The western sky is aglow with shades of warm yellows, pinks and reds. Laughter carries on the still evening air through trees, over rolling hills and mountains, across lakes and rivers. It is Friday and a culmination of an incredible week is about to take place at Mid-America summer camps.

All week long smiling, laughing faces have been seen. The joy of playing outside in a natural setting has been adventurous, exciting, and incredibly fun. Summer camp staff have seen young people climbing up rocks/walls, testing their skills, failing at times but trying again and succeeding. Arrows have flown from bows finding all sorts of targets! And yet the skill at hitting a target with an arrow has increased as the week has continued. Interest and love for horses has grown over the week. If they could, some campers would ride every day, spend time affectionately talking to each horse and brushing them.

Lakes and rivers across the Midwest are teaming with campers as they play in the water. Excitement builds as the opportunity arrives to hang on to a tube being pulled by a boat or get up on a wakeboard trying to jump the wake, if possible jumping from wake to wake! Yes… it is summer and the warm breezes have beckoned young people to joyfully participate in the incredible experience of living life to the fullest in the great outdoors.

Life-long Ties

While the activities are filled with fun, the friendships built and renewed while at summer camp are even more richly rewarding. Friends come back year after year to be a part of a summer camp experience that is exciting and fun. Returning campers want to stay in the same cabin with their closest friends. Experiencing summer camp together builds ties that will last a lifetime.

The ties of friendship also extend to the camp staff who are investing their time and energy into people. Connections that will last, memories and choices that are made are milestones in each summer camper’s life and the lives of the staff. The relationships formed here often influence direction for life and eternity.

Growing and Connecting

Summer camp is one of the most incredible ministries in the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church in North America. In 2008 the John Hancock Center researched summer camps across the North American Division (“Summer Camp Research Camper Survey, Summer Camp Research Staff Survey”). The data revealed what camp directors and staff have already known for a long time.

When a young person goes to camp their life will be forever changed.

While many campers are already spiritual in their focus, 50 percent attributed growth in their spiritual walk with God because of camp. This is an amazing statistic! The effectiveness of the camping ministry is directly impacting young people to be a part of the kingdom! While 64 percent of the young people attending summer camp identified themselves as being Adventist, many campers reported that camp activities and worship programs strengthened their connection with the church. The research findings of young people connecting with God, the church, and nature are so powerful that when looking at the significant decisions camper’s make we see one of the largest evangelism meetings happening every summer for children.

Impacting the Church’s Future

While Adventist summer camps powerfully impact campers, research also showed that staff are influenced as well. One of the most intriguing insights found that camp staff were so invested in the church that many eventually will became employees and leaders of the SDA denomination. One of the questions asked was “Do you see yourself working for or with the Seventh-day Adventist church in the future?” A whopping 62 percent said that they were either employed by the SDA Church or they could see themselves working for the church one day.

In other words, the summer camping ministry across North America is preparing a significant portion of the future leadership of the SDA Church.

Friday night at camp, of all the Friday nights in the summer, will be one to remember. The campers will be led to the foot of the cross by staff who have grown to love and care for each camper. They will hear songs that glorify and praise God; they will laugh enjoying worship with each other; they will hear staff share how Jesus is everything in their life; they will meet Jesus and have an opportunity to recommit to the incredible relationship that God has for them. Some will, for the first time, make decisions to follow Jesus, giving their entire heart to Him. And that is the heart of the camping ministry in the Mid-America Union.

Guest author Jeff Wines is youth director for the Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.