Brandon Westgate – Denver, Colorado … The youngest members of our church are currently making plans for the summer. For many of them, the choice to spend a week (or two) at summer camp is a high priority. You might wonder why spending a week in a rustic cabin in the mountains disconnected from internet, social media, and cell phones would be so appealing. The answer is that when our campers disconnect from those things, they make new connections, “camp connections,” if you will. So, what are some of these camp connections?

CAMPERS: Our campers make connections with their fellow campers. They laugh together, eat together, play together, worship together, sing together, and are just present together. Without the distractions of a screen, campers spend actual face time with each other. They discover that many of their peers are struggling with some of the same issues they are. They find that they can have honest conversations about faith, doubt, social issues, and a variety of other topics. They build friendships and feel a sense of commonality that they may never experience at home or church or school.

COUNSELORS: Our campers connect with their counselors. The entire staff at camp is a counselor by title or by proxy and is dedicated to the safety and spiritual growth of our campers. They are trained and committed to pouring the love of Christ into our campers. They accomplish this by listening, being present in the moment, offering counsel when needed, setting an example, and creating an atmosphere of acceptance. When young people feel heard and appreciated, they feel safe, and these safe spaces lead to candid conversation and connections between counselor and camper. Our counselors then point our campers to Christ in hopes that the counselor-camper connection becomes a counselor-camper-Christ connection.

CHRIST: So how does that happen? Well, worship isn’t an event at camp, it is a part of the culture. We endeavor to keep our minds upon Jesus resulting in impromptu conversations about faith, sporadic outbursts of praise through singing, and random formation of prayer groups. Our purpose at camp is to make it easy for our campers to know God. The presence of God becomes palpable as we engage in high energy worship and pray for the Lord to invade our hearts as our pastor shares a message of grace. Our campers and our staff make a connection with Christ that can result in paradigm-shifting transformation or a deepening of a faith that just needed a boost!

COMMUNITY: Throughout the summer, as our staff and campers spend time building relationships, we unwittingly create a community of safety. It is a community that values them and welcomes them to be the person Christ is calling them to be. The camp community is a safe space to inquire, to give an opinion, to share a present life challenge that is threatening to overwhelm, and to receive encouragement and assurance that God is ultimately “for” us, and not against us. This community is only possible because of the connections that are made between campers, counselors, and Christ.

The result of the camp experience is campers feeling connected to something bigger than themselves and to an indwelling God who loves them with an everlasting love. Connection is something every person innately yearns for, and connection is the thing that we strive to facilitate during summer camp and beyond.

—Brandon Westgate is the RMC youth department director. Photos supplied.

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