Seven Lessons from Summer Camp

Shawn McEvoy

Editor, Christianity.com

 

 

It’s been twelve years since I last assumed the pseudonym of “Frostbite” for three months in the piney woods of East Texas . From 1991 through 1993, I summered at Pine Cove Ranch, a Christian camp for 6th-12th graders near Tyler. Every week, a new batch of campers would arrive, and along with my colleagues Bushwacker, Backfire, Fezzik and the rest, we’d herd them in for six days of water sports, horses, biking, Bible study, sermons, and silliness.

 

Twelve years, but the experiences of those three collegiate summers have left me with a plethora of lessons that stand the test of time. Some of those lessons were more socially educational. However, I was able to distill the wealth of spiritually-beneficial wisdom into the following seven categories:

 

1)      God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called ( 1 Corinthians 7:17 ; Romans 8:28 ). This phrase was standard fare from the mouth of Ambush, our camp director. The truth in the statement extends back to Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David… just about everyone used by God for big things who, on physical examination, didn’t have the degrees, stature, or qualification for the jobs that needed to be done. You’ve never spoken in public, acted in a skit, or led a Bible study? You may be right where the Lord wants you, so get ready for Him to bestow His qualification upon you.

 

It also works in reverse – you think you’re qualified for one thing, God has a different purpose. As a youth ministry major who loved water sports, surely His place for me was with the 12th-grade guys and the waterfront. So why was I assigned to 6th-graders, tennis, and archery? Somebody messed up! Turns out it was me, for getting insulted. I was in precisely the place where I could be of most use to the kingdom, and sixth-graders were much better at buying into my off-the-wall behavior than the too-cool seniors…

 

2)      If you want to learn something, teach it ( Colossians 2:2 ; Philippians 4:13 ). Surely there had been another mistake. I’d never handled a gun in my life. Were they actually assigning me to teach skeet shooting to junior high boys? I hoped the camp had good insurance. Actually, they had good assurance – the blessed kind. I became an expert in shotgun safety and numerous other activities. The Lord gives you what you need via your willing heart. Incidentally, teaching what you don’t know very well can even have great rewards: nothing transforms a kid into a beacon of confidence like teaching him or her to execute an Eskimo roll in a kayak. Nothing.

 

3)      The kid with the toughest exterior on Sunday is the one who’ll be hugging you the hardest come Saturday ( Matthew 19:14 ; Romans 12:9-10 ). “Get with your kids.” That’s what you’d hear from a director if it was free time and you were caught chatting with your peers. “Love on those kids; don’t indoctrinate them.” That was the answer if a counselor had an issue with a controversial subject. “Put your hands around these kids, put their hands around the Bible.” That was the goal. All of the above boiled down to time. Youth of any age watch how you spend your time. They learn quickly how important they are to you. They all have their issues but they all know when they’re being loved and they all respond to it… in time. So give them that.

 

4)      Life and Christianity are so much more than Do’s and Don’ts ( Romans 2:9-24 ; Galatians 5:13 ). I had come out of a fantastic youth group a few years earlier, but even I was bored with the tired standard youth sermon that had also plagued the young people I counseled at camp: “Don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex.” Undoubtedly good advice, but why not? There were already plenty of them who weren’t practicing these “greater sins.” What, instead, could we show them about, say, rebellion, disobedience, covetousness, envy, and poor self-image? It seemed to me that when I encountered those who were involved with alcohol, drugs, or sex, they were using the temporary gratification of those activities to fill holes caused by, well, rebellion, disobedience, covetousness, envy, and poor self-image.

 

Living out your faith without inhibitions in front of young people is about as bold, yet genuine, as you can be. Modeling the truth of the Word eliminates the need for do’s and don’ts, removes the need to ask, “Why live this way?” It’s obvious when your joy requires no illegal substances, and when your love is unattached from lust.

 

5)      It’s good to be alive ( Romans 8:6 ; John 10:10 ) I made $1,000 for an entire summer, got only 24 hours off each week, lived round the clock in sweltering heat with a dozen boys, had hundreds of responsibilities, lost track of movies and the baseball standings, went three months without a soda… and I never felt better, was never more fulfilled. Life isn’t about building to a place where we can do what we want all the time – that goal ends in becoming our own little gods. Life happens outdoors, with other people, in God’s presence, for God’s purposes. It’s a gift.

 

6)      We are the body ( 1 Corinthians 12:12 ). It wasn’t difficult to understand the frustrations that our non-counseling staff often had about whether or not they were being used by God. After all, you interview to work at a youth camp because you have a heart for youth, only to find out you’re a cook, a nurse, a work crew director. Out of the limelight. Away from the kids and the fun. Thankless jobs. But none of the great things that happened at Pine Cove would have been possible without every part of the body working together for the greater mission.

 

The body also has its imperfections, and there was no better illustration than Jiggs Gaffney, a mentally-handicapped man from Tyler who spent the whole summer with us – not as a camper, not as paid staff, but just as himself. Jiggs loved Pine Cove, loved playing basketball and Commando, loved everyone. The place would not have been the same without him. It truly takes all kinds.

 

7)      There’s biblical application everywhere ( Romans 1:20 ). Mealtime was an opportunity for selflessness. The ropes course illustrated trust and security. The whole system was based on service, sharing, and community. But the best application I took away was this one, which I penned for my girlfriend (now my wife) as she was moving away from me for graduate school ten years ago:

 

“I used to teach archery at camp in Texas. It’s the kind of sport where it’s not hard to find a few life metaphors – hitting the target, nailing the bull’s-eye, missing the mark... But in the arrow itself, I found a wealth of lessons. It’s such a simple, effective, and elegant weapon, with its sleek shaft and colorful feathers, but it can’t function without help. It needs the bow in order to reach its potential, to drive it forward, or it is worthless.

 

The arrow also has been prevalent in my doodles for as long as I can remember, probably due to its symbolic significance in direction and guidance. But take another look at the feathers – do you notice how one, the one facing outward, is a different color? That’s called the cock feather. It’s unique in that it must face away from the bow, or outward, in order to fly straight when shot. As Christians, too often we cover up what’s different about ourselves, and we wind up missing the mark, or sinning. But when our unique side faces outward for the world to see, we fly straight and true, exploding towards the target in a glorious burst of color.

 

What is unique and different about you? Your faith, poise, depth, and grace, to name a few. Keep those true colors facing boldly outward; trust the Lord’s aim as He pulls back the string; fly straight. Let Him choose the targets, and you can’t miss.”