This time of year Kyle Wassom’s students are swamped. Like a lot of other American teenagers, they have projects, exams, competitions and other activities that make carving out time for exploring their faith during the school year nearly impossible.
Yet the student ministry team at First Baptist Church (Denton, Texas), prioritized a retreat to Pine Cove in April as a much-needed get-away for their students. It’s the end of the semester, and time away is beneficial for both students and youth workers.
“We believe so strongly in not just what Pine Cove does, but in what getting away does,” Wassom, minister to students, says. “That’s something that should be pursued pretty much at all costs.”
He and his staff will host a church-wide fundraiser in May so cost won’t be a barrier for any student seeking to go camp this summer. For some families, writing the check to send their kids to camp is a no-brainer. For others, extra costs can be burdensome. For all those hours spent on fundraisers, the return on investment is worth it to Wassom and his team.
“We think so strongly about camp and what it means to our ministry and ultimately to the future of the church,” he says. Guiding middle and high school students to grow in their relationship with the Lord establishes a foundation for the church locally and worldwide.
“It’s worth it,” he says. “It’s an environment that you’re going to be challenged, you’re going to grow not just in your relationship with the Lord, but in connecting with other people and being encouraged in your faith. Those are definitely timely things that our students need right now.”
Developing as a Believer and Leader
Having grown up going to camp himself, Wassom knows how camp fosters the growth and development of believers and leaders. He went to several camps during his youth and then worked at Pine Cove for two summers. He says he will never forget the lessons he learned and the impact those summers had on his life.
He recalls one summer he was a counselor at Pine Cove, and he made it a point to spend time with each of the guys in his cabin one-on-one. One student he sat down with shared his life story. Wassom realized the student didn’t know Jesus personally. He presented the Gospel to him in language the student could understand and connect with. He turned to the student and asked if the student was at a point where he would want to give his life to Jesus in that moment. The student looked at him and said, “Absolutely.” They prayed together, and the student accepted Jesus.
Life Change for Students and Youth Workers
“I’ve seen over the years so much growth in our students in terms of camps, retreats and connections,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in camp. I’m a firm believer in retreats and getting kids away from their normal life and bringing them into an environment where distractions are limited and Jesus is magnified… Life change has happened; eternity has been changed. It’s really indescribable what camps and retreats mean to me, but I am behind them 110 percent.”
Camp, he says, is in his DNA. With the memories he’s had as a camper, counselor and now as a youth pastor, it has become an event he values for many reasons.
“The opportunities are limitless,” he says. “That’s why I continue to do camp, and I continue to do retreats: Jesus speaks. He wants to change hearts and change lives. Camp provides an incredible opportunity to do that.”
As he says, “pressing pause” on life opens up opportunities to listen for the ways God wants to communicate with us. “That’s something that I think is exciting. It’s mind blowing, and it should be pursued.”
Camps and retreats are not just opportunities for students to unwind and recharge. In fact, youth pastors also can look forward to camps and retreats where they can focus on spending time with their students. As ministry leaders, they can seek quality time with the Lord, and it’s a way they can set examples for their students as well.
“Right before [Jesus] was about to endure the cross, He got away by Himself and spent some time with the His Father. That’s what really is so key to a camp experience.”
Photo Courtesy of First Baptist Church, Denton, TX