Summer camps hold great memories for many people, whether they remember all the joys and friends as a camper or recall their many adventures and experiences as a staff member.
As a child and young person, I never personally saw the draw of summer camp. I didn’t like to leave home as a young child, and when I was old enough to work at summer camp I honestly had no interest. I respected the people who worked there and could see the benefit for the kids attending. I just couldn’t see myself working at one.
When I was a junior in college, I went to Australia to be a student missionary. One of the things student missionaries are expected to do while in Australia is work at summer camp.
Summer in Australia is January and February, so following the Christmas holiday youth and young adults packed up and headed to work at summer camp. As was expected of me, I packed my things and headed to Yarrahapinni the Adventist summer camp.
Before arriving I had been asked to fill out a survey of duties I was willing to perform while on the staff. I had marked just about everything I could imagine myself enjoying and doing well. The only thing I had said a definitive "no" to was horseback riding. I don’t really enjoy riding horses, and I know very little about them or how to help children ride them.
A few days before I left for camp, I received word I would be a wrangler, working with horses for my time at camp. I was horrified, terrified and confused.
When I arrived, I asked the head wrangler why I had been put on horses when I didn't want to and probably shouldn't due to my lack of knowledge and experience. She replied, “You are an American. You are all like cowboys. You can be a wrangler.” She couldn't have been more unaware of my deep fear of horses or my complete lack of ability.
Over the next few days I was forced to ride all the horses and to get to know them. In the process was bit, I was stomped, bucked (though never got bucked off) and exhausted. I did my best to make myself be cheerful with the kids, but I was literally hating every minute of my days.
When I thought things couldn't get any worse, the staff decided to give me a cabin of girls for a week. When I met my girls the first day, I knew I was in for a rough ride.
These girls were preteens and were rough. They were wild, uncouth, hormonal and boy-crazy. I spent the first night sleeping against the door to keep them from sneaking out to see the boys. The second night they decided to have a rave in the middle of the night, broke apart glow sticks and painted them on the walls. They were completely out of control.
By the second day I got word the staff weren’t happy with me. I would ride horses all day then return at dinner to deal with my girls for the rest of the night. By the third night, I was so exhausted I broke down. Through tears I told the girls I was getting in trouble because of their behavior, that they weren’t going to get to stay if they didn't shape up.
I completely expected them to laugh at me and continue to make my life miserable, but something happened in that moment. They looked at each other and some began to tear up. They began to exclaim that they loved me, they were loving their time at camp, and they felt safe there and didn’t want to leave. They promised to change their behavior and apologized for all they had put me through.
I literally sat with my mouth open. I had been praying for these girls, I had tried everything to get through to them, and suddenly it was if the Lord had opened their eyes.
For the rest of that week they behaved. They would get up and clean their room. They would do what they were told. They even listened when I did worship in our room each night. At the end of the week, two of the girls requested Bible studies and wanted to be baptized.
For the first time I saw why summer camp is valuable. Not because it is always fun for the staff, not because it’s an easy summer job, not because you make lots of money. It's because the kids who come are given a chance to meet Jesus.
Camp affords young people the opportunity to meet Jesus their Savior, to get to know Him through nature, to see Him through the staff’s example. I am grateful for summer camps and all they do and have a great appreciation for the many staff who work to make it an opportunity for kids to meet Jesus.