Muggy nights. The smell of a campfire. Shrieks of laughter. S’mores. Singing silly songs. These are a few things that remind me of summer camp. Besides 2020, I have had the absolute joy of experiencing summer camp, in some form, every summer for the past 30 years. Camp is my happy place.
When I think of camp, there are many stories that flood my mind.
The boy who struggled to find his place—not knowing how to relate to others, lashing out in frustration—until he found it at the center of a dance battle.The camper who could beatbox and hum the Imperial Death March from Star Wars at the same time. The girl who absolutely crushed a rock ballad during a lip sync challenge. The campers who learned how to play an instrument, ride a horse, dive off of the diving board, swing from a rope swing or swoop down a zip line on the ropes course. The boy who, when asked what his favorite part of camp was, responded with, “I get to eat three times every day.” The camper who told her counselor, “I like that Black people and white people love each other here. That doesn’t happen where I’m from.”
In our time as camp directors, we had a camp mission that we trained our staff to live out:
That every person who came to camp, whether as a delivery person, volunteer, a parent, a camper or staff member, would know Jesus and know Him better. That every person who came to camp would be safe: spiritually, emotionally, physically. That kids could come and not worry about anything other than having the best week of their life. That every person who came to camp would find their sparkle. That they would understand their worth and value, because they are children of God. That they would discover that they could do challenging things, like learn an instrument, climb a ropes course, ride a horse. That we are at our best when we love each other.
At the closing staff meeting at the end of each week, we would ask them to share how they saw this in action.
Camp ministry is life changing—not just for campers, but for staff members, volunteers and camp directors. This summer, wherever possible, The Salvation Army is working to continue its camp ministry. Perhaps like never before, camp can be a place of healing for kids and staffers after the trauma of a pandemic. Places where kids can be kids, run, play, have the best week of their life and, most importantly, know the One in whom they can truly be free.
Illustration by Lan Truong