This week marks the first week of summer camps all over North America! Literally thousands of kids are going to be experiencing Jesus in new and old ways that will potentially change them forever. It’s a fun experiment to ask a church family how many people accepted or rededicated their lives to Christ at a summer camp – the numbers are astonishing! It’s just as likely that if you talk to camp staff they will tell you that although the week or two that they have kids in their care are awesome one of the toughest parts of their job comes after they say goodbye. At that point something called “follow-up” is supposed to happen and it rarely happens with a lot of effectiveness. There are of course ways to minimize the challenge, for example when a church runs its own camp then the follow-up can happen much more naturally as camp becomes a part of the ministry year.
I’m going to say something crazy here; I actually don’t think it’s the job of a camp ministry to do follow-up with our children. (To the great collective sigh of camp staffers and rising anxiety of camp boards the world over!) No really, I’m serious. I remember the first time we dropped off our son at camp, he was six. SIX YEARS OLD! Tara and I felt almost sick leaving him there, he was so little and so vulnerable. Who would make sure he was safe at all times? Who would make sure he would shower? Who would make sure he didn’t get heat stroke and would remember his sun screen? As it happens, two young adults would. Two godly, young men who were giving their time to help kids meet with Jesus in a new environment. And to their credit they did a pretty good job. They even got their campers to shower, although they didn’t insist on soap so Malachi came home with a rash regardless. Ha ha!
I remember that in the end we felt the benefits of having other godly leaders speak into Malachi’s life outweighed the risks we feared. And we were right. There is something amazing about having other Christians influence your child towards Jesus. But what are my expectations long-term? Are they that Malachi’s counsellors from 2008 will continue to be a part of his life today? Should they have continued to walk with him to make sure that the spiritual gains he made that year weren’t lost? Of course not! That responsibility belongs to me and Tara! They were parentis in abstentia we however are parentis all the timus.
So as much as you can prepare your kids to GO to camp, you will help them out even more if you think about what life AFTER camp will be like. Here are some things you can expect.
Regardless of their age they will have likely experienced a “spiritual high” of some sort. If things went according to design they will have had an adventure with Jesus that is life-altering. But what does a kid do with something like that?
- First of all, do NOT downplay the miracles they experienced and the emotions they felt. I remember one of the first years of camp Malachi came back and reported that there had been a terrifying storm (we had known this and had prayed for him as we knew his fear). The power had gone out and the kids were indeed scared, but they prayed and just as they said “Amen” the lights came on. “It was a miracle mommy and daddy,” he whispered excitedly. My adult heart, hard as it is, immediately laughed inwardly at his cute childlike faith. Childlike faith. RATS… conviction. Our kids will experience the supernatural at camp and we shouldn’t dismiss it, we should help them process it.
- Second be prepared for them to have set unrealistic goals for themselves. I can’t tell you how many middle school students boldly declared that they would spend an hour with Jesus every day when they got home! What a noble declaration! And I would always celebrate their heart, but I also knew that when the fervor left after a couple of weeks they would feel defeated so I would say something like, “That’s amazing, I’m so happy that you met Jesus and that you want to keep it going! But can I make a suggestion? What if you started a habit that you will be able to actually do when life gets busy again? Why not shoot to spend 1 hour a week with Jesus! That would work out to 20 minutes at least 3 times a week.” They might feel that wasn’t enough and add a few days, but this is far more manageable. I don’t want to deflate them, but I also want them to start sustainable habits because of their camp experience.
- Third help them remember what they experienced. Go online and look at the camp pictures posted there. Go day by day and talk about what they did and especially how they felt as they were conquering their fear of heights on the rock or being defeated by their fear at the rock. What will they do with those memories? Where was Jesus when they were going throughout their day at camp? Write this all down in a special “camp 2015” journal. This will help them to remember what they experienced and will help solidify what God did in their lives.
- Fourth throw a cabin reunion party for their cabin. Be that parent who has all the kids over and feeds them hot dogs. Many of the relationships at camp turn into friendships. I know my sister had “camp friends” who would only see each other every year when they were at Red Rock and that is very valuable. Help those friendships flourish. And make sure you celebrate their counsellors at that party! Honour them and the sacrifice they made to help your kid have an amazing summer.
You might be wondering what will happen to the kid who was the unchurched friend, or the friend with the dysfunctional home, what about him? Great question! If you know of “that” kid, then I think you have a responsibility to help him or her along as well. They will have a harder time knowing what to do with what happened at camp when they go home and there will be a high likelihood that they will lose the gains they made there.
Why not take a minute to either jot down a few things you will do when your child returns from camp or schedule a time, perhaps when they are at their week of camp, when you will think through their return!