Luke 2:52 holds a special place in my heart. It is the first Bible verse I committed to memory during my time as a Pathfinder. This verse beautifully captures the developmental journey of Jesus from childhood to manhood, emphasizing His growth in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.

 As I matured, the significance of this scripture became increasingly apparent, highlighting the holistic and balanced development of all aspects of Jesus’ life. It serves as a timeless reminder for today’s parents and youth leaders to be intentional about fostering such well-rounded growth in our children. 

In the Adventist church, we are blessed to have ministries that contribute to the multi-dimensional growth development of our youth and young adults. Notably, our summer camp ministry stands out as one of the most impactful ministries we offer.

There are 67 Seventh-day Adventist camps and conference centers in North America.

Most of the camps are situated in the rustic setting of the outdoors, and about 59 provide the unique opportunity in this fast-paced technology driven lifestyle for our youth to spend one or two weeks of digital detox in the midst of nature. Through joyful learning, play and outdoor activities, the educational experience at camp becomes engaging, fostering a lasting love for learning beyond the camp environment. 

The Seventh-day Adventist camp ministry traces its roots back to 1927 in Michigan.

The first summer camp was held at Townline, Lake Michigan, and lasted 10 days with 18 boys in attendance. The event was so successful and a blessing for the boys who participated that summer camp for girls was organized the following summer in 1928. 

Mid-America camps 

Of the 67 Seventh-day Adventist camps and conference centers in the NAD, nine are located in the Mid-America Union. Seven of the nine camps run active summer camp programs contributing to the spiritual and personal development of campers.

The seven camps conducting programs are: Broken Arrow Ranch in Kansas-Nebraska, Camp Heritage in Iowa-Missouri, Camp North Star in Minnesota, Camp Northern Lights and Flag Mountain in the Dakotas, and Glacier View Ranch and Mills Spring Ranch in Rocky Mountain Conference.  

These summer camps cater to various age groups, offering diverse experiences. Cub camp is designed for campers as young as seven years old who may be spending time away from home and their parents for the first time. Family Camp allows families to enjoy activities together creating lasting memories for a lifetime and is open to all ages.

Some camps offer specialty experiences, such as extreme camp for teens at North Star, teen river camp at Heritage, camp for single moms at Broken Arrow Ranch, and blind camp, outpost camp and horse camp at Glacier View Ranch.

While diverse in their offerings, all these camps have common goals. They offer attendees the opportunity to grow socially while building friendships with peers from diverse backgrounds. The engagement in group activities and team sports at camp promotes teamwork and collaboration, teaching kids to communicate effectively. In addition, exposure to a variety of activities can help some kids discover and develop new interests, talents and hobbies which will contribute to their overall personal growth. 

In 2023 alone 1,643 kids attended summer camp programs in Mid-America Union, and 301 individuals attended family camp. Of these 1,184 filled out decision cards for spiritual follow-up after camp, with 73 campers choosing baptism at camp while others elected to be baptized in their home churches. 

Spiritual leadership journeys

From its inception 97 years ago, summer camp ministry has maintained another primary goal and objective—to help youth and young adults who serve as camp counselors develop a closer walk with Jesus.

Every summer camp in Mid-America Union strives to provide an environment conducive to spiritual growth. Brandon Westgate, youth director for Rocky Mountain Conference, states, “Spirituality is everything at our camp. All of the activities at camp, whether we are riding horses, paddling a canoe, or shooting arrows, are for us just opportunities to build a relationship with a camper so that we can challenge them to take the next step in their faith journey.”

Nick Snell, youth director for Kansas-Nebraska Conference, adds, “Spirituality is ultimately why we do camp. Hopefully and prayerfully the fun, food and friendships as well as the challenging opportunities of a new environment outside the normal comfort zone all expand our view of spirituality. We want the campers and staff to meet Jesus through it all.”

With such intentionality from leaders, summer camp becomes the perfect environment for youth to grow in wisdom, in stature, in favor with God and man, mirroring the transformative journey of Jesus when He encamped with us on earth. 

Tyrone Douglas is church ministries director for the Mid-America Union Conference.