “getting to know you” will happen organically, but facilitating it through games helps level the playing field and discourages cliquing.
Toilet Paper Game
Passing around a roll of toilet paper, tell your campers someone forgot to place the order and that’s all the paper you have for the week. They should take the amount they think they will need to “make it.” After the paper has been passed, explain that each person now has to share a fact about themselves for each square of paper they are holding. (Make sure to gather paper up and recycle at the end.)
The TP game is one that makes everyone laugh. Your returning campers get to be in on the joke, and your newbies just think it’s funny you’re talking about bathroom habits in the first 30 minutes of camp. Pro Tip: Set a timer during which each camper has to say their personal facts – otherwise you end up with the kid who filibusters the game.
Have the group walk around the space, weaving through each other while saying/chanting/singing the word “mingle” over and over again. When the facilitator shouts “GROUPS OF 4 (or whatever number)” they should immediately cling to those closest to form a group and sit down. The facilitator then says a direction such as “share your favorite book” or “share a time when you won something” and lets the conversation progress until they are ready to yell MINGLE again.
I mostly love Mingle because it is hilarious to listen to everyone chant like the birds from Finding Nemo. Cracks me up every time. It’s also great for getting people to have face-to-face conversations with a variety of people early on. Pro Tip: Consider the group size and directions as inverses – groups of nine should have directions like “share your favorite ice cream” while groups of two or three can have directions like “share something you are excited about and nervous about for this week.”
The Active Games
Games with energy drive excitement and teamwork in your group, and competition is healthy for group dynamic (nothing bonds kids faster than determination to win an imaginary prize). Keep in mind that active games are inherently the ones where the playing field divides – adding silly/awkward/chaotic elements to active games keeps certain kids from stealing the show.
So, there’s a rubber chicken and running around and passing things between your legs… Why don’t I just let Ultimate Camp Resource explain:
“1) Start with 2 teams. 2) One camper is given a throwable object [rubber chicken], their team then forms a circle around them and that person throws the object. 3) After he/she has thrown the object then he/she goes around the circle saying everyone's name in order of the circle. Every time he makes it around the circle it counts as a run. 4)Meanwhile the other team is chasing the object. Everyone forms a line behind the first person that has gotten the object. They then pass the object between their legs until it reaches the last person, where it is then passed overhead back to the first person in line. [we always do an “over under” pattern to the back and to the front] 5) When the first person gets the object the team yells out, and the other team stops counting runs. The first person in line that retrieved the object now has a circle formed around him and he throws the object and the process reverses.” (UCR)
We once had a camp counselor so obsessed with this game that he bought himself a personal rubber chicken to make sure he was always ready to play. It gets intense, but is hilarious and different from the typical Monday night kickball.
Each person is armed with half a pool noodle. The object is to tag the other player with the noodle – but only on the butt. When a player is tagged, they hold their noodle over their head and come out of bounds for a new noodle. With a new noodle, they are back in play.
The 12-year-olds and I always ALWAYS laugh at the name butt tag. You can call it something more appropriate if you want to, but it is just plain fun no matter what it’s called. This is one of those games that gets everybody looking and feeling ridiculous, which is awesome for breaking down barriers and opening the group up. There’s no winner and plenty of chaos – what’s not to love? Pro Tip: Anyone who gets crazy/out of control with the noodle sits out the rest of that round.
Have everyone break off in pairs and link elbows. Designate one team to start – one person chases the other person. The person being chased can link arms with one of the other teams by saying the person’s name and then linking arms with them. The “third link” must then run, as they are now the one being chased.
Most people know this one, but it is so simple and perfect for being in a pinch that I had to include it. It is a magic game that most groups will just keep playing FOREVER until you stop them. I love it because those who are not “running inclined” can just link up again quickly but still participate. Pro Tip: If you notice a chaser is struggling to catch anyone, yell SWITCH and the runner is now the chaser (so the former chaser can link up again and catch a break).
The "What Do We Do Now" Games
I hate wasted time. There’s definitely a time and place for free hangout time, but those moments of sitting and waiting when you see the boredom setting in are the perfect time to bust out one of these. You can use those otherwise pointless periods to laugh together and create “campy” memories.
Everyone sits in a circle with their hands on the table/ground in front of them. Each person places their left hand on the other side of the person to their left’s right hand (so that the hands in the circle now alternate mine, not mine, mine). The goal is to tap the table one hand at a time in the circle (it’s way harder than it sounds). Ramp things up by going faster or double tapping to reverse the direction.
I don’t know why this game is so fun. It makes no sense, but it’s addicting. Once it’s introduced, campers will start to do it on their own whenever they are bored. Campers facilitating their own productive activity? Sign me up.
Everyone stands in a circle facing each other. One player yells “ninja” and the players freeze in their best ninja poses. Beginning with the player who declared ninja, the players take turns attempting to swipe one of their neighbors’ hands. The other player may move to evade the attack, but both players must freeze in the pose the move leaves them in. Next, the defending player takes their turn attempting to swat one of their neighbors’ hands. If a player’s hand is swatted they have “lost” that hand. The goal is to be the last player with a “good hand.” Important note: players may move their arms and bodies only when attacking or defending, but their feet must remain planted.
This game has a cult following (including Sam) that I do not understand. However, it is the perfect game for standing around in parking lots or whatever other moments when you’re like “uhhhhh, NINJA.” It will not let you down.
The "Why Did We Ever Teach Them This" Games
There are camp games in this world that once you have introduced them, you can’t take them back. Your campers will shun all other activities and want only to play these games for hours on end. They will drive you absolutely insane, but for some reason they build a bond between your campers that you don’t know how to facilitate otherwise – so bring on the spoons.
Spoons (AKA Demon Musical Chairs)
Players are dealt a hand of cards and spoons are placed in the middle of the table – one less than the number of players. Dealer draws one card at a time from deck and passes it around the circle. Each person can pass the card or keep it and pass another. When a player achieves 4 of a kind, they grab a spoon and everyone else must grab a spoon. Person without a spoon is out.
There is always blood with Spoons. Okay, almost always. People will murder each other over this game, but it is all worth it for the memories they’ll make in the end – right? Pro Tip: Don’t play with forks.
This is one you can either buy a set of cards for (PHARISEES) or create your own with a normal deck of cards, as follows:
Narrator – “Everyone go to sleep. (Everyone closes their eyes.) Mafia wake up. Point out who you want to “whack.” (They silently indicate a player.) Mafia go to sleep. Doctor wake up. Who do you want to heal? (Doctor selects a person. If same person as mafia selected, they survive.) Doctor go to sleep. Detective wake up. Who do you want to investigate? (Detective points to a person and narrator nods if they are mafia.) Detective go to sleep. Everyone wake up.”
The narrator then recalls a tale if a player was in fact “wacked” and they are out of the game. If the doctor was successful, “it was a quiet night.” A strangely serious discussion then ensues in which the townspeople (everyone participates to keep identities a secret) decide if anyone should go on trial. That person can “defend” themselves on why they aren’t mafia, but are put to a vote and if voted as mafia, executed. (I know, I don’t understand how this one makes it at camp either.) The rounds essentially continue that way until one team wins – by killing off the other team.
I know this one is definitely a hard sell (all the killing), but I can’t say enough how much high school campers LOVE this game. From a facilitator standpoint, mafia lets people be creative and put on a character, which I think ironically gets them to be themselves more. It will also reveal the good liars in your group, which is useful information. (I’m kidding – kind of.) Mafia is great for late nights and takes some focus/commitment to be played well. It’s hard to explain, but everyone loves Mafia. Pro Tip: A quick Google search will offer a bunch of twists you can add to mix things up – or come up with your own!
Games For A Reason
I know I said that all games we play at camp are for a reason, but these are some of my favorites with immediate turnaround. I love games and object lessons that have a-ha moments – I often take time out of Bible studies or devotions for these games.
Divide group into teams of 4ish. Wrap the team together using a roll of cellophane. Then, have the teams perform a race/obstacle course, timing each team. Team with the best time wins.
Super simple, but the breakdown is KILLER. Discuss with your group what made the game harder/easier. Ask what would happen if one person chose to veer off on their own path versus everyone going together toward the goal. The point here is to bring the team to an understanding that striving toward the goals of the week together is going to be an easier ride, and that one person can easily derail the whole production.
I See You See
You’ll need a couple printed out pictures of objects/plants/animals. Everyone needs paper and a writing utensil. Have a volunteer come up and describe the image using only shape words (i.e. draw a circle on top of a line next to a square). Compare the original to the group’s drawings. Try a couple times with new volunteers.
This one is a little difficult to get the “describer” to play along, but worth it for the lesson (and the hilariously bad drawings). I love to use this with groups before a week filled with worship, small group, and chapel lessons to encourage them to discover their own beliefs. In the same way that their image of a cake is not clear or perfect when received through someone else, their understanding of God/Jesus/faith and their own beliefs won’t be 100% when it comes out of someone else’s mouth. It’s important for campers to trust leaders, but it’s also extremely important for them to see their own understanding of what they believe.
Things You Didn’t Notice
Collect a nonsensical list of observations from around camp (i.e. how many lights are in the dining hall, what color is the sign at the barn, etc.) and quiz the group (usually in teams). Whoever gets the most correct wins. They won’t get many, but this is the point.
This one goes deep pretty fast. I ask the group to discuss what was hard about the game, and lead them to the conclusion that they just don’t normally pay attention to or notice little details like that. Our week together could be very similar to this game, where we don’t notice the people around us or what they are going through, or very different, where we take time to focus on others and get to know them for real. This is a great way to have the “you never know what someone is going through” conversation with a tangible concept of how it feels to have not noticed something right under your nose.
These are some tried and true Richardson favorite games – in fact, I’m sure some of our past campers are reading this and groaning at the thought of playing them AGAIN. So, we need your help to grow our camp game collection! What games are famous at your camp and how do they help you transform lives?
“What’s it like living in a camper?”
Sam and I get asked this all the time. We usually say something noncommittal like, “Oh it’s fine,” or “You know, pretty great.” In reality, I think this move may end up being one of the best decisions of our life together.
A few things set this lifestyle apart. They are the unique challenges of camper living, but also the experiences that we believe are strengthening our relationships and character. Let’s go ahead and put them in a list. (people love lists, right?)
In downsizing, there is frustration, but there is also freedom. Moving into the camper, we had the challenge/privilege of getting rid of our “stuff.” Even in our less than two years of living in our first home, we had acquired so much… crap. I’m not sure what else to call it. At the time, with all that space to fill, those things seemed like an important part of our life. But now, without them, what has really changed?
I wouldn’t say we have achieved minimalist status yet. We kept a good amount of stuff in boxes back in PA for the potential day when we have a house again. The more time we spend living in the trailer though, the more I forget what is even in those boxes. We still have what I would call too much. We’re constantly looking for a new spot or a way to make another nook serve a purpose. But letting go has become something that feels good instead of scary.
Our best advice on downsizing is to do it several times. Take on one room at a time and go through everything – keep, store, release. Then do it again. And then one more time. You’ll truly feely your addictions and insecurities. After you’re done feeling dirty about how madly in love you are with things, you get to enjoy saying “this is all I need” (and in reality it’s still more than you need.) For us, it brought us closer to being able to say, “God, you are all we need.”
One beautiful thing is that now we know our life together isn’t built on objects or a physical foundation. We did love having a house where we could serve others and people were always welcome. Being there let us establish roots and a community (that we miss every day.) But in the letting go, we have been forced to trust God and rely on each other. When the setting is constantly changing and you strip away those extra comfort things, you turn to relationships and people become the center of your life.
On a similar note, 70 square feet is not the Taj Mahal. Pro: It is amazing to only have one room to clean. Con: There is only one room. You sleep in it, eat in it, work in it, get ready for the day in it, relax in it (just kidding we don’t relax.) For the most part, we enjoy the functionality of our space. We’re used to it and we like it. But then there are the days when we really “feel the space.” Usually it’s when Sam is editing and dinner is cooking so the toaster oven takes up the whole counter and ingredients are everywhere and I’m trying to mop the floor because I can’t eat dinner when the floor is dirty and Peyton is running back and forth and knocks down the fold-up table and something spills or shatters. I have never had a better look in the mirror than recognizing how out of control I feel in those moments. There’s a running joke that if you pray for patience, God will give it to you. So, if everyone could stop praying for patience for us, that would be great.
The positive half of this situation is that usually (when I’m done crying) we have a good laugh about it and try to spend more time outside. Feeling cooped up reminds us that we are meant to be outside and that our lifestyle allows us to do that. And you truly can’t take yourself too seriously when you are balancing mixing bowls on the space heater.
As much as you can, keep your space clean. I am the number one culprit of the mess in our trailer; I leave a trail of chaos everywhere I go. But, it really does help to take 20 minutes and put everything away. In a camper, everything must have a place. Try as much as possible to only use the space for one purpose at a time. (this is a kitchen, now it is an office, etc. – instead of this is a kitchenofficebedroomplaypen) Go outside whenever possible. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use the bathroom as a panic room. A toilet doubles as a chair when the lid is down.
Of all the expensive counseling and self-help books in the world, nothing will impact your marriage quite like parking a travel trailer. I’m sure there are important lessons about teamwork and communication in here somewhere, but mostly you will just know the taste of rage and someone will end up spending some time in the “panic room.” If you are still married when the trailer is where it needs to be, congratulations. You’re going to be just fine.
It feels amazing to know that this is our home. It’s teensy and 40+ years old and something is always broken, but it is ours. When asked, we always recommend choosing an older RV/camper that you can reinvent. It certainly won’t save you much, if any, money (see this blog), but there’s nothing quite like looking around and realizing you crafted something you love.
Our three top tips for your home on wheels of choice: make it functional, choose amazing colors, and violently remove any and all carpeting. Transitional features sound great, but consider whether you are actually going to want to convert your bed into a table every day (nope.) Think about the purpose of every space and object, and if it doesn’t have one, set it on fire. Or, just get rid of it, that works too. A coat of white paint changes everything. Any chance you get to make the space brighter, do it. And as far as carpet goes, just get rid of all of it. Trust me.
There are a lot of reasons we love camper life. It helps us focus on what’s important. We get to see amazing things all the time. Even with the chaos, it’s a ton of fun. But one of our favorite things is that we get to be part of a huge community of people who have also decided to be done with the way life is “supposed” to look.
Making the camper our full-time home has, at times, been a source of anxiety for us. We’ve worried a lot about what people think and whether it was a responsible decision. I consider those completely healthy reactions and I hope that anyone considering a giant life change thinks about those things a little bit. For us, those were insecurities we had to come to terms with so that we could pursue the work we had to do.
I often look to the story of Moses in those times of fear. When God asked him to go to Pharaoh, Moses didn’t just feel unqualified, he was by most standards actually not the best man for the job. He was probably going to look stupid. He would probably not be able to do it alone. There was a really good chance that he would mess it up big time. People people probably thought Moses was a little crazy. Moses had ONE MILLION excuses. But, in the end, God worked through him. (There was some other complicated stuff in the middle there, but you get the idea.)
Living outside of the standards we know are expected of us is very nerve-wracking. We definitely have those moments of “we should probably be focusing on careers and buying a house and thinking about the future” and even more frequently find ourselves thinking “is this really what we should be doing with our lives?” But I know that because there is fear in this, there is freedom in it. If it all felt easy and safe, how much could it shape our lives or change our hearts?
I think living in the trailer is a “camp” experience for us. Camp draws us out of our element. It takes away the things we have built up and know to be true. It makes us recognize our addictions and insecurities and lack of control. In all of that is when we see clearly, build foundations in people and relationships, and trust God the most. Maybe in making camp our lives, it became our distraction and dependence, so God had to take us out of that safe space for transformation to happen. If that’s the case, I’ll take the paring down and the uncomfortable moments and the uncertainty, because I know what God can do through camp.
I have to confess something; I sometimes think that God doesn’t care.
I am not among the people who hear God’s audible voice, and sometimes I find myself screaming WHERE ARE YOU up into the sky (as if God is sitting on a cloud or something laughing at me.) But I also know God IS there and that He does want a relationship with me. I just sometimes I only know that in my head instead of in my heart.
Christians spend a lot of time and heartache comparing our experiences, and I think we start to assume God loves other people more. God speaks out loud to that girl… He must love her more. That guy says God gave him his dream job… God loves him more than me. God came down in a pillar of fire or something at that lady’s church… clearly God does not love me at all.
It doesn’t offend God that we feel that way, but it must be frustrating to love someone so much and have them say WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME because they don’t understand you. I’m glad God is a patient kind of guy.
A few days ago, I found myself in one of my toddler moments. I was getting ready for the day, doing my hair (for once), and just going to town with complaints. Here’s a little picture of what God had to listen to me whine about:
I just don’t understand why we are even doing this if it’s all for people we already know and if the only people who read my blog are my mom and her friends then what the heck is the point of this clearly we are doing something wrong because we don’t have the audience I thought we would have and we can’t grow our viewership and our videos are always late and my blogs are always boring and honestly I feel like this was probably a huge waste and we aren’t even doing anything important and we haven’t figured out how to bring in non camp people and we probably never will because nothing we do is good enough and NO ONE LIKES US ANYWAY
And then I just about dropped my curling iron because my brain immediately had the crystal clear thought, “It doesn’t matter if they like you. It matters if they like Me.”
There aren’t many people in my life who can leave me speechless, but it turns out Jesus is one of them. What was I supposed to say to that? I grumbled a little something like “well yeah obviously” and stomped off (you know, like an adult.)
As it turns out, Jesus wasn’t done with me yet.
That morning we got to sit in on staff chapel. Each week at Forest Home, one of the staff members leads a devotion message and time of prayer. This week’s message just happened to be about Job. He talked about all the crap that Job went through and how he remained “blameless and upright.” He talked about what I like to refer to as “the pity party of Job,” when he wept for the day he was born. He talked about Job’s friend Elihu and his wise counsel. And then he talked about what God had to say to Job.
This is one of those times in the Bible when you read what God said and can’t help but think “oh snap.” God LAYS IT OUT. He basically asks Job “who the heck do you think you are?” Properly, “who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) God makes it clear just how little Job really knows.
BUT JOB IS A GOOD GUY! He’s upright! He’s blameless! WHAT THE HECK?
Job could go on and on about how he had done nothing wrong and he loved/feared God and lived his life to honor God. Cool, Job. That’s nice. It would be great if more people did that. But Job didn’t trust God. He thought he knew exactly how things should be happening according to his own knowledge. He thought he knew God’s motives and why things happen the way they do. And even though he never cursed God, he cursed himself over and over again. As the one who loved Job so much and had faith in him to prove the enemy wrong… well, I’m sure God was a little disappointed.
I am Job.
I try my best to be a good person. I love God. I follow Him. I’m willing to give my life to serve Him. I’ll move into a camper and do a lot of things that make me anxious and uncomfortable and say out loud that I am doing exactly what God wants me to do. But I don’t trust His plan. I think I know how this is supposed to go and what it should look like. I know that if we are “failing,” it means God is angry with us and hates what we are doing. Silly Job.
I’m so grateful that we serve a God who “ever so gently” reminds us that we are not in control. I needed to be reminded that in everything I do, my purpose is to love Jesus, follow Him, and show others His love through my life. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how many subscribers we have or whether we radically change the world of camping ministry (not that we really plan to.) All that matters is that in all that we do, we live the way Jesus called us to and love the people we meet really well.
Because it doesn’t matter if they like me; it matters that He loves them.
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.
It’s been a long time coming, but we wanted to share the story of how we turned an old family camper into our full-time home.
The “make this trip happen” process started with figuring out how we would travel. We weighed a lot of different options – RV/trailer/van/lease/buy/hitchhike. I could probably (and still might) write an entire post just on making that decision. In the end, the “free” option won, and we decided to take on renovating the 1976 Dutch Craft camper parked in Sam’s parents’ driveway. In case you are in a hurry, here’s the short version: we did not know what we were getting ourselves into.
All in all, the project took about a year of weekends and any spare free time. I won’t say that we completed the renovation in a year, because it is absolutely an ongoing process. There is always something to be fixed, but now it feels like we are repairing our home. Here’s how we got to that point:
Step One - Demolition
This was the family favorite of the renovation stages. The first step was to take every removable item out of the camper. The next step was to take every non-removable item out by force. Much of what came out did not make it back in. We temporarily removed all the doors (all two), cabinet doors, cushions, air conditioner cover, and exhaust hood. The table, counter top, shower doors, part of the bench seat, carpet, a couple walls and most of the ceiling came out too.
There was never a point where the camper was totally emptied out. If you are easily overwhelmed, beware; there will be stuff everywhere. It’s part of the process and it will be okay. You can relieve the tension by ripping the awning down.
Step Two - Fix Everything
cThis step can also be referred to as “make daily trips to Home Depot.” We got very lucky with our antique because most of the important things – like the trailer frame – are in pretty good shape. Beyond that, we had work to do.
There was extensive water damage because of leaky vents. Turns out, water causes a lot of problems. To avoid this in the future, we installed new vents and resealed the roof. We had to replace parts of the camper frame, most of the insulation, the bathroom walls, and the ceiling. The foamboard insulation was much nicer to put in than the old cotton candy was to pull out. However, if you buy it too thick, you’ll have to do some creative shaving down to get the ceiling up. We used fiberglass reinforced plastic (pebbleboard) to replace the walls and ceilings, but learned the hard way that a staple gun will not puncture the harder version of FRP. Go for a nail gun (or screws if you have to) after a healthy coat of liquid nails.
Some of the plumbing was old and cracked, especially on the black and gray tanks. Sam’s brother Jeremiah put in new waste valves and new PVC. We had to replace and rewire broken tail lights; it took a whole team of friends, but we now have fancy and functioning LEDs. To replace the old counter, we found a piece of lab table from a university at a salvage store that works perfectly and doesn’t require use of hot pads – win-win. In the process of fixing everything else wrong with the bathroom, we managed to destroy the shower doors. We fashioned a new set out of industrial fluorescent light covers from Home Depot. At this point, we were starting to get good at making stuff up.
Step Three - PAINT
That’s all. Just paint, for days. When you think you are done, paint more. Also, wood paneling will not die without a fight, so you’ll need to sand the crap out of everything.
When you are finished painting – no, just kidding, you’ll never be done.
Step Four - Make It Your Own
A huge part of our decision to go with the Dutch Craft was the opportunity to make it a space of our own. We had so much fun transforming the dark, weathered interior into a bright and modern space. We tried to salvage what was already there whenever possible by cleaning/polishing/painting, but we did add several fresh touches.
Some of our issues with the original space were the disintegrating yellow cushion covers, green carpet, too-big table, lack of storage, and the “wood look” everything. It was a feat just to cover all the brown. We definitely needed more paint than we expected – always go for the gallon – but it was worth it. It truly transformed the space. The gray and white color scheme paired with turquoise fabric feels beachy and calm – we absolutely love it. A quick polish saved most of the cabinet hardware, and we replaced the old knobs at a discount hardware store. All the other metal got a couple coats of metallic spray paint and looked good as new.
We thought it would be simple to replace the dingy window blinds with cheap curtains. We learned that buying curtains in general is frustrating, and buying curtains online for a camper compounds the issue. After three tries (thank you Amazon for free returns) we found tiered curtain pairs in a pattern we don’t completely hate. It is also important to find the double-lined variety if you care about your neighbors seeing you naked.
The booth/bed convertible space serves as our “bedroom.” A Walmart curtain rod, two long tie-back pairs, and a set of old Christmas lights were a simple solution. The space above the bed is technically a lofted bed, but we tossed the extra cushions and added fabric storage cubes to create storage for our clothes. That was an easy fix; paring our clothes down to three cubes each took a little more effort.
Two sweet friends came through for us to solve the cushion and table complications. We found patio furniture fabric online and Kathy sewed us gorgeous new covers using the old ones as a pattern. The idea for a storage cabinet that converts into a table was not too much for Shane, and he created exactly the functional piece we pictured. We are not always good at asking for help, but I’m so glad we did. Lord knows what it would have looked like if I tried to sew those cushion covers…
The final addition of laminate wood flooring brought everything together so well; it finally looked the way we pictured. It was a relatively cheap Home Depot find (we might as well be sponsored by them at this point) and has matching molding. Laminate is an amazing option for RVs because it looks great but takes a serious beating. It’s also easy to install, and easy is very, very good.
Step Five - Paint Again
Most people choose to maintain the color scheme of their vintage campers with a good clean and polish, but we were determined to bring the modern theme of the interior to the outside. Sam got a creepy paint suit and mask and we bought PPG alkyd enamel paint in plain white. Originally, we intended to do the classic color panel in turquoise as well, but the way this next bit went… it just didn’t work out.
What exactly went wrong with the exterior paint is still a bit of a mystery. However, we learned some important tips that will make or break your DIY paint job. Cleaning, sanding, and priming are all very necessary and made it easier to cover the old brown and yellow. A wire brush on a cordless drill works wonders on years of sticky grime. When you are ready to paint, ABSOLUTELY thin with lacquer thinner. Supposedly, the type of paint we bought does not need to be thinned. False. After a long trial and error process and unclogging the spray gun one thousand times, we ended up having to thin the paint to almost 50/50. At that point, it was basically water and many coats were necessary. But, the trailer did finally get painted, and although it does resemble a sad perogie truck, it suits us.
The Final Step - Panic
Neither of us fully remember the last three days before we left PA. I am unsure if we slept. I know we ate because Sam’s mom made us. If you set a date for when your new home on wheels absolutely has to be on the road, rest assured that the final days will be like the worst cramming for finals you have ever experienced. But, partially due to hysteria, we laughed a lot, accomplished something we truly did not feel capable of, and secretly had a lot of fun.
So, that’s how we brought our 1976 Dutchcraft back from the dead. It took a chunk of our money and all of our sanity, but we got it done. Honestly, our family and friends are the only reason that we were ever able to pull out of the driveway. Without them, I would still be crying into the green carpet and Sam would probably be missing a finger. We strongly recommended having a small army like ours assembled when taking on a project like this. You probably won’t be able to do it by yourself, and it’s way more fun that way.
Thanks guys. We love you.
Part of living on the road means spending long days in the truck. After a variety of attempts to entertain ourselves have failed, we typically end up digging into the details of our project (again). I’ve unofficially dubbed Camp to Camp as a “living” project that is developing as we go along. As we see and learn new things every day, it’s been nearly impossible to not reinvent what we are doing five or six times. We consider this a good thing.
One element of the project that we have been hashing out lately is the concept behind #makecampmainstream. We liked this tagline from the very beginning. It’s catchy. It sounds good. And at the heart of it, it’s something that Sam and I both yearn for in the world. It hadn’t really occurred to us before that it might not make sense to everyone.
Mainstream is one of those words; everyone knows it, but maybe doesn’t know exactly what it means. It also can tend to have a negative connotation in Christian circles. “We don’t want to be like the rest of the world. Christianity isn’t mainstream.” I questioned whether mainstream was really our hope for camping ministry. The more we went back and forth on word choice, the more I truly came to understand where we want to see camp go.
To be mainstream is to be a part of the dominant trend. To be a household name. To be normal. We use the phrase “camp people” as an industry joke, setting apart those who understand the ridiculousness that is the camp experience. It gently implies that camp and those who experience it are, simply, not normal. This is true, of course, but I think it also means we have work to do.
#makecampmainstream isn’t about changing camping ministry into something that it’s not. (We happen to think camp is pretty darn good the way it is.) It’s not about losing the things that make camp… camp. It is about working to be a part of the conversation. As a culture, we are hungry for “the good stuff.” There is a constant dialogue going about what is good for kids, how to meet developmental needs, what programs will grow young people into an honorable generation… We should be standing at the front of all of those meetings waving our arms and screaming, “CAMP CAN DO THAT!”
It occurred to me during a recent stuck-in-the-truck conversation that I’ve never seen a Christian camp in a Buzzfeed or Upworthy video. I’ve never seen the article “check out this camp that’s instilling confidence, interpersonal skills, and hope in kids today” while scrolling my Facebook. I've never seen a feel-good filler during the evening news that was about a Christian camp. The platforms exist and people want that kind of content, so where are we? Camp people know what we have to offer is life-altering. Our stories are inspiring. Camp is doing the good work. So how do we get a seat at the table?
For us, this project is alive. We are still figuring out what our role will be in the big picture of making camp something everyone is talking about. But #makecampmainstream has given us a focus and a mission, something we can wake up knowing we are working toward. We want camp to be part of "normal." If we really believe that camp can do all the things we say it can do, then we should be shouting from the mountaintops and making a way for camp to benefit every family. We see this effort as bigger than individual camp marketing, and perhaps bigger than we can achieve ourselves. Our hope is that every community would know where their local camp ministry is, what it can do for their family, and how they can be a part of it. There is a future beyond the current self-feeding system. There is potential in this ministry. We believe that we can get there, but not without doing something.
Let us know how you feel about #makecampmainstream. If you think it's great, we hope you'll help us spread the word.
It’s not much of a stretch to think that Christian camps would want to be eco-friendly. We see Earth as the art of God, which deepens its value beyond that of a dwelling place and into a revered work of the divine. Our work primarily occurs in and relies on nature. For the most part, camp is outside – so we need the outside to stick around! To be a camp that practices creation care just makes sense.
But, it’s not easy to get ideas from the Tuesday meeting into our daily practices, let alone our mission statements. When we saw how well Ferncliff has integrated creation care into all aspects of their ministry, we had to know how they do it. These are some of the programs and practices Ferncliff has put in place to ensure they are caring while they camp.
Something Ferncliff does really well is balance eco-friendly practices with education. It’s one thing to care about the Earth – it’s another to teach others to care even more. These teaching opportunities are built in to their camper experience. Kids get the chance to see, touch, and help with an onsite farm and garden – complete with goats (!), sheep, ducks, rabbits, and chickens. Chris “the farm guy,” a Young Adult Volunteer, lives on camp to care for and operate the farm though the year. In the summer, he teaches campers about growing food, caring for animals, and living in cooperation with nature. The garden is also functional creation care, serving as a compost center and food source for the camp.
We are all pretty familiar with daily Bible study, but the Ferncliff camper schedule includes daily nature study. As campers learn more about nature, they grow to care for and consider it in a new way. Campers also get a chance to visit adventure camp – stackwood cabins, treehouses, the shower barn and Ferncliff’s almost famous Eco Center. This place blew our minds. It is a 5,600 square foot straw bale building (one of the largest in the country), insulated with rice hulls and powered by solar. Through the Solar Under the Sun program, teams come to the Eco Center to learn how to install clean water and solar energy systems, then go out and provide that service as a mission project. It’s an awesome, practical ministry that is truly changing lives.
Ferncliff’s latest effort in creation care education is their new nature preschool. One day with these kids and you will be so ready for nap time. Nature preschool students spend their days exploring outside, playing and hiking, but also learning through experience about things like fire safety, composting, solar energy, plants, and animals. They are careful and caring, and interact gently with nature… at three years old! The students also gain kindergarten readiness in their classroom, which looks like most preschools, except for the giant aluminum canoe “reading nook” in the middle of the room.
On the “practice” end, Ferncliff integrates creation care throughout their operations. The buildings on camp use geothermal heating and cooling systems, using the consistent temperature of the lake to keep guests comfortable (it works). Solar power is used in buildings, light fixtures, and even a “stretch limo” golf cart named Sunny. Recycling bins are well-marked and available throughout the camp. Things are rarely thrown away at Ferncliff; even some of the floors are made from “trash.”
Good stewardship in food service is always a challenge, but we were impressed with Ferncliff’s efforts. Food from the garden is used to supplement meals in the dining hall (which is exciting for the campers who just helped to plant, pick, and tend their own food.) One day out of the week campers "enjoy a lunch of rice and beans to understand the imbalance of global resources." Food waste from camp meals is gathered in buckets and used for compost at the garden. Campers learn about their own food waste in fun ways. We love this idea: hold a contest at dinner that weighs the leftovers of each table and declares one the least wasteful!
One of our favorite ethical practices at Ferncliff is the fair trade coffee, which is as delicious as it is thought-provoking. It matches the fair trade chocolates left for guests in conference center rooms. In both the small touches and massive undertakings, Ferncliff proves that it is in fact a “camp with a conscience.”
Creation care is Ferncliff’s thing. It’s what they do. It’s very clear that they are committed to it in all aspects of their operation. This is certainly not the best option, nor even possible, for every camp. But visiting Ferncliff has given us some very tangible ideas for how camps (and everyone!) can do better. It starts with a willing heart and a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us or visit Ferncliff's site for more ideas on how you can make creation care an active value at your camp.
The journey has officially begun. Camp to Camp is real and alive. In the beginning, this isn't a day we thought would actually come to be. It still feels a little "out of body" to be living in our camper, traveling full time, and fully devoting our lives to seeing this through.
I don't think Sam and I are timid people, but I can't deny that we are cautious. We stick our toes in the water. We like to know. So the certainty with which we made the decision to pack up and go was a little shocking at first. The idea for Camp to Camp developed out of a joke at a county fair - not exactly a strategic planning meeting. We laughed and moved on, but God whispered - "Go."
A few weeks passed. We thought about other things. But God whispered a little louder - "Go."
I'm not sure when the whisper turned into a roar, but the longing grew. It became a plan and a vision for a new way we could serve camping ministry.
Through all of the planning and officially hitting the road, we heard the word why pretty frequently. We answered that question a lot of different ways and asked it of each other a lot too.
Why do we want this? Why are we leaving what we already love? Why has this captured our hearts?
It took a lot of prayer and hashing out to finally come up with definitive answers.
We are overjoyed and blown away by the kingdom work that is being done every day at camps around the country.
We have so many hopes for this project. First, we want to be vessels. Each trip to another camp is an opportunity to be filled with insight and practical ideas that we can take down the road and share. We are physically creating connections between camps to draw attention to the astonishing power of shared ministry. Camps are already epicenters of working together; how can we do it even more?
We believe that camping ministry deserves to be at the forefront of church planning. It is a viable mission field hidden in the woods right outside. I don't think it could ever be said enough: CAMP IS AWESOME. We think churches and Christians should rally behind it. Our hope is to start a conversation that encourages Christians to support camping - not just financially - but with their prayers, time, and mouths.
Because we are "camp people," we tend to get a little excited. We get jump-up-and-down, bang-on-the-table excited because people meet Jesus at camp. People find out what love is really like at camp. The most honest forms of confidence, peace, leadership, friendship, and purpose are discovered and built at camp. Disciples are made at camp. We are overjoyed and blown away by the kingdom work that is being done every day at camps around the country.
So, we decided it was our job to get other people excited about it too. The words "summer camp" don't always carry the same authority as "international mission trip," but camping ministry is transforming lives and we want people to see how diverse and relevant it is. We want churches to take mission trips to their local camps. We want parents to see the matchless opportunity there is for their kids at camp. We want kids to think camp is the coolest thing ever. As we build this project and our audience, we hope to find more ways to make camping ministry something everyone is excited about.
Even after a year of planning for this trip and a few months to get our bearings in Nashville, I feel like we are unprepared. I know that we are ready. We have the plans. We've filled the planner and sent the emails and written the vision statements. But I don't think we could possibly be prepared for the year that is ahead of us. I hope that we will be faithful servants, do good work, and be humbled by this experience. Beyond that, I can't be sure. Nothing about this is steady. But we know it will be okay. God told us - "Go."