‘Christ, creation and community’

Camps offer faith-filled fun

Adults are not the only ones who benefit from “getting away from it all.”

Kids and teens can find the experience valuable, too.

One way youth can refresh their minds and spirits is by attending a Christian summer camp.

The experience can be a dramatic change for youth whose use of cellphones and tablets is second nature, because area camps discourage or prohibit use of technological devices. At one camp, it is even a moot point, because the mountainous terrain prevents campers from getting a signal.

Still, the cabins are filled with kids willing to forego a week of texting friends, playing games on Xbox or listening to music on iTunes to enjoy nature.

“We are beginning to see a renewed interest in camp and what it is the camp program has to offer,” said the Rev. Nathan Pile, executive director of Sequanota Lutheran Conference Center and Camp near Jennerstown. He added that Camp Sequanota has seen an increase of campers over the last five years.

Dean Wenger, executive co-director of Camp Blue Diamond, affiliated with the Middle Pennsylvania District of the Church of the Brethren Camp near Petersburg, said while the camp has changed its structure to include specialty camps, its retention at regular camp sessions is good. He said of about 450 campers attending the weeklong sessions, about 400 are repeaters.

“Kids come to camp to have fun,” Wenger said, adding that they explore new adventures, make friends and grow in their faith.

It’s at Camp Blue Diamond that kids don’t bother to bring a cellphone.

“The camp is in a dead zone,” Wenger said. “It is a valley between two ridges. It just doesn’t work.”

Pile said campers know in advance they will be getting a break from the cyber world.

“In all of our pre-camp materials, we inform parents and campers that we want this week to be about connecting to Christ, creation and community,” he said. “We ask them to leave their devices at home. Technology has crept into our lives in the last 20 years in some powerful ways, but the thing that makes us human is our ability to communicate to each other,” Pile said. “At Sequanota, we deeply value what one week in the woods can do for our guests. We hope a week here helps remind our campers and guests how powerful talking face-to-face can be.”

Charlie Renner, center director at Greene Hills Camp of the Susquehanna United Methodist Church Conference near Alexandria, said adults and children alike tend to sit inside and connect with their gadgets. Camp offers an opportunity to disconnect from technology, including movies and videos, he said.

However, Greene Hills Camp does make one exception when it comes to using electronic devices.

Campers are allow to take photos of friends and their surroundings on their cellphones, but staying in touch with parents or friends back home is done the old-fashioned way through postcards and letters.

“A lot of mail is exchanged during camp sessions,” said Renner, who explained that talking to parents can promote homesickness, especially among first-timers.

For youth, the disconnect with their everyday world is exchanged for opportunities to explore nature, make new friends and mature.

“Camp is a confidence builder,” Renner said. “For a lot of kids, it is an opportunity for a fresh start. They meet a new group of friends from different walks of life and different areas.”

It is an opportunity for them to build relationships with each other without preconceived ideas of who their new friends are, he said.

Wenger said camp helps kids gain independence and learn to do things on their own. He said being away from their families is as important as getting away from devices. Parents want to raise their children to be independent, to be able to be mature adults and going to camp is one of the first steps toward that independence, he said.

“Camp helps kids grow up to be more well-rounded and healthier adults,” Pile said.

It helps kids grow in self-confidence and persistence, he said, adding that they try new things and learn relationship skills.

Among the activities they can explore at Camp Sequanota are arts and crafts, hiking, swimming, canoeing, water activities, archery, campouts, bouldering, zip lining and wall climbing as well as games, gaga ball, team-building activities and Bible studies.

At Greene Hills, sessions include rock climbing on the indoor wall, swimming, tubing on the Little Juniata River, crafts, enjoying the slip and slide, nature sessions, hiking, Bible studies, small group sessions and worship.

At Camp Blue Diamond, opportunities include canoeing, hiking, paddleboarding, learning about nature, arts and crafts and Bible studies. During the week, campers also have an evening coffeehouse or a time of skits and to demonstrate their talents, Wenger said.

All the facilities offer special camps geared to specific themes. Soccer, music or kayaking camps can be explored at Greene Hills. Outdoor adventure, survivor skills, guitar, confirmation camp, fishing and dancing are available at Camp Sequanota. Camp Blue Diamond offers adventure camp and biking camp for adults as well as family camp and kiddie camp for younger children.

No matter what the activity, Renner said camp offers a community atmosphere of love and grace.

“It’s a huge thing for kids and adults,” he said. “They are accepted and treated kindly. We put each other first, the way Christ modeled for us to act.”

“People’s lives have been turned around through experiences at camp,” he said. “Some have heard God’s call at church camp.”

Pile also emphasized the spiritual aspects of going to camp.

“At Sequanota, we strongly believe that ‘faith takes time away,'” he said. “Trust in God is like any other relationship. We need to take time to nurture it. Every day campers explore the Bible in study, practice talking to God in prayer and gather for worship.”

However, some of the most memorable experiences occur during what Pile called “God sightings” or experiencing God’s presence in unpredictable everyday ways. He said staff members are invited to talk about them with campers and in turn, ask campers to share their “God sightings.”

Wenger said at Blue Diamond, campers gain knowledge by learning about something they did not know was in the Bible or a teaching of Jesus.

Kids also learn about God outside the spiritual sessions.

“God created the world around us, and kids can experience God by observing what he created,” Renner said.

Time to take in their surroundings is possible because life is lived at a slower pace.

“We have time to tell stories and laugh together,” Pile said. “We make time for journaling and looking at the stars.”