It’s almost time for our annual middle school and high school camps! These camps are something we and the teenagers in our Y-ministry look forward to every year with great anticipation. To help us get ready, a few high schoolers have shared with us some incredible camp experiences.
Whether you’re a camper yourself or the parent of one, you won’t want to miss what these guys have to say!
The camp atmosphere
Every year, around the middle of June, everyone I talk to is hyped for one thing: middle school/teen camp. I literally have spent hours talking about my excitement for camp.
Part of the reason that this happens is the incredible and unique atmosphere you will only find at camp. You can feel it as soon as you arrive. On the grass field, I remember people throwing frisbees, footballs, and kicking around soccer balls. Some were unpacking and carrying their things to their cabins. There’s an immediate feeling of security and happiness that I have never felt anywhere else.
A few hours later, after unpacking, I remember meeting up with the rest of my tribe and we came up with a name. You quickly feel included because you can suggest names based on your team color.
Right after that is a quick game and dinner. After dinner, I met up with my friends for a short break and headed down to the outside amphitheater. You watch what they call “Wednesday Night Live,” which consists of various skits that are fun for everyone.
I remember in seventh grade, after several showcases of singing, rapping, and more, they asked for volunteers from the audience. I raised my hand, people chanting my name. I went down to the stage as the woman leading the activity explained the game. It was a game of improvisation, called “Freeze,” which I haven’t forgotten since. A member of the audience would call out a word, which we would act out. The word was along the lines of “military” or “army.” So, I quickly pretended that I was stationed at an airbase that was being bombed. As I tried to go prone, the third actor called out “freeze!” I froze, nearly on my stomach, as the actors switched out. As soon as the scene began again, I had to quickly justify my seemingly random position for a new scenario. “What the heck?” the other actor called out. The first thing that came to my mind: Gollum. I did my best Gollum impression, and the audience roared with laughter.
As I went to sleep that night, the feeling of excitement, inclusion, and happiness stuck. It has stuck with me to this very day, and every year I can look forward to it again.
-Wesley, age 14
Meeting new people
Not knowing what to expect going into middle school and teen camp, I approached the campgrounds the same insecure way I have approached everything else in life. Paranoid of the way I look, the way I talk, and the way I dress, the camps seemed like another place I would be judged. I hated going to any kind of camp over summer, and I avoided it at all times. Any previous summer camps, clubs, or classes I attended, I went in and walked out alone, not really knowing anyone, too scared to initiate a conversation with anyone, and no one really making the effort to talk to me either.
But because my parents had joined the Bay Area Christian Church over the past couple of years, they told me to go and make friends. Although I kind of knew some of the people there who I meet weekly on Sundays, most of the campers were people I had never met before.
Not ten minutes after I arrived, people came up to me and introduced themselves. Throughout those three days of my first middle school camp, I met some people who I am still currently friends with. Not only do I know these people, but their openness and vulnerability with me allowed me to open up with them as well, helping me build deeper friendships than I was ever used to.
Now, five years later, I look forward to camp every year, and I am always excited to meet people, both old friends and people who are visiting for the first time. I feel like I can talk to my friends about everything, and their openness and vulnerability have given me friendships that most people on Earth don’t have. Meeting new people at the Y-Camps has definitely changed me from someone who is afraid to talk to others to someone who enjoys getting to know new people.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 NLT”
-Nathaniel, age 15
Conversations and prayer
Speaking as a teenager, I tend to notice just how dull and superficial conversations between today’s youth can be. While at school or at some other social event, there is this stigma between teenagers of having to watch and predetermine what comes out of your mouth.
So going into a spiritually-focused camp may be a new and scary experience for any teen not used to prayer or talking about the Bible. However, with our upcoming Y-Camps, that prospect is anything but true. Going back to my first Middle School and Teen Camps, I remember going to the various lessons, listening to emotionally-charged lessons and realizing I was going to be expected to talk on a “heart-to-heart” level with my fellow campers and counselors.
Sitting down, I would have a million anxious thoughts running through my head, with me thinking through the lies I would say. To my surprise, the conversations that I was led through were less to do with expectations and knowing my Bible, but more to do with talking about my insecurities, dreams, and a relationship with God. I would listen as teenagers I’d never held a conversation with before shared vulnerable experiences with me and talked about how they approached a relationship with God.
Listening to honest conversations motivated me to share my own struggles with faith at the time. The responses I got were unlike any preconception I had of how church leaders would respond, as they took the steps to get to know me more. There were several instances where I would go on walks with friends and talk to God about everything on my mind, from unbelief to how I felt about my church.
Being able to let down at teen camp was instrumental in my walk with God and the process of me becoming a Christian. I’ve taken those spiritual experiences into my family and school life, and have grown closer with my family as well as become a better friend at school. Learning how to have genuine relationships with the people in your life and with God is the essence of these Y-Camps, and having daily discussions and prayers gives middle schoolers and teenagers the opportunity that I had, and promises an amazing and fun camp experience with the assurance of God touching their hearts.
-Nathan, age 16
Camp is the time I come out of my shell. That’s not to say I’m an utter antisocial freak who can only be himself for three days in the summer—I normally never hold my sassy self back around my family and closest friends. I’m just a little shy in certain situations.
The reason I eagerly anticipate camp every year is because it is not the only time, but rather a very opportune time to put my real self out there, take risks in friendships and stumble out of my self-centered, narrow mind. Plus, it’s good to get some time away from home.
My first middle school camp was defined by excessively late-night conversations with a friend I’d grown up with but had never taken the effort to actually get to know. We rambled all night about girls and our parents and dreams of the future. On Wednesday, when we got picked up together, we couldn’t quit yakking to our moms about our awe-inspiring, and frankly, rule-breaking adventures together. They were delighted, so much so that they were compelled to take us out for Chinese (my favorite!). I had never talked so much in so little time. My partner-in-crime had become one of my best friends.
My first teen camp marked the formation of my crew, a cheesy friendship-pact I made with two other guys, one of whom I had recently met. We did everything together: walked and prayed on a path by the creek, sat in the same lessons, played ping-pong during free time and, of course, bought loads of candy. We talked and laughed and let loose. I’m a fervent academic, but I especially let loose. It was freeing, being able to goof off and be me without the usual hesitation.
Last year’s camp was different. None of my close friends were in my cabin. Still, there’s something mystical about camp—you find friends in the unlikeliest of places. I talked to a cabinmate who I later found out had family members with serious chronic health challenges. We didn’t instantly click. He was athletic; I was a nerd. But my mom was recovering from a recent surgery on her brain due to a benign tumor. In one small way, we could relate. And so we became friends.
17 A true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times.
Proverbs 17:17 (VOICE)
-Philip, age 17
Bible studies and counselors
Every summer, teenagers have more free time than they can handle. Many of my friends try to occupy their time by getting a summer job or doing a summer class. Many teens who attend our annual middle school and teen camps enjoy their summers by hanging out with other teens. The experience is just incredible. Going to a camp for three days doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal, but it can change your life.
Most of the counselors who work at making everything run for the campers are actually volunteers. Many of them do not get paid for the work they put in, the time they take off work, or whatever they had to do to attend the camp. Not only that, but they are willing to put work into becoming friends with the campers. Counselors, unlike many other summer camp counselors, are willing to genuinely care for their campers.
Many times, as the camp lessons inspire people like me, campers will start to study the Bible. Studying the Bible is where a couple of people get together and learn about the Bible and what a “relationship with God” really means. For me, studying the Bible at the camps changed my life. It taught me a lot more about God than what I had assumed. It was the first place where I actually felt like I could be open and honest about my thoughts and feelings. Especially as a teenager, it is very unnatural to have a conversation about anything substantial. I learned a lot both about God and about myself through those Bible studies.
-Derek, age 17
Overcoming initial fears
Going to a summer camp can always be a scary experience – even if you know people, and especially if you don’t. When I first attended the high school part of our camps, it was intimidating. I found comfort when I first met my counselor. I’m still friends with him today. His name is Kevin. He approached me when I first entered the cabin. With a bright smile, he welcomed me to the cabin. Through his friendliness, I was able to build more friendships. He was always there to help me meet new people and able to listen to me whenever I needed to talk about what was going on.
As the camp slowly moved on I was able to do some Bible studies. With many of my friends and with a couple of counselors I had a very memorable Bible study. It was one of the first times where I felt completely comfortable to say what was on my mind. All of the people involved seemed so understanding and compassionate that I for the first time felt like I had real friends.
Going into this year’s camp, now being a helper for the middle school camp, I only want to be the best friend I can be. These camps have had such a profound impact on me as a person. I looked forward to each camp, and now I can be a change for kids like me.
-Luke, age 14