As fall rolls around this year, Justin Ebert, student ministries pastor at Central Community Church, will be challenging his students to remember what they experienced over the summer including time spent at Camp Barnabas.
The reasons Justin takes his students to camp are plentiful. Whether it’s the excitement of meeting new friends, playing outrageously fun games or simply getting away from city life for a week, the opportunities camp provides are hard to beat. Especially when it comes to enriching students’ relationships with God.
Stepping Stones for Growth
Each day at camp students were able to spend time alone with God. Justin says, “So few of them make it a priority [at home]. That was kind of a big step for a lot of them.”
Establishing the routine of having a daily time dedicated to reading the Word, meditating and praying can be a challenge for students, but while at camp, it’s built into the schedule.“It’s always a stepping stone for growth, which I think is a good experience. The challenge, as always, is trying to translate it into everyday life when you get home.”
He and his team set their sights on the students’ return to routines and how to implement the new habits and lessons learned into their daily lives. From the beginning of camp, he uses language that prepares students for the end of their week away.
“On the last day, we have a more concrete thing for them to commit to so that there’s something they can immediately go back home and start working toward. Those specific examples I think really help rather than an abstract, ‘I want to follow Jesus more.’”
Asking his students how they will follow up and keeping them accountable for the commitments they made at camp helps solidify the camp experience. “Just making sure they understand it’s easier at camp, but the reason we do camp is so that we can do everyday life better. We use that language a lot, so hopefully that translates into more long-term change for each of our students.”
Justin’s and his team’s prayers for a fruitful week paved the way for the Lord to work through camp. “We prayed for four big things: 1) kids would grow in their relationship with the Lord, 2) they would grow in their relationships with each other, 3) we could have a lot of fun, and 4) there would be a bonding experience through the youth group,” he says. “All four of those things happened in a big part because we went to camp.”
Decisions Made at Camp
One story Justin shares offers a specific example of the impact just one week of camp can have on a camper.
“We had a boy who signed up probably a week or two before we left for camp. The mom had approached me not long before camp and said he’d been having a really hard time. Things hadn’t been going great.”
As the student opened up throughout the week, it was apparent to Justin that he was one of the most curious students in his group and was eager to learn more. “He had heard the Gospel before but had never really taken ownership. This was his first real camp experience. So each night I would try to find him and ask him how things were going.
“The second to the last night, I just kind of put it out there,” Justin says. He told the student, “‘The work has already been done, and now it’s on you whether or not you’re going to receive this free gift. You’ve got to count the cost, and here’s what it’s going to cost you in your everyday life. If it’s something you really want and want to be part of, you’ve got to make that decision.’
“The last day he did and got baptized that next Sunday at church. His mom was super excited and said it’s been a big turnaround for him and the family in general, too.”
The Power of Camp
With all the activities students can participate in—band camp, sports camps, summer workouts—it’s important to realize the unique opportunity for personal growth camp provides. It’s unlike any other event that students can take part in, and as Justin notes, there is something special about the camp experience.
“The power of camp is being able to take kids from their everyday lives and put them into a fun, focused environment where they’re getting to pursue Jesus alongside good friends and mentors. It’s both probably the most fun they’ll have during the summer, but it’s also the most intentional time where there are things planned around their growth.”