Luke Trouten stood in the back of the chapel waiting for the service to end. He wasn’t a camper or a counselor at Covenant Pines in Minnesota that summer. Instead, he served as a janitor. Broom in hand, he waited to clean the chapel once the campers were dismissed.
It was one of those nights when campers could stay back and talk to a counselor when the session was over.
“There was one kid who no one was talking to,” Trouten says. “I was a new Christian, but I felt bad he was sitting there all by himself. I found myself walking to him—didn’t really know what I was going to say. I wasn’t a counselor. But I went up and talked to him.”
He doesn’t remember most of the conversation. He wasn’t sure if he even gave any good advice. What followed left a lasting mark on his life.
“But at the end, [the student] said, ‘That makes more sense now, and I think I’m going to be OK. Thanks,’” Trouten recalls. “[I] can’t quite explain it, but [I had] a very distinct feeling that God was saying this is what you’ll do with your life. That was 15 years ago, and He was right.”
Trouten, a youth pastor at Northwood Church (Maple Grove, Minn.), champions the experience of camp. Whether it’s the amount of time he can spend investing in his students or the unique resources they can use, camp allows him and his programming team to do things that wouldn’t work in any other setting.
“I have not found a more effective way to help students connect with each other and with God than by bringing them to camp.”
Camp creates memories and builds relationships among peers as well as youth leaders. “I love when you’re hanging out in February, and some kid’s like, ‘Remember at camp when…’ There’s a bond that happens because you experienced that thing together.”
Getting to meet campers from other churches reminds Trouten’s youth group that they are not the only teens trying to follow Jesus. They get to see others walking in faith. Another benefit camp offers is the opportunity to reflect on what happened the year before. “When we hear spiritual decisions or when we hear kids giving their testimonies, and camp comes up as a theme where significant things happen, that makes it easy for the church to see it’s worth putting resources toward.”
Camp becomes a milestone for students in their walk of faith. “A lot of students say, ‘I remember at camp God did this really cool thing.’ Honestly, usually God’s been up to this really cool thing for months, if not years, in their life. But camp is the place where it clicks. They have that ‘ah-ha moment.’”
Maybe that ah-ha moment results in a new way to engage with their community or family members.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth from them,” Trouten says. When the senior high students return from serving as program assistants at the junior high camp, they are eager to befriend the seventh and eighth graders. The younger students feel more valued by the older students, and it all comes full circle.
“Our younger students are saying, ‘OK, how old do I have to be to come back as program staff?’” Trouten says. “Kids are already looking forward to being the students who are reaching back and helping younger students. It’s creating a cool culture of service.”
When students process an idea, they need time to ponder. “At camp, we get to slowly build and mature an idea,” he says. “I think it sinks deeper because they’ve been given more opportunities to take it and think about it.”
There can be a seamless transition from deep learning to having fun within the camp setting. “At the same time, we get to have fun together. You might be having a pretty deep spiritual teaching, that’s good but overloads the brain. The fact that we can then go and do something fun together helps balance the two out.”
As a youth pastor, he knows that learning and fun need to co-exist for campers to want to come back. “When you can get those two ideas of ‘I learned lots of the deep things and had a really great time’ to be associated with each other, that’s really powerful.”
Trouten found his calling into youth ministry at camp. His students have found their callings into ministry at camp. His youth group has gained a sense of inclusion where members grow to know they belong. This is a setting unlike any other.
“It’s a once-a-year experience, but honestly we try to make each camp a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’re able to do that in a way that you just can’t anywhere else during the year.”
Photo courtesy of Covenant Pines