by Jim Franks
The Church of God has a long history with youth camps, going back more than 50 years. I remember when I was very young, not even a teenager, wanting to attend the Church youth camp in Big Sandy, Texas, on property owned by the Radio Church of God. The idea of spending a few weeks (eight weeks at that time) with other young people who had beliefs similar to mine in an outdoor environment was something I desperately wanted to do.
Even though it didn’t work out for me to attend as a young person, I did have a series of wonderful camp experiences while working at the Church’s camp in Orr, Minnesota, in the late 1980s.
It has been more than 50 years since those early days in Big Sandy. I know a number of people who made lifelong friends during those years. Imagine meeting someone for the first time at the age of 12 and still having a friendship with that person at age 65. There is something special about camp! Enjoying activities, meeting new people and learning new skills are just a few of the benefits of a youth camp.
This year the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, is sponsoring five teen camps and six preteen camps. It is our hope that if you are in these age categories—or if you are an adult who desires to serve at one of these camps—you will apply. Last year (2017) more than 1,000 people (teens, preteens and adult staff) attended our youth camps.
Each year we develop a theme for the camps that promotes a godly principle. This year the theme is “Walking With Integrity.” One of the promotions for the theme has a quote from C.S. Lewis about integrity: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
From my beginning with the Church back in the 1950s, I remember many messages on the importance of developing godly character. We didn’t specifically use the word “integrity,” but we were speaking about the same thing. Integrity and righteous or godly character are all the same.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no illusion that after a week at a youth camp a young person who was struggling with life choices will return home as a shining example of integrity. I do hope that after a week at a camp our young people will return home with a commitment to make the necessary changes in life to become a better person.
The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, is in a good place when it comes to overall demographics. While some congregations may have few if any young people, others have an abundance of young people. We know that one out of five people attending church services is under the age of 20. This is our primary source of membership growth and certainly justifies a major investment of resources.
We realize that a youth camp or a youth program can never replace parents as the ones responsible for teaching children God’s way of life. This is clearly established in the book of Deuteronomy (6:7; 11:19) and confirmed in numerous other locations (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4).
Today we live in a society that has a high incidence of divorced or single parents. We see this in the Church as well. So, without two parents in the home, who is responsible for helping these children? We believe that we all bear some of that responsibility, and the Church must be willing to step up and do all that we can to assist single parents and children who, through no fault of their own, live in a family that has been shattered by divorce.
I hope you will support the youth camps this year. If you can’t take the time off work or if you are unable to participate directly in a camp, I hope you will consider contributing to the camp fund to provide scholarships for deserving young people whose parents can’t afford to send them to a camp.
These days our camps aren’t eight weeks long, as they were back in the early 1960s. Even one week is often a challenge for parents and young people to schedule. But I think you will agree, if you take a look at the schedule for our weekly camps, that we pack much into that one week!
Get ready for camp! While it is only February, it won’t be long before camp will begin for the year 2018, and once it does, we’ll have a string of camps scheduled throughout the summer and, of course, our winter camp, which takes place in December and early January. Please pray for the safety of our campers and staff, and please pray for another successful camp season!