Written by Chad Conant, Area Director in Littleton, CO.
Jimmy Buffet was on to something. He once sang “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, Nothing remains quite the same.”
There really is something to our surroundings having a big impact on us. When we go on vacation, the change in our surroundings changes our mood. It often calms us and gives us a chance to reflect on our lives in a new way. And it often brings about laughter and fun, too. That change in geography changes our perspective. And with Young Life summer camp, we see this every year.
In our spiritual lives, geography matters, too. I bet you can remember where you were when you gave your life to Jesus. I bet you can remember where you were when God became real to you. For me, it was in the basement of the house I was raised in. And just two months later, while in San Diego on a youth mission trip, Jesus showed up again and my relationship with God was forever cemented. To this day I visit Pacific Beach in California whenever I am given the chance. I still drive by my old house from time to time remembering what God did for me there.
In scripture, we see a connection with geography and significant encounters with God throughout its pages. It happens early in the Garden of Eden where we see Adam and Eve walking with God there. After the fall of mankind, we are introduced to important places in scripture like Jerusalem, Jericho, Gibeah, Capernaum, Bethlehem, Bethany, and Bethel. In all of these locations (and many others) God showed up and met his people there. In these places, he brought healing, new life, new vision, new direction, and a new way to live and interact with God.
Many of the cities where we do ministry often feel like dysfunctional places for kids- filled with bad habits, destructive relationships, addictions, and powerful temptations that kids can’t seem to say no to. Home can sometimes feel like a dark place.
And so getting kids out of their typical surrounding and carting them to summer camp is a BIG DEAL. It really is. Camp is often where kids first connect with God.
It’s much like Jacob encountering God at Bethel. Jacob’s life was a mess. Jacob had tricked his brother out of his all-important blessings of being the firstborn. And he had deceived his father over it, too. His relationships were broken and his brother was plotting how he was going to kill Jacob once their father had died. In order to escape death, Jacob fled from home (thanks to his mom’s warning). All in all Jacob’s life was not going well…and while on the run, far away from home, God appeared to him at Bethel.
For kids, the story is often similar. Life isn’t going well. Their choices have left them feeling hopeless, alone, overwhelmed, and sometimes on the verge of death. But then they go to camp. And it is their Bethel. It is their Capernaum. It is their Bethany. God becomes real to them in this removed place.
As we take kids to camp this summer, this is what we have to look forward to. This is what we have to be excited about. This is where kids will meet and interact with the God who created the very place where they will encounter him.
For many of these campers, it will be the first time they ever interact with the Lord. Hearts will be healed. Sins will be forgiven. Addictions will be kicked to the curb. A new relationship with God will begin and a new inner strength will work from the inside of these kids allowing them to live differently and to live in freedom, even when they return back home.
This summer, an entire generation of kids will be forever changed. Load the buses, we’re headed for Bethel.