Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, I remember two unique summer experiences: the open fields of my uncle’s farm in Indiana, where I enjoyed unrestricted adventure and exploration with my cousin, and a rickety old church bus that took us to Camp Joy in Wisconsin. I attended several summers in a row at the latter and remember working hard to earn as many activity patches as possible. I conquered archery, riflery, canoeing, the deep water swim test, a burnt-matchstick-hot-pad craft, and the feared obstacle course with the Tarzan swing, just to name a few. I was even named “camper of the week” once because I earned the most patches and passed the Bible quizzing. As a result, I had to give my testimony in front of the entire camp! It was my first “public address,” and I was scared to death.
I remember interacting with kids I didn’t know, “adult” counselors who were generally high school or college age, the canteen for treats, and fiery speakers who literally tried to scare us into right spiritual decisions. In spite of the methodology, I made some important decisions about God, my life, and living in a way that would please Him. I can still picture the Friday night bonfire and listening to awesome testimonies from kids my age.
Later I stopped attending camp. In high school, my commitment to sports kept me from going. I still went to the farm, but I regret not attending camp those years.
Later as an associate pastor in Colorado, I, along with the only other associate in our GARBC state fellowship at the time, had the dubious honor thrust upon us of organizing and supervising summer camp. We winged it at first, improved with time, and began to love it. I’m sure our camp didn’t compare with a lot of other camps, but our church kids enjoyed it and made decisions that have affected their lives to this day. Several are involved in vocational Christian service or are faithfully serving the Lord in their local church.
Unfortunately our camp had trouble meeting our numerical commitment, and once again I stopped attending camp. Time passed and I stayed in ministry, but camp was absent—not just from my life but from my two older boys’ lives as well. All that changed seven years ago when I was asked to speak at a junior high camp in Ohio. I accepted the invitation, drove 1,382 miles to get there, instantly fell in love with the camp, and returned almost every summer. That camp had an enormous impact on my family and our spiritual walk. We made decisions that energized us for another year of service. I couldn’t wait for the call inviting me to come speak again, and I never refused the invitation.
By God’s grace, I am now the executive director of that camp, and God is teaching me wonderful new lessons about the benefits of Christian camping. Camp is much more complex than what I remember as a kid or as the associate who volunteered a week each summer, but I am more convinced of the benefits camp has for families. These four top the list.
Camp impacts lives through a counterculture
What other arena in today’s culture can remove cell phones, cable TV, movies, iPods, MP3s, and video games from kids for an entire week and still gain and keep their attention? Camp is the only environment that can successfully utilize a temporary community (consisting of Christ-centered college students supervised by ministry-driven camp staff) to create a unique culture packed with activities, songs, large doses of Biblical instruction and application, and other events that will not happen the rest of the year. That unique culture impacts the hearts and minds of campers who, in turn, permanently influence popular culture—their friends, families, schools, churches, youth groups, and communities—for God’s glory. The potential for spiritual impact is unmatched.
Camp refreshes believers
When Paul wrote his letter to Philemon, he praised Philemon “because the hearts of the saints [had] been refreshed” by him (Philemon 7). The word “refreshed” is a military term that means “to rest from war.” The Christian life, as we well know, is a spiritual warfare, and believers fight the battle daily. Somehow Philemon made the fight easier. In like manner, camp provides the perfect environment for refreshing the saints—a rest from war. A good camp staff make it their aim to see that guests and campers are truly rejuvenated, that they leave camp rested and prepared to succeed in spiritual warfare.
Camp defeats the lack of interaction with God’s creation
Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, in his book Last Child in the Woods, calls a lack of involvement with the outdoors “nature-deficit disorder.” It is not a medical term, but it describes the condition of a majority of kids these days. They may know a lot about nature by watching it on TV, but very few ever experience it firsthand. Many parents in their younger days probably built forts, jumped in creeks, or chased rabbits, but kids today typically have not. More and more professionals are concerned that this generation of parents will be the first to outlive their children due to a lack of activity. It appears that fewer and fewer kids these days are personally experiencing the “great outdoors.” Believe it or not, fear contributes to this phenomenon, as parents are overly concerned for the well-being of their children in a troubled society. Camp provides a safe environment that can defeat this trend.
Camp benefits families in general
Obviously a week at camp doesn’t guarantee a life change. Each camp experience is different, and we must allow the Spirit of God to work as He desires. However, the following benefits are typical in most camp settings.
• Campers interact with quality temporary and permanent staff who model Christ. (In twenty-seven years of ministry, I have never seen the kind of commitment in any other Christian community that I have seen from summer camp staff.)
• Many people in full-time ministries today made ministry-related decisions at camp.
• Camp offers a safe environment and reinforces the truths taught in the home and church.
• Camp offers a 24-7 Biblical application.
• Campers are never bored.
• Camp is a great short-term ministry opportunity for young adults.
• Family camp is an affordable alternative to expensive vacations. It can sometimes even be a vacation within a vacation as parents can take a trip while their children spend the week with us.
• Camp is a place where life-changing decisions are made. When it comes to spiritual effectiveness, the stories are endless. Of course, some decisions are short-lived or emotionally based. However, many truly trust Christ as Savior, and even more make decisions that transform their lives.
As I wrote this article, I noticed my ten-year-old son and our new puppy walking up a hill into the woods. My son stopped to pick up a stick, probably to see whether or not he could carve it into an arrow. It must not have been the right kind, since he threw it for the retriever mix to chase. They disappeared into the woods, unsupervised, unafraid, and full of exploration. My two older sons, adults now, have missed out. They didn’t have the privilege of growing up at camp or attending in the summer. Until now, your kids may not either, but it’s not too late. You can send them to a great Christian camp for one or two weeks and let them experience nature, learn the outdoor setting, and connect with God in ways that may never happen anywhere else in their world . . . or yours for that matter! Come and see us, and let God use His creation and our unique environment to work in your heart.
The National Association of Regular Baptist Camps (NARBC), in fellowship with the GARBC, offers in most cases a camp opportunity within driving distance of your home. You can find a list of NARBC camps at www.narbc.net or in the GARBC annual directory.
Summer and vacation time is almost upon us. The benefits of Bible camp are endless, and kids and parents won’t regret the experience.
Scott Bruns is the new director at the Scioto Hills Camp & Retreat Center in southern Ohio. He is a graduate of Denver Baptist Bible College (now Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa) and holds a masters degree in administration from Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He spent the last 22 years as an associate pastor and school administrator at Calvary Community Baptist Church and Community Christian School in Northglenn, Colorado. He lives at the camp with his wife, Pam, and son Jared. Two older sons live in Nashville, Tennessee.