Before recording my sixth album, “No Turning Back,” I needed restoring. I was a bit tired, working a lot, feeling kind of uninspired. I prayed from Psalm 51 “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” The more I prayed that prayer, the more I thought about where my journey began — at camp. I started thinking about where I was at that time in my life, 16 years old, struggling with tough circumstances. Then I met Jesus, learned to forgive, found joy. I pray you will find Him too.
As a high school student, I’d heard stories from friends about camp — staying up late, eating s’mores around a fire, zip lining through the trees. So when the leaders of a club I’d been attending suggested I spend a week at camp the following summer, I wasn’t sure what camp was exactly, but it sounded fun — and I was in.
At the time, I didn’t realize the camp was over 2,000 miles away. Born in Nashville, I’d never been west of the Mississippi River, but soon I found myself on a plane to Vancouver, British Columbia, followed by a boat ride from the city out to the middle of a Canadian inlet, to Young Life’s Malibu Club summer camp.
I was hours into the boat ride when I saw dozens of people lining the dock where our boat would finally arrive, and I caught my first view of the camp, set into a spot carved out by glaciers, the mountains around it — all snow-capped — rising up out of the ocean. Reflecting now on that first glimpse of camp, I mean, how could you not see God in this place? And even in that moment, I realized, this is going to be something extraordinary.
What’s so special about camp?
A friend of mine was recently telling me about a book he’s reading, Amusing Ourselves to Death. The book’s message struck a chord with me: we are a culture of amusement; and amusement is a lack of musing — a lack of really thinking and imagining. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about young people in this culture — really, everyone in our culture — we entertain ourselves to the point where we don’t think anymore.
But if you can get people away from amusement, from their devices and distractions, you give them time to think, to muse. The problem is, a lot of us don’t ever reflect about things like faith or God because we don’t have to. We’ve got plenty to distract us from the most important, most compelling, most enchanting things in the world.
Camp provides a place that allows us to think again; to find a space apart to encounter God…a place to wonder and just be quiet. As that week I spent at camp went on, there were fewer and fewer activities and more and more free time, more time for quiet and, yes, more time for musing. It was during that free time that camp leaders also found ways to hang out with and connect with campers, and after days of quiet and connection, my heart had been opened. The clutter had fallen away. I heard the Gospel message for the first time. I found myself on the ninth hole of the frisbee golf course with my camp leader, Jason Stuart, and I was ready to follow Jesus, to seek a relationship with Him.
Camp challenges people to do things they’ve never done before: ropes courses, zip lines, mountain biking. Whatever camp offers, you find yourself trying new things, and faith is a new thing for a lot of people, as it was for me. When you’re already in the mode of trying new things and your mind is free from the distractions back home, you’re a little more open to thinking about God for the first time, too.
Why kids today need camp.
To those who question the relevance of camp in the lives of today’s students, I say this: camp is about relationships, and relationships will always be relevant, always current. Kids are starved for acceptance and something to shape their identity. If you show interest in a kid’s life, they’ll go with you where you lead them. The power of camp isn’t just in that place apart in the woods or a beautiful spot surrounded by glaciers. The power of camp is in someone caring enough to say to a young person, “I’m going with you to this place. This experience? I’m going to walk with you through that and be there for you on the other side.”
I meet kids all the time who are in that place I was 20 years ago before my first week at camp — a bit lost, struggling though difficult circumstances or relationships. The number one thing I hope they’ll discover at camp, besides a relationship with God, is community. Since that first week I spent as a camper, I’ve returned to camp several times as a staff member. As a camper and as a camp leader, I found deeper relationships there, and a stronger community, than I’d ever had before. There was something about the camp experience that meant we could go deeper, quicker. Today’s young people are hungry for the sense of authentic community camp offers.
What you can do?
As a 16-year-old, the money I needed to get to camp that summer was way out of reach for me, and for my parents. But I had a little cash, and my club leaders contributed the rest. It wasn’t until 15 years later that I learned they’d raised the funds to send me to camp by selling their plasma! It was their generosity (and oddly enough, blood cells) that got me to camp, where I met God.
Instead of giving your blood, I invite you to consider giving money to send a kid to camp. Through the Camp Cherith Camper Assistance Fund money is being raised to send kids to camp who cannot afford the life-changing experiences camp might bring in their lives.