Going and letting go to camp can be a challenge for students and parents alike. Aside from cost and scheduling, many kids struggle with leaving home for a week “on their own” and just as many loving parents wrestle with relinquishing their child for a time beyond their reach and watch. This is not to be ridiculed or chastised, but instead met and cared for with understanding, compassion, and support. Like a high ropes challenge course, going and letting go to camp is something that cannot be forced but highly encouraged, so as to stretch students and parents alike beyond their comfort-zones to a place where they might trust one another, others, and God in hopes of overcoming tall feats in faith. No matter whether it’s a day, overnight, or a week at camp, those who with courage and faith go and let go should be praised and supported—each as a cherished member of the body of Christ. Nevertheless, each child—those who are immediately homesick, those who over time warm up to it, and those who jump in without looking back—and each parent—those who fret every day until their child comes home, those who warm up to it over time, and those who don’t think twice about it—are altogether faced with fear and anxiety, and given opportunities for endurance and growth each step of the way. The challenge of camp—going and letting go—is real; and yet the opportunities are equally free for the taking. Fear and anxiety are there just as present and obtainable as endurance and growth.
I encourage all my youth to attend church camp as soon and frequently as possible for a variety of reasons—some spiritual, some social, and some personal. These reasons, like elements on a high ropes challenge course, are difficult steps to be taken which are often met with fear and anxiety, and yet with endurance serve towards growth. Camp is a place where not only is God’s good creation realized and appreciated more fully, but faith is demonstrated and taught. This is done so in encouraging and inspiring ways so that attendants begin to grasp that we each are invited, not coerced, into trusting God and God’s promises for us, which is fundamental to our life of faith lived out with and among others. God promises to always be with us, to love and forgive us without end, and church camp helps youth to hear again and trust in these promises for them. Faith is taught by means of hearing Scripture stories and participating in co-op activities, and formed as connections between activities are made and relationships built and nurtured. Yet, the learning and growth that takes place at camp also has social implications. In a culture where we are constantly tempted to segregate and isolate ourselves, camp draws us out beyond our private, personal bubble to interact with others who are different and yet alike to us—the step forward is not always sturdy, but is invited and encouraged with faith. It is in this unique atmosphere that communication extends well beyond fingers clicking away on a text message, the ding of an email, or the sensation of a phone against one’s face. Students are put in a place where face-to-face conversations with one another are both necessary and crucial—not only socializing, but also problem-solving, complementing, and encouraging each other as part of building and nurturing relationships in Christ. Much like being hoisted way above the ground, without communication the group cannot care for each other’s needs and succeed through the entire course altogether. Camp also gives kids a safe place to claim their voice and share it with others as they grow into adolescents and young adults. Like looking over the edge of a high platform, this can invoke a paralyzing fear, but knowing one is not alone but joined by others facing the same struggles and—most importantly—Christ who holds us fast gives kids the courage to continue. Finally, (though there are myriad more benefits I haven’t listed) camp is an opportunity for cultivating independence, courage, and healthy self-esteem. Instead of waiting on “the real world” to teach our youth these traits through unforgiving means, camp helps students to take those wobbly steps out onto the wires—assuring them that if they slip and fall, God will be there to catch them. Camp is a trusting place where the foundation which forms students is God’s grace and love for them in Jesus Christ. From this, steps can be taken forward—even amidst the fear and anxiety—for youth to better understand who they are and whose they are as beloved children of God.
Some students are sure to love camp, others are likely to have mixed feelings or not fully appreciate it. Regardless, I as their pastor and others as parents, grandparents, and friends, need to do our best in encouraging youth to take the climb and—in spite of fear and anxiety—stepping out onto the high ropes course that is camp. While there it may be tough, but they will be loved, cared for, and taught what faith looks like and means for them. Trusting that they are not alone but joined and supported by others and Christ, kids will find endurance and growth along the way. May we all support our youth in going to camp and learning and growing in their faith more deeply.