One hundred and fifty children, along with their counselors, make their way down the hill in single file under the cover of darkness. The campers have been asked to keep silent as they walk, so the night air is filled with only the sound of footfalls, crickets, bullfrogs by the lake, and the swish of a gentle breeze in the tops of the tall pine trees. As the group snakes its way around the last bend, another sound can be heard, accompanied by a glowing sight and an outdoor, woodsy smell—it is a nice, big, crackling campfire by the lake. It is the last night of camp, and as the campers take their seats around the large campfire, the staff waits in eager anticipation for the next half hour or so for campers’ testimonies about their week of camp.
Certainly these kids could go on and on talking about the horses they rode, their water-skiing wipeouts, their canoeing adventures, the craft projects on which they labored, or even their hair-raising rides down the zip line, but this night will be different. They have been asked to talk only about what has happened in their lives spiritually over the week.
The fire has died down a little, and only the outline of a young girl standing in front of the fire can be made out. She speaks in a loud, clear voice unbefitting her small stature. She looks to be about nine or ten years old, and she has something incredible to tell:
“I want to thank my counselors, Rebecca and Nadine. They showed me this week what it means to be a Christian. Then last night after the rodeo, I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior.”
The crowd remains quiet, as we have asked them to be, but I can almost hear the angels rejoicing in heaven as the girl takes her seat again and is embraced by some new friends and a nearby counselor. Next, comes a boy who, by the glow of the fire, appears to be about twelve years old. He has a slightly different story to tell on this warm summer evening:
“My name is Eric, and I’m from the Bowie cabin. Before I came to camp, reading the Bible and praying didn’t mean anything to me, but after this week it now really means something to me. Thank you to the staff; they have been an awesome example to me.”
Scenes and testimonies just like these play out at Christian camps all over Texas, the United States, and even in other countries. Camps are places where people make life-changing decisions. In fact, one could walk into any church on a Sunday morning and ask for a show of hands of how many in the congregation made an important spiritual decision at camp. One out of every two hands in the church is likely to go up. Try it.
Do these important spiritual decisions happen at camps by chance or by design? The answer to that question is clearly design, which begs another question: What is it about camps that prompts such life-changing resolutions? There are three key ingredients: environment, new activities, and relationships.
Environment: Camps are traditionally held in a rural setting that displays God’s creation in a way that gets a kid’s attention. Tall trees, pristine lakes, rustling rivers, and an incredible view of the heavens each night are just some of the things a child sees at camp that may not be a part of her everyday life. This new environment seems to limit distractions and focus the camper on eternal matters.
New activities: Riflery, horseback riding, waterskiing, archery, woodworking, windsurfing, orienteering, and canoeing are generally not part of a child’s daily experiences. Camp exposes kids to new activities and new experiences beyond the norm, and they seem to heighten a child’s senses and spark an interest in learning, not only in the activities but also in the spiritual program. If a child has been excited all day about learning to canoe, imagine his interest in spiritual matters when he hears about Jonah and the big fish!
Relationships/community: A sense of community forms during the experience. The camper is physically separated from his permanent community (his home) and finds himself in a new and temporary community (the camp). God instills in each of us a need for relationships, so a camper naturally sets out to develop relationships in her new community. In addition to any friends with whom the child may have come with, she immediately gravitates towards the counselors and other camp leaders as well as other children in her cabin and activity groups. The children realize they are all in the same boat, and they see that the staff is ready to help them have a good time. This assurance causes immediate and sometimes lasting relationships to form—relationships that play a crucial role as the week progresses. A camper looks up to her counselor as a great role model, and when that counselor models a Christian life and talks to her about that life, the camper is ripe to make decisions to follow Jesus.
Kids will never forget their camp experience. It can change their lives—quite possibly for eternity.
How to Choose the Right Camp
If you are already sold on the camp experience, or if the idea is appealing, then it is time to consider sending your child to camp—but which camp is right for your child? It depends on the length, the type, and your criteria.
What length of camp fits your child?
Are you and your child ready to be separated for a camp experience, or do you want to go together? If the latter, there are plenty of camps that offer family, father/son, father/daughter, mother/son, or mother/daughter camps.
If your child is ready for a camping experience on his own, then ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your child young (under eight) or possibly not ready to stay somewhere overnight? A day camp might be right for that child.
- Is your child ready to go away to camp but wants to go with a number of friends? A church or denominational camp could be a good fit.
- Is your child bursting to embrace the camping experience for a week or more? This child is ready for a resident camp. Resident camps are typically one week in length, but there are camps that have programs lasting from two to eight weeks. A first-time, resident camper should probably try a one-week session at a camp not too far away from home, and it would be a good idea for him to go with a sibling or a friend. Most camps will let friends or same-gender siblings bunk together.
Which type of camp that is right for your child?
The different types of camps available are sports, adventure, recreational, special needs, and educational. Most camps offer a good blend of recreation and education, but make sure you find out what their spiritual and recreational programs entail.
Ask some questions:
- Do the camp’s beliefs match mine?
- Is the camp’s program mainly recreational, with a Christian song and a prayer or two sprinkled in, or does it have a solid Christian emphasis?
- Are there activities in which I do not want my child participating?
- Is the camp co-ed, or does it have separate boys’ and girls’ weeks?
- What is the camp fee?
- Are there other costs for certain activities not included in the fee?
- What process do they use to hire staff members?
- If my child signs up for a certain activity, how much time will she spend participating in the actual activity?
- How long has the camp been around?
- Does the camp carry the mandatory license to be a youth camp in the state of Texas?
- Is the camp accredited through the American Camping Association (www.acacamps.org)?
- Is the camp a member of the Christian Camp and Conference Association (www.ccca.org)?
Most camps will address these questions in a brochure or on their web site. If not, the camp administrator should be more than happy to answer your questions via phone.
How do you choose a specific camp?
Asking a trusted friend who has older children is a good place to start this process. Another place to try is free find-a-camp websites on which you enter your criteria (such as activities, price range, location, etc.) and a list of camps is generated that matches with your wish list (www.ccca.org and www.acacamps.org are good places to start).
Several camps in Texas are now offering early or late summer weeks that target home schoolers. Home school weeks give parents the added security of knowing their campers will be together with others who come from homes with similar values, and of course, the kids get to meet other home schoolers from all over the state. In addition to home school summer camp weeks, there are several camps that have organized outdoor education programs in the fall and spring, and they love to host home schoolers. These programs are a great way for campers to get some hands-on learning in the areas of physical science, astronomy, biology, botany, conservation, geology, and even zoology. Throw in group dynamics, recreation, and some s’mores, and before you know it, learning is fun!
Is there anything else you should know once you have registered?
You are almost to the finish line. All that is left is the wait and the packing. Here are some things to think about: Let your children know the cost of camp, and consider having them help raise money for camp by doing some extra chores around the house or for a neighbor. Helping with the fee will teach them to appreciate the experience more. Get a copy of the camp’s what-to-bring list, and have your child help pack, so they will know what they have brought with them. Boys are especially prone to wearing the same clothes all week if they can get away with it. To combat this tendency, think about packing each day’s clothes in a large Ziploc bag with the day clearly marked on the bag. Also, by packing with your child you can make sure that nothing gets in the suitcase that should not be there (shaving cream, fireworks, mp3 players, phones, etc.). Oh, and make sure to pack their Bibles! What would camp be without God’s Word?
Christian camping has been around for more than 100 years. Each year God uses the camp experience in the lives of young people and families. When you are planning for the summer, make sure that you do not leave camp off the list of possibilities!