I signed our oldest son up for summer camp today. It'll be the first summer he gets to go for a whole week. Two years ago he went by himself for the first time for a two-night camp. It wasn't easy to let him go, but we knew he'd do fine and love it, which he did. He was supposed to go last year for another 2-night camp, but because of all the heavy rains in northern Minnesota, the camp was flooded out, so he didn't get to go. He could go again this summer for 2-nights, but he definitely wants to go for the whole week. He says he's ready (though he wants to take a picture of his family with him).
I'm a huge proponent of Bible camp. I spent my childhood going every to every summer camp I could along with every spring and winter retreat possible. My family spent almost every Memorial Day Weekend at camp when I was growing up. My parents met at camp. We've been taking our family to camp on Memorial Day weekend for going on four years. I worked at camp for 4 summers and later for almost 5 years of full-time ministry. I did my Masters centered around camping ministry. And while other camps are surely good, here's why I think every child should try attending a good Bible camp this summer
1. Children learn independence. Mom and dad aren't there for a week. They learn they can survive without their parents around, but also how much they do love their parents. They learn to follow schedules while making their own decisions about things. Independence is the ultimate goal of parenthood: we want to raise children to be able to live well on their own.
2. Children learn to make friends with kids they haven't met before. This of course is a skill they learn at school as well, but there's something about making friends with people you're not around all the time. I remember writing letters to friends I made when I was a camper. We learned to communicate from distances and anticipate seeing each other several months later. I'm still friends with some of them today.
3. Children learn to value community. I, for one, think this is a good thing. Campers learn to live in a small space with around 7-10 other people for a week. They learn that their actions effect the group. They (hopefully) learn the value of cleanliness. Camp often has many elements of team building; cabin groups rely upon each other to succeed. They learn that others care for them.
4. Children learn the importance of money management. We send our son with a few dollars to do what he wants with during the week at camp. He can use it to make crafts, buy things from the gift shop, give to the missions offering, or of course spend on candy in the canteen. If he spends it all the first day, he learns that he can't buy anything else the rest of the week. It hopefully provides a lesson in using money wisely as well as figuring out what is important to them (nothing makes me prouder than when he doesn't bring anything home because he gave what he had left in the offering).
5. Children learn they are loved beyond their family circle. Hopefully each child going to camp is fully aware of their parents' love for them. Hopefully that is shown through at least one letter during the week. Hopefully their church family also shows them love. But while they're at camp, they'll also discover that their counselors--perfect strangers--also love them. Just for being themselves. And most importantly, they'll also discover the overwhelming love of God.
6. Children learn that worship can be fun. In our camp's promotional video this year, over-and-over again in their interviews with campers, the kids said chapel was their favorite part of camp. There are fun, exuberant songs (as well as the mellower ones). There are often engaging skits. There are great speakers. There is laughter. There is something about worshipping with a hundred other children their same age. They discover that worship doesn't just fit into the box they've created for worship from their experiences at church. It is much vaster and exciting to explore and participate in.
7. Children learn new skills. It was at camp where I learned to canoe. I learned to camp outside around a campfire. I learned to shot a bow and arrow. I learned drama. I made wax candles. I learned to step outside my comfort zone. I learned to make friends. I tried new sports and games. And with all this learning going on, I had fun.
8. It's good, clean (though often dirty) fun. Though there were games I hated as a camper, and would try to avoid participating in, for the most part I loved all the creative activities at camp--especially the big camp games (which sometimes ended with very dirty campers who needed to jump in the lake). I got to stay up late and see the stars at night while sitting around a campfire with a bunch of other kids singing goofy (as well as worshipful) songs. I had to be involved in a zany cabin skit. There were often silly challenges involving marshmallows, jello, or whipped cream. There was plenty of fun to keep me coming back year after year. And that trend is continuing with my son.
9. Lives are changed. To me this is the biggest difference between Bible Camp and other camps. Sure, lives may be changed at a sports camp or arts camp, but not in the same magnitude. Each summer countless campers make decisions to follow Jesus or renew their commitments to following Him. They leave with intentions to make a difference in their schools--loving the outcast, helping the needy, being positive role models. They leave camp wanting to help in their communities more. Informal polls show that many pastors, missionaries, and church leaders were highly influenced by Bible camp. I remember seeing many campers make decisions to explore how their lives may be used in full-time ministry. And many of those who aren't called to ministry desire to live their lives for Christ wherever He calls them. Nearly every camper goes home desiring to be a better person.
So while I may say a tearful good-bye to my son when he leaves for a week of camp this summer, I'm so thankful that he wants to be there.