by Jim Franks
With the exception of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Winter Family Weekend, the activity with the highest participation in COGWA is our youth camps. In 2018, 1,116 people attended one or more camps. Of these, 613 were campers, both teen and preteen, and 503 were staff members. These are impressive numbers when you consider that this accounts for almost 20 percent of our U.S. church attendance.
And we expect the same number—if not more—in 2019. It seems as though we never lack for enthusiasm when it comes to the youth. Not only do they bring excitement and vitality to our congregations, they produce an amazing synergy when they’re all together in one place.
For many years now, our camp program has understood the importance of focusing on more than just physical activities. We have made a point of emphasizing the spiritual component of Church life. The physical is important and draws a lot of young people, but once they get to camp, they will find an emphasis on the spiritual as well.
Each year we choose a spiritual theme to guide us in the camp activities, especially the Christian Living classes. In 2018 the theme was “Walking With Integrity.” Given the condition of the world, where personal integrity seems to be totally missing, this was a timely subject to focus on. This theme seemed to resonate with a number of the parents, as well as those who participated in the camps. Here are three comments from individuals who were asked about the impact camp had on them:
This coming year we have a new theme—“Discernment: Training Your Heart.” Discernment is extremely important for a Christian and woefully lacking in the world today. No one seems to know “good from evil,” and even if they know the difference, it seems more and more that no one really cares. It seems that “as long as no one is hurt,” there is no such thing as good versus evil.
It seems that people are reluctant to refer to someone’s conduct as wrong or even evil because they don’t want to judge the person’s heart or even the person’s lifestyle. Yet we are told in Scripture that we must be able to discern between the righteous and the wicked. Malachi 3:18 makes that very clear: “Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”
In Hebrews 5:14 we are told, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” This is our goal as Christians—to reach a level of maturity where we know the difference between the two. We are also told that it is “by reason of use” that we arrive at this level of maturity. Our goal at camp is to help our young people grow to this level of maturity where they exercise discernment in their own lives, have a clear understanding of what is good and what is evil, and choose the good!
This year we are planning five teen camps and six preteen camps. Our preteen and teen camps are located in nine different states spread from the East Coast to the West Coast. The states are Texas (Lone Star preteen camp and our newest teen camp in Athens), California (Sequoia preteen and teen), Georgia (Chattahoochee preteen), Arkansas (Cherokee preteen), Ohio (Arrowhead preteen), Minnesota (Lebanon preteen), Tennessee (Fort Bluff teen), Pennsylvania (Heritage teen), and Wisconsin (Winter Camp for teens).
I hope you will support the youth camps this year. If you can’t take time off work or 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.
Get ready for camp! While it is only February, it won’t be long before camp will begin for the year 2019, 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!