BY MATT EACHUS
I FEEL FAIRLY QUALIFIED TO ANSWER THIS QUEST ION. I WAS SAVED AT A SUMMER CAMP. I ATIENDED A BOATLOAD OF SUMMER CAMPS AS A TEENAGER. I WORKED AT A SUMMER CAMP WHILE IN COLLEGE. I SERVED IN TWO CHURCHES AS A YOUTH PASTOR AND TOOK YEARLY TRIPS TO CAMPS. l'VE BEEN ABLE TO SPEAK AT SUMMER CAMPS. MY OWN KIDS ARE NOW BENEFITIING FROM ATIENDING SUMMER CAMPS. ALSO I CURRENTLY PASTOR A CHURCH THAT HAS LONG SENT OUR YOUTH GROUPS TO SUMMER CAMPS. I CAN TAKE A STAB AT THIS ONE, FOR SURE.
SO, DOES IT WORK? SURE IT DOES. IT WORKED FOR ME.
In August of 1994 I was sixteen years old and having a blast on our youth group’s yearly trip to camp. It was a week of high-energy fun, great connection with other teenagers, and strong challenges from the Bible. But something was different for me week. I had heard the gospel a thousand times, but that week it was as though God was speaking to me directly in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. During one of the nightly services, I once again heard the G ood N ews of Jesus: that H e died on Calvary’s cross for my sins, was buried and rose again the third day according to the S criptures. And that evening I was arrested by the grace of Jesus and knew that I needed to place my faith in Christ to be my S avior. After the service I left the little chapel, walked out into the darkness and knelt down under a tree and cried my way into the arms of Jesus. God saved me by His great grace. He showed me mercy and forgave me of my sins. And H e did all that at camp. My story is not unique. God has been moving in the hearts and lives of teenagers in summer camp ministries for a long time. Some of you may have a similar story. Like me, the work God did in your heart through the ministry of that camp is still impacting you on a daily basis. BUT DOES IT STILL WORK? A s much as I hate to admit it, I’m not that young anymore. My aching knees and back remind me of that daily. Saying “it worked for me in 1994” doesn’t pack much of a punch today, does it? You know what else worked in 1994? My Sony Walkman. My Nintendo. My VCR. It was a different world back then! MTV still played music videos. The internet hadn’t yet invaded every house on the street. No one had a cell phone. SnapChat technology was still a sci-fi dream. For all intents and purposes 1994 might as well be a foreign country or another planet altogether. Our kids today wouldn’t even recognize it. That sounds a lot like a classic “when I was your age…” story, right? I don’t know about you, but every time I heard my parents utter that phrase I just rolled my eyes and dismissed their words as out of touch and dated. 1994 was 23 years ago. Let’s be clear here. The question that we’re asking is not “ d id it work 23 years ago?” . We’re asking " does it still work today? ". AND THE ANSWER TO THAT IS A RESOUNDING YES! How can I possibly know that? Well, that’s simple. I’ve seen it. Like I said, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in a lot of camp ing ministr ies . In both churches I served, summer camp was a priority. I’ve spent long hours with teenagers at camp, watching as God used that time to bring them to faith in H im. I’ve seen young people find freedom from darkness and strongholds. I’ve seen their hearts begin to soften toward people who have hurt them. I’ve watched many of them surrender their lives to Jesus and commit to following H im wherever He led and to do whatever He asked them to do. I’ve seen their passion for God grow and their desire to serve Him develop. I’ve watched it work. And it’s beautiful. In recent years I’ve had the privilege of being a Bible Hour teacher at the Word of Life Island and g etting to observe firsthand how the Lord is moving in this generation. It is so refreshing to see Him saving and transforming lives. He is still giving hope to the hopeless. He is still setting captives free. He is still healing the broken and hurting. He is still calling out to the next generation of servants to take up their crosses and to follow Him. And they are doing just that – laying down their lives and pursuing Him at all costs. I know camp still works because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And I’m just as convinced today as I was twenty years ago. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A GOOD SUMMER CAMP? Maybe I have your attention now and you’re considering a camp for this summer season. If you’d be willing to make the investment in your kids or teenagers, I can tell you with confidence that it will be worth the sacrifice. Here’s what you can expect them to get out of the experience: COMMUNITY One of the most encouraging things about camp is the reminder it provides for our teenagers and kids that they are not alone. Standing for Jesus in this culture is more difficult than many of us realize. Day after day our kids are bombarded with messages and value statements that strike at the heart of their Christian faith. For 1
WHAT SHOULD WE LOOK FOR IN A GOOD SUMMER CAMP? So you’re committed to getting your teenager or child to summer camp. But which one? What are some things to look for? The Word of Life name , of course! All kidding aside, the quality experience campers receive at any of the Word of Life facilities really sets them apart. If you have the opportunity to attend one of their camps or to send your camper, I would encourage you to do so. I have had the privilege of sending my own children to their camps and cannot say enough about them. But if you’re not close to one of their camps and are searching for a good option closer to home, here are a few things to consider : GOSPEL FOCUS If you’re going to send your teenager or your church group to a camp, you’ll want to find one that has a strong gospel focus. In fact , I can’t imagine a more important thing to look for. Real and lasting change in the lives of our teenagers can only come from the power of the gospel. And the only way that power is unleashed is if it is taught , proclaimed , explained and demonstrated throughout the week of camp. A camp could provide first- class amenities, quality programs, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for teenagers, but if that camp lacks a gospel presence and tone, then it is failing at the most important places. Your camp should have a strong and pure gospel message and a commitment to share that message with the young people who have come. CULTURAL RELEVANCE Another thing I would look for in a good camp is a willingness to engage with kids and teenagers within their culture. The Apostle Paul famously said that he became all things to all people so that by all means he might win some. In this case, I believe that means camp ministries need to be willing to reach young people where they are. Teenagers and children need to know the God of the U niverse loves them as they are, where they are. They need to know the God we serve is present with us. When ministries make an attempt to connect with the real lives of young people , they communicate God is attempting to connect with the m. Is your camp willing to engage teenagers and kids within the context of their culture? They should be. We would never support a missionary who was unwilling to study the culture and to engage their people in language and customs familiar to them. Why should we expect less from our camp ministries? Look for a place that has proven their commitment to connect with young people where they are. 1 2 SPIRITUAL GROWTH When we’ve gathered with a group of other Christians, free from the normal distractions, and focused on our relationship with God, the end game is pretty predictable. God uses that time to encourage us and to strengthen us and to draw us closer to Him. As I sit here today, 20+ years since attending camp as a teenager, I can still recall the things God was working o n my heart. More than fun and high-energy activities, the spiritual growth young people experience at camp is the greatest benefit they’ll receive. many of them, they feel as though they are the only Christian s in their class, on their team, at their school. There is something so refreshing about looking around a room and seeing hundreds of other Christian young people who share that same burden. I went to a large high school and attended a very small church. Camp was a great reminder to me that I was not alone in the good fight. SPIRITUAL FOCUS I’m always amazed to see how unplugging and disconnecting for a week will bring to life a hunger and desire for the things of God. I’m convinced that we (not just the kids) have so distracted and amused ourselves that we are unable to hear the still small voice of God through all the clutter of our lives. Camp provides a week away from the video games, TV, endless distractions, and by default focuses our energy and attention on the things that matter most – our relationship with God. And when we cut through the white noise of our electronic distraction, we can hear again the voice of Jesus calling “Come, follow me.” And without the endless diversions, we can see clearly enough to realize that following H im is worth whatever it costs. 2 3
As we look forward to the summer camping season this year, I hope you’ll consider a good camp ministry for your kids and students – one with a great reputation, that is strong on the g ospel, and engages young people where they are. And if you do, I’m confident God will continue to move in and through the hearts of our young people through the ministry of quality camps and the wonderful Christian workers who serve there. We’re committed to continuing our partnership with great camps because we’re convinced God is still using them to raise up a new generation of disciples to carry the light of the gospel to their friends and family. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer, can you? HISTORY AND LEGACY I would look for a camp that has a good reputation within the community and with the churches who have partnered with them through the years. There is something powerful about sustained faithfulness over the long haul. It takes to build a great name and to build trust. If I were choosing a camp ministry I would want to be sure they had a history of integrity and faithfulness. 3
ABOUT THE AUTHOR MATT EACHUS IS LEAD PASTOR OF THE CHURCH AT NEWTOWN ROAD IN HALFMOON, NY – A GROWING, MULTI-GENERATIONAL CHURCH IN THE ALBANY SUBURBS. PRIOR TO BECOMING THE LEAD PASTOR (IN 2010), MATT SERVED FOR 8 YEARS IN YOUTH MINISTRY AT RIDGEVIEW BAPTIST CHURCH IN STUARTS DRAFT, VA AND AT TEMPLE BAPTIST IN HALFMOON, NY. MATT IS A GRADUATE OF LIBERTY UNIVERSITY (2001) AND LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY (2010). HE IS A CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR/AUTHOR AT ECIPLE, A SMALL CHRISTIAN E-PUBLISHING MINISTRY FOUNDED IN 2012. HE AND HIS WIFE, AMANDA, HAVE BEEN MARRIED FOR 15 YEARS AND HAVE 4 CHILDREN. THEY LIVE IN CLIFTON PARK, NY AND SPEND THEIR TIME IN A FURIOUS BLUR OF HOMEWORK, SCHOOL FUNCTIONS, SOCCER GAMES, AND KIDS’ MINISTRY ACTIVITIES – AND THEY ADORE EVERY CHAOTIC MINUTE.Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4
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