Historically, youth camps have been an important program of the Church of God, going back many decades. In fact, if you study the modern history of the Church, you will find that youth programs, including youth camps, have been with us since the early 1960s. There was a time when the Church had camps in different countries around the world. The SEP (Summer Education Program) banner flew over camps in Canada, Scotland, France, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, Latin America, South Africa, to name only a few of the many locations.
But the premier program was in the United States where, in the 1960s, the Church developed its own camp, first in Big Sandy, Texas, and then later moved to Orr, Minnesota. Thousands of young people attended these camps over the 35 years of their existence. I became involved at Orr, Minnesota, in the 1980s. At that time we held multiple three-week sessions during the course of a summer. I had the privilege of teaching softball at one session each summer. Our three daughters grew up going to camp every summer, making it a special time for our family.
But all that changed in 1995, when the idea of a regional camp program was introduced in the U.S. And now with 25 years of experience, the regional camp structure is still going strong. From its beginning, the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, embraced this structure, and each year we conduct camps in different regions of the country. There are also regional camps in other areas of the world where we have enough youth. We have them throughout Latin America, in several African countries, in the Philippines and occasionally over the years in the Caribbean. The regional model has served us well throughout our short history.
For a small church, our camp program is a big deal. In 2019 our attendance of youth and staff passed the 1,200 mark. The actual number from all our camps (teen and preteen) was 1,238, which was an increase of 122 over 2018. In the United States our total church attendance is under 6,000 people. That means approximately one out of every five people who attend services is involved with one of our camps—either as staff or as a camper.
In everything we do, including the camp program, our goal is to teach godly principles for the purpose of promoting the Kingdom of God, which is the true gospel. We believe that God wants us to live a life full of accomplishment. Jesus stated this in John 10:10: “ I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Each year we choose a theme to guide us in the Christian Living classes. The theme for our 2020 camps is “Firmly Anchored: Holding Fast What Is Good.” We want our young people to stand firm in their beliefs and unwavering in their conduct in a world that encourages the opposite, where good is declared evil and evil is declared good (Isaiah 5:20).
It should be another great year of camps! We begin taking applications each year in March and always announce the starting date. This year we will have six preteen camps and five teen camps, strategically located around the U.S. Thank you in advance for your support of the camp program—either with donations or with direct involvement at one of our regional camps. And, of course, we encourage and appreciate your prayers for another safe and rewarding year for our youth camps!