Camp (*takes deep breath and sighs nostalgically), there is nothing quite like camp. While I do love and enjoy pitching a tent and camping with family or friends I’m not talking about that kind of camp. I’m talking about Church Camp.

Now I grew up in the hills of West Virginia going to a camp in Eastern Kentucky called Camp Caleb. I’ve been a part of countless camps growing up as a pastor’s kid, but when I think of camp most of my memories come from that camp. That is the camp where I felt God calling me into ministry. That’s the camp where I saw countless friends and family members understand the gospel for the first time and trust in Christ. I could go on for days with camp stories going back to my child hood. Whether it be about being a young kid, too young to be a camper, jonesing for canteen to open to get a cold can of Barq’s Root Beer; or being a young adult and counseling for the first time with a camper who ate an entire box of Little Debbie cakes and a 20 oz Mountain Dew in 10 minutes and gave him the sugar rush of his life.

One thing I have found about whatever “camp” means to people, or whatever memories come back there is a constant. While crazy games, wild stories, and injuries from those games and stories are pretty constant, one thing is more constant: “Camp is where God…”. I think more than anything else the constant you hear from people about camp is how God used it as a place to really work on their lives. Whether that be trusting Him for salvation or deciding to give the rest of their lives to Him, camp is a place where God speaks, and we listen.

Now that I’ve been here at Southland for three camp seasons this has really been something God has reminded me of. It doesn’t matter where we are, Camp Caleb in Eastern Kentucky, Cedar Mountain Retreat in Southern Utah, Great Oaks camp in Illinois, or anywhere else on the globe, God is speaking, and we need to listen. Thinking about this made me start to think to myself, why is camp so special? Why is it that we seem to hear from God more often at camp than other places in our lives? I think, ultimately, it boils down to three things: No Distractions, Saturation in God’s word, and People. The challenge is finding a way to replicate that at home, not just at camp.

Distractions: At CMR there is minimum cell phone service, so kids are forced to be in the moment instead of stare at their screens and not pay attention to what’s happening. Even without cell phones though camp is a place we can get away from schedules, practices, rehearsals, work, and the busyness of life and just focus. This was something Christ often did. Matthew 14:23 says, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,”. Jesus knew the importance of getting away and eliminating distractions. Psalm 46:10 God says to us, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" We need to make sure in our everyday lives we take a minute to eliminate the distractions and focus on God, which leads into the second thing that makes camp special, Saturation in God’s Word.

God’s Word: At CMR we have a morning chapel, evening chapel, and cabin devotions. That is around an hour and forty-five minutes that God’s word is being poured into the hearts and minds of the campers and staff every day. One of the reasons we hear God speak to us so much more when we go to camp is because we are listening a whole lot more than we are at home. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”, and Hebrews 4:12 says that, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Bible is God’s written word to us and is a powerful tool that God uses to shape us and show what to do. We need to find time to saturate ourselves with His word. When we rely on Sunday mornings alone it is like a very slow drip of water into a sponge, by the time the next drop hits the first drop already dried up. We need to open the faucet of God’s word and saturate our life sponge with His truth. We need to do this by ourselves and at church. Church is the last crucial part of what makes camp great, people.

People: When you go to camp the ratio is flipped and now more people are Christian than not, and more people want to serve God than not. This means at camp the peer pressure is to honor God, to listen, to seek Him. We hear from God at camp because other people are encouraging us to hear from Him. In our lives one of the things we need is other people to help encourage us and remind us to eliminate the distractions and to saturate ourselves with the Bible. That’s exactly what Hebrews 10:25 says “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We need to meet together to encourage each other because the day Christ returns is coming soon. If we want to be consistent in getting rid of the distractions and focusing on God’s word we need other people who can encourage us to that and hold us accountable to that.

Camp is a special place, wherever that is. I grow to love CMR more and more every time I go up the mountain. I love it because it’s a special place. I love it because I see God speak to the hearts and lives of young people. I love it because it’s camp and at camp God speaks and I listen. Every time I drive down that mountain I’m challenged to not let my conversation with God end there. God doesn’t want to be like that good friend you had growing up that you see once a year. You always have a good time and whenever you see them you always talk about how we should get together more often. If we can eliminate the distractions of life, study His Word, and surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to do those things, then we can hear from God every day.

On the mountain or in the valley, God is speaking to you, are you listening?

-Richie Gibson, Youth Pastor