Camp will always have a special place in my heart. My Mom would not have a relationship with Christ if it weren’t for entire summers spent in the hills of Massachusetts. It is the very place my ministry career began. In high school I worked at a day camp for the disabled. While in college I hunkered down for almost four summers living out of my suitcase, in a sticky hot cabin, sleeping on a mattress that was about as thick as a pad of paper. I was forced to move from working with small children to teens, and this was the place God set my heart on fire for youth.
Camp has remained a center piece of my summer and while I no longer stay away, I have taken students to camp and run day camps for almost 25 years now. However, the reason that I love camp in any form is that the goal truly is to build relationships. During the school year we are fighting with all sorts of schedules with our youth. In the summer time something inside them relaxes and we get their full attention.
A couple of summers ago my role changed, as I started coordinating groups who wanted to come to our ministry in a missions experience. I became the bridge between teens from all over the world who want to come and be with students in a day camp in the inner city.
Each week a group arrives and there is a tense anticipation of what the week will hold. The last day when tears flow freely, as the Lord has moved deeply is my favorite. There is something warm and fuzzy and special that happens in these times away with our students.
Both students and adults alike love the high from the last day of camp or the trip. But the truth is counselor and camper alike can come crashing down when they leave. You see we all go home where reality sets in. This is where there are pressures, hurts, fears, struggles, and tension. A student might not be going back to a great family situation. The leaders were able to suspend all of our other responsibilities for one week and singly focus in on our students.
That is why it is VITAL that we follow up with students when they come home. It’s easy to give a little hug as all exhausted parties grab stinky laundry and head out the door, and merely leave it there.
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So here is the challenge to all of you “doing camp” this summer. Remember it is not the end, it is only the beginning. As you part ways remember there are some things you can do to keep the momentum going:
Prep the Parents:
Yes, you held parent meetings and collected money heading up to camp. Yet, have you prepared parents for what to expect when their kids come home? Have you told them their kids may want to tell you every detail, or they may utter, “It was fun,” in an inaudible grunt? There are resources out there for you to put in the hands of parents to help them know how to talk to their kids when they get home. God has moved, help parents use this as a communication portal with their kids. The processing only starts once the trip is over, help parents know how to help their kids.
Plan Out Your Follow Up:
Come up with a plan on how you will use this camp or trip to build momentum with your group. Will you use it to identify some new student leaders? How will you be on the look out for the way the Lord is transforming a heart? Many of us opt for an “end of summer” camp or trip option. It’s easy to get home and have a mini break until school starts, losing any traction these experiences may have offered for your group. Just as vital as planning out pre-trip meetings, logistics for camp, and the trip itself, take the time to pre-plan what you will offer for follow up.
Help Students Know How To Process:
I have noticed that during the camp or trip students are caught up in the moment at hand. The last night tears flow because exhaustion and the reality of going home collide. Students start to scrape the tip of the iceberg of what the time meant to them. However, we have all had that day after camp let down. The real world comes crashing in, and they haven’t even had a chance to process what the Lord has put on their heart. Make sure your youth know some ways they can talk to Jesus about what happened at camp. It might be as simple as handing them a journal and a list of questions to ask themselves, or as in depth as purchasing a resource.
I still love camp. I love the way they give students and adults alike the chance to totally unplug and singularly focus on their relationship with Christ for a week. If there is an opportunity to serve, even better. Let’s make sure when we come home we treat the time with the respect it is due. There will always be something special about that time away, but realize we serve a big God who doesn’t only show up at camp or on a trip. It should never be a stand alone opportunity, but a time to catapult our faith to a new level. Make certain lack of follow up doesn’t cause you to lose ground.