How Covenant camping calls us to take a break from our virtual connections to discover a deeper community
by Beth Fredrickson | March 1, 2017
Do you ever wonder what our kids are doing these days?
They’re doing what youth have always done—playing sports, taking music lessons, going to school—and, they’re also spending a lot of time in front of digital screens and moving through their days attached to earbuds.
In 2015 a large-scale, comprehensive study of American young people’s use of media found that teens between the ages of thirteen and eighteen average about nine hours of entertainment media use each day. Tweens, between the ages of eight and twelve, consume about six hours of entertainment daily. Whew. That’s a lot of passive connection to a virtual world where messages about the gospel of Jesus Christ are distorted or nonexistent.
Christian camping creates connections, too—but to real people, in real places, modeling real lives in relationship to Jesus Christ. In a camp environment, campers experience connections that surpass digital relationships and transcend ordinary life. As youth, and yes, even adults, set aside their TVs, smartphones, computers, and tablets and unplug for a while, they encounter opportunities that change how they think and live once they’re back home. How? By participating in outward experiences that prompt inner change.
Cascades Camp and Conference Center, Yelm, Washington
Something significant happens when people separate from their daily routines, leave behind their stuff (including their digital worlds), and take time out from life’s demands and from the expectations of others. That might sound like vacation—except that camp happens in a unique community.
For kids and teens, moving through the day and night in a cabin group led by an energetic, passionate counselor sets a tone of freedom. At camp they leave behind their daily rhythms and relationships to briefly live in an extraordinary spiritual community. In that unique setting, they can be both serious and silly. There they can have hard conversations, try new activities, make new friends. Within that community they might, for the first time, consider a relationship with Jesus.
Kids leave behind their daily rhythms and relationships to briefly live in an extraordinary spiritual community.
God in Nature
The out-of-doors, adventure, and self-discovery go hand in hand. From water activities to the grandeur of a starry night sky to holding a tadpole, campers touch God’s creation in ways that captivate their spirits, embolden them about their own capabilities and encourage them to ask questions about their Creator. They step into a world of wonder and are encouraged to explore safe risks within that space.
There’s nothing passive about camp experiences designed to connect people to the realities of God’s magnificent world around them. Campers and parents often express their understanding of this aspect of camp, and we hear it in feedback like, “I learned to appreciate and experience the beauty of God’s creation.” “I do not need or want phone/TV/electronics as much as I thought.” “This camp is the highlight of the summer for our son. The fact that he would select it over technology access says a lot.”
Love and Care
Feeling loved and included is the heart of a camp experience. Well-trained, positive, caring staff model discipleship and authenticity, living out Christ’s love for every camper. Meeting diverse people from diverse life experiences, campers find they are loved—and so are others. Staff come alongside campers as individuals and in groups to show love that helps foster new relationships and that points to the God who loves them more.
When campers and parents give feedback like, “I became friends with people I wouldn’t have in everyday life,” “I don’t need to hide myself to be accepted,” “I’m glad you have staff who know how to relate to somewhat quirky kids,” or, “Before camp it was hard for me to love people. Now, I can feel love for others because I experienced it here,” we know the impact of camp is taking root.
Shaping the spiritual lives of young people requires intentionality. Covenant camps excel at this. Camp leaders understand that a quality camp experience allows campers the opportunity to respond to the work of God in their lives.
Pastors, youth pastors, and parents can often point to a weeklong or weekend camp experience as the pivot point in a young person’s life. It happens for adults and staff too. Through worship, Bible reading, conversation, and relationship, campers engage spiritual questions and challenges—especially including the opportunity to meet Jesus for the first time or to decide to walk more deeply with him.
Camps do not do this life-shaping work alone, especially in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Camps partner with churches, supporting the work of the local church. As a key resource in evangelism and discipleship, Covenant camps water and nurture the spiritual seeds planted by parents, family, and congregations. When youth campers return home, parents and the local church water and nurture the seeds planted at camp. When a camper says, “I’m going to pay more attention when the pastor speaks in church,” we celebrate our shared mission.
When a camper says, “I’m going to pay more attention when the pastor preaches,” we celebrate our shared mission.
Camp is a rich environment for developing future leaders and growing mature disciples of Christ in all walks of life. Campers who mature into staff positions grow as servant leaders. They become pastors, youth pastors, Christian formation directors, music and worship leaders, church administrators, professors and staff at North Park University, missionaries, camp directors and more. And when you meet the good listener, the lighthearted—even silly—spirit, the small group leader who knows her Bible, the guy who always includes the bystander, or the coworker who invites others to eat lunch outside with her, you have likely found a former camp staff member.
A new line of research being conducted by HoneyRock, the Outdoor Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College, is exploring how serving as a staff member at camp influences four domains of human functioning: emotional intelligence, social intelligence, spiritual maturity, and leadership. Initial, unpublished results from an in-depth pre- and post-summer staff survey at a small group of Christian camps indicate that multifaceted attention to staff development—from comprehensive training to job performance feedback to practice of Christ-centered living to serving with a focus on mission—positively impacts staff in their development as whole people who exhibit strong traits in those four domains.
An intern at a Covenant camp described the process that moves a staff member toward that wholeness: “During my internship I learned all the skills necessary for safely belaying the high ropes, but I also was stretched beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. I learned to facilitate students, campers, and adults in all types of team building activities and the low rope elements. But the best thing that happened was that my relationship with the Lord blossomed. I not only grew emotionally during that time but also spiritually.”
Who We Are
Since its beginnings almost 100 years ago, Covenant camping has focused on creating environments where lives are transformed by Christ. Nearly nonstop connection to a virtual world may be a characteristic of our current era, but Christians have always navigated the challenges of the times, and camp has always been a strong connector to the abundant life Christ offers.
One mom describes how camp helped her son navigate the junior-high years: “My son claimed all spring and summer, until the moment he said goodbye, that he was not going to camp. Camp was ‘stupid,’ and we couldn’t make him go. But during his week at camp, God answered our call for help. First, he immediately made a new friend in his cabin. Then, he loved his counselor—and he continued to connect with his new friend. ‘He’s just like me!’ he said. Then, importantly, the spiritual part of camp, especially the speaker, was really good. Our son’s spirit was softened at camp. He actually says he wants to go back. Dare we hope he starts going to youth group?”
That is only one of thousands upon thousands of stories of how God works through Covenant camps. What a privilege and joy to participate in this essential ministry! What a blessing to support local churches in the critical work of developing disciples! We join people in Covenant churches around the world who lift their hands in thanksgiving to God for the life-transforming work that occurs at Covenant Bible camps. As a denomination, we know camp makes connections that matter now, and for eternity.
by Dana Norton
In Covenant Enabling Residences we fully embrace each opportunity to advocate for those we serve. Our residents have a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities, such as autism, seizure disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome, Asperger Syndrome, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and Down Syndrome. With the support and prayers of the Covenant Church, we are able to help them access medical care, therapy, and opportunities to engage their surrounding community.
Each year residents from the three CERs in Minnesota take a break from the demands and constraints of their everyday lives and go to camp. In July we spend a week at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp and Retreat Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and in the fall and winter we go on retreat with Adventurous Christians, a ministry of Covenant Pines Ministries in northern Minnesota.
Often our folks feel different from others, but at camp they are free to be like everybody else. They go on pontoon rides, try the high ropes course, swim, canoe, gather around the campfire, meet new peers, and spend time reflecting and being in the presence of God.
“I have been going to Covenant Harbor for about ten years,” says Jayme Jansick, who lives at Our Place in Duluth, Minnesota. “The best thing I have done there is drive the golf cart with the camp director. I have always wanted to get my driver’s license and they gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of driving.”