The Lord truly answered our prayers as our youth department team and 55 summer camp staff engaged with nearly 400 campers at Glacier View Ranch in Ward, Colorado, and Mills Spring Ranch in Casper, Wyoming, this past summer.
Many staff members and campers alike recommitted their lives to Jesus as we praised the Lord for His great love for us. Over 40 were baptized while at camp, while dozens of others desired to be baptized at their home churches. But the numbers do not really tell the whole story.
As I reflect on the incredible things the Lord did this summer, I ask myself, “What is the takeaway from all of this? What did I learn this summer?” Here’s what I learned.
The very first words of Jesus in John’s gospel have Jesus asking a question: Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38).
- I learned that many of our young people are hoping to find a safe place to be themselves. They are seeking community.
- I learned that many of them do not feel safe expressing doubt about their faith within their faith community. They are seeking to be heard and not judged.
- I learned that many are simply trying to figure out who they are right now. They are seeking identity.
- Many are simply trying to discover how Jesus fits into their lives on a daily basis. They are seeking spiritual clarity.
- Some are trying to discover if having a relationship with Jesus actually makes a difference. They are seeking assurance and evidence.
- Some who appear as though they have it all together are struggling with secret addictions. They are seeking recovery.
- Some struggle with statements they have heard their spiritual leaders make that are contradictory with each other and in some cases, with the teachings of Jesus. They are seeking consistency.
In short, I learned that the young people I encountered at camp are seeking. They are seeking honesty from their religious leaders and their peers. They are seeking to have conversations where questions are encouraged, and answers do not feel premeditated. They are seeking support and counsel to help guide their thinking. They are seeking consistency in what the “church” teaches, because they hear conflicting information and see the infighting within the fellowship of believers. Primarily though, they are seeking acceptance, grace, and yes, love. The sort of love that you find in Jesus. The type of love that Jesus desires us to have toward one another, which is unselfish and not prideful.
Why is summer camp so impactful for our young people. I believe that camp is impactful because we strive every day to create an atmosphere where love is not just something we talk about, rather it’s something we are about. God is love. So, when we are intentional about loving one another, the Spirit of God is free to move in and through us in a way that the Spirit cannot move when we choose not to love.
When the love of God moves in your midst, barriers collapse, hearts are softened, real questions get asked and loving responses are given—and true worship results.
And, when God is truly worshiped by people seeking His love and wisdom, He pours out grace and mercy in a way that removes differences of opinion and causes those who experience it to overflow love to the people around them. It’s not due to dogma or doctrine that lives are changed. Lives are changed when a seeker finally discovers the God they have been searching for, and they experience the pure unfiltered love that God has been trying to show them their entire life.
This is what makes summer camp summer camp. My hope and prayer is that we can encourage one another to develop worshipful communities in every church where seekers find a safe place to seek and ultimately find the God they are seeking.