The weeks before camp were hectic. I did some preparation for my talks, but other deadlines seemed to constantly get in the way.
“Would you like to speak at camp?” I casually asked a few of our staff during times when the pressure was on. I’m so glad none of them could. I would have missed out on something special.
The location was different this year. “Salmon Inlet”, where I spoke twice previously, had been closed by the department of health (gives an indication of how rugged this former logging camp was).
Keats Camp (run by the Baptist Union) was a pretty fancy place in comparison. They had an opening in their schedule this summer and had invited us to bring our “YFC kids” there. We ended up bringing about 75 of them.
The camp followed a nautical theme. The “meetings” (with singing, drama, and talks) were called “Watch”… morning watch and evening watch. The speaker was called the “Admiral”, and the counsellors were the “Skippers”.
Being at Keats was a treat for our staff. The Keats staff prepared the meals and the program, freeing us to concentrate on the kids—which is a good thing, for a change to a nicer environment doesn’t change a person’s nature.
After “Watch” the first night one of the Keats staff caught up to me as I walked to my cabin. “These kids scare me! I’ve worked here five summers and we’re used to kids coming to camp dressed neatly and being quiet and cooperative.”
The next morning during staff meeting another Keats staff shared, “It’s been so easy to be a Christian at camp sometimes because there’s no challenge to your faith. The kids are so respectful. They think we’re the cream cheese. This group is so different. I get nervous when I’m up front and find I really have to rely on the Lord. These kids really put my Christianity to the test.”
Another staff shared this perspective… “These kids have learned not to trust adults. We can’t expect them to listen to us just because we’re adults. We need to gain their trust before we can expect them to respect our authority.”
This point was emphasized by the words from another Keats staff… “I asked a group of kids to sit down during ‘Watch’ and this one girl said, ‘There are a lot of us, you know. You can’t make us do what you want.’”
Cynthia, one of our YFC staff, had one of her girls tell her, “I don’t have to go to Watch this morning because I’ve already committed myself to Satan.” Cynthia told her to go anyway, that there would be angels around the camp to protect her from anything Satan might try to do to her. She went.
One of the most heartbreaking things we had to do was to send a young girl home the second night of camp. She had been violent, picking fights, turning girls against each other, refusing to take her medication.
Knowing what she would be missing at camp and the situation she would be returning to at home made the decision so difficult. But it was deemed necessary for the good of the rest of the campers.
There were tears in many staff eyes as we prayed for Jen that night.
YFC staffer Maggie shared, “We had half a cabin full of girls that just wanted to get away from home for five days. We had no shortage of attitude problems, no shortage of talks, fights brewing. We had to get heavy-handed and send a girl home, and in the end we all hugged as we said good-bye.
“Individually each of these girls can be quite co-operative and nice. Some were antagonistic to the Gospel message and didn’t like to be ‘forced’ to attend the meetings. The agreement we came to was that they were to come for the music and then they could go sit out on the porch by the window.
“For a few meetings they did this and on the last meeting, when we had some testimony sharing and a wrap up for the camp, they were sitting in there with everyone else. Yes, of their own free will!” (Maggie will be starting a Bible study with some of the girls in the fall.)
The music, the drama, the talks, the outpouring of love… all combined to soften hearts. By the third day kids were starting to respond. One cabin had boys firing non-stop questions at their leaders.
Dave Wiebe (YFC staff) said that one night, while they thought he was asleep, he overheard two of his boys talking…
“Are you going to become a Christian?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking about it.”
After the Saturday night talk Cecil came up to me to say that Shane had raised his hand—actually just his finger, enough so that Cecil would notice—indicating that he had prayed to invite Christ into his life.
Reports are still coming in as I write this, and it appears that several other kids made decisions for Christ as well!
One night, against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset, with 28 eagles circling overhead, we had a baptism.
After Chris and Andy explained what baptism is and everyone sang, “Lord We Lift Your Name on High”, Rob (one of our volunteer staff) shared his testimony and was baptized in the ocean.
After our last “Watch” one of the Keats staff shared with me, “There has been so much energy in this room this week. The Keats staff have just loved it. These kids are so real. We were scared of them at first, but all our staff are so thankful for them.”
Dan, who had committed his life to Christ at camp last year (see post “Camp at Salmon Inlet”), was back again. His parents recently split up, so he came to this camp with a heavy heart.
We were able to spend some time together. I assured him we would be there for him whenever he needed to talk.
On the boat on the way home, I chatted with a young boy named Rob. He had been picked on quite a bit by a few boys at camp. I agreed that it really hurts to be made fun of, but reminded him that he is also surrounded by people who love him a lot.
It became clear that Rob’s godly grandparents had had a profound influence on his life, to the point of leading him to Christ and helping him learn Scripture by memory.
As I gently questioned Rob to determine where he was in his “spiritual journey” he told me that he wanted to keep a journal like his counselor did. But he didn’t have any money or know where to buy one.
Tears came to his eyes as I handed him some money for a journal and a pen. Without saying a word he leaned his head against my shoulder as we sat together in the sunlight.
Moments like that are what make camp special for me. I am usually reduced to tears when I come home and try to share with my wife about the kids at camp. This year was no exception.
(I have many fond memories from my 27 years with Youth for Christ. It is a privilege to share some of these with you. I wrote this piece about a camp in the summer of 1995.)