How I became a believer in the Covenant’s best kept secret
by Peter Ahn | March 15, 2017
We planted Metro Community Church in Englewood, New Jersey, about twelve years ago. We’re a multiethnic church, probably about 750 people on a given Sunday. We are approximately 65 percent Asian, 15 percent African American, 10 percent Latino, and 10 percent white.
We didn’t know much about camping because in the Asian culture we don’t do camps. For us the idea of going away for a retreat can be exhausting, because our retreats are like spiritual boot camp. You get up early in the morning to pray. You listen to four to five sermons a day. You don’t get any rest. You almost need another vacation afterward.
Then one of our church families decided to send their child up to Camp Squanto at Pilgrim Pines in New Hampshire. She came back spiritually transformed. Not only that but she started to meet other Covenant friends around the area. She just couldn’t say enough about it. The next year three or four other kids from our church joined her. Last year ten to twelve of our students went to Squanto.
I first learned about family camp when I was invited to speak at Pilgrim Pines a few years ago. My family came with me, and the experience blew us away—it was so different from our typical understanding of a retreat. Previously when I used to do family retreats, we had very little interaction with our kids. It was more like “send your kids away to kids’ church so you can focus on God.” The Covenant model was geared toward building a deeper bond with your family.
A couple years later, I spoke there again, and about five families from church went too. It’s a long way from New Jersey to New Hampshire, but when we got home, those families couldn’t stop talking to the rest of the church about how great it was. They had never gone on a retreat where they actually spent an entire week with their family, doing activities with their kids. It was very transformational. Last year we decided as a church to go up for a week of family camp for the first time. It was an absolutely amazing experience—everyone wants to go back again.
Some families may take vacations to exotic destinations, but on that kind of trip often they’re too busy looking at the sights, checking out the monuments, doing the tourist thing. Family camp offers a chance to connect with your own family and with other families too. There aren’t many opportunities for families to do that today. To have that one week to spend concentrated time with our kids, playing games with them, building a boat out of cardboard boxes, is incredible. The other thing that I love is how safe camp is. Our children can go out and play with their friends, and we don’t have to worry about their whereabouts. We know that they’re safe and having a great time.
I think Covenant camping might be the best kept secret in the Covenant.
About two years ago we sent a high-school kid who had autism to camp. He’s a really good kid who has struggled to find friends at school. His mother wanted to send him to Camp Squanto, so she talked to Jim Condap, the ministry director at the camp. Jim said, “Bring him. We’ll take good care of him.”
But she was deathly afraid to send her child to camp. She didn’t know how the kids would treat him. In a day and age when bullying is so prevalent she was really nervous about this. She even thought of staying a few days in New Hampshire at a hotel just to make sure everything was okay. But she decided to trust in the camp leaders. She trusted in God, and she trusted in the staff.
At the end of the week, I got to drive that boy home from the camp because I was up there for a speaking engagement. He could not stop talking about how it had been the best experience of his life and he had made so many friends and he wanted to be a counselor-in-training when he got old enough.
That’s the kind of transformational stuff that Covenant camping offers. We need to encourage more churches who don’t know anything about it to give it a chance. It really will impact your child’s life and your family’s life.