Ask any youth leader at any Easter Camp, “How is camp going?” and you will get the same answer every time. “Best. Camp. Ever!” This past Easter I observed why that answer is repeatedly given.
As the Baptist Youth Ministries National Team Leader, I had the opportunity, along my wife Rachel, to visit four different Easter Camps this year: Northern at Mystery Creek, Central in Feilding, Southern in Christchurch and our Intermediate eCamp at Finlay Park. We never could have guessed how traveling to four camps in four days, catching flights, following Google maps to places we’ve never been, walking through thousands of teens’ campsites and tripping over innumerable tent pegs could give us such a clear picture of God, his creativity and the love Jesus has for us all.
Much like the New Testament, there is ‘unity in diversity’ with these four different, yet similar, Easter Camps. Each has its own vibe, its own personality and its own focus. It was impressive to experience how far Northern Easter Camp has journeyed into a respectful, celebratory bicultural life. It has sensitively and wholeheartedly taken on the initiative to learn and transition camp into well-paced bicultural transformation that includes bicultural worship, haka, and speakers explaining Māori concepts that all point to the presence and work of Jesus in our lives. As my daughter said after a youth group’s spontaneous haka during worship, “I love my New Zealand culture.” I could not help but believe that God was thinking the same.
Central Camp was impressive in a different way. Camps tend to take a bit of time to warm up. The first night session typically starts about 10pm. Everyone is tired after driving with a hyped-out group of teens in Easter weekend traffic, setting up the campsite, and experiencing the aftermath of late night McDonald’s on the road. By Saturday night, a largely enjoyable, yet still slightly unresponsive crowd of teens usually sits at a camp attentively. However, at Easter Camps everywhere, by Sunday night it is all on, with worship, heart-felt response and genuine decisions made to follow or re-follow Jesus.
However, Central Easter Camp was different. The entire camp seemed to be more like church. All of camp was a worshipful response to what God had already been doing leading up to Easter weekend. There was an expectancy about the teens. Friday night started like a normal camp’s Sunday night. Worship, and even the worship band, seemed to be led more by the teens’ response to God instead of the other way around. Talk around camp was that something different was happening. Something special. Want to be encouraged? Watch thousands of teens respond to God!
After many years, Southern Easter Camp experienced a dry Easter. No mud. No wet tents. But God definitely reigned! Christchurch has been in the news a lot about pain and loss. Earthquakes. Loss of life. More teen suicides than will ever make sense. So Southern’s leadership team decided to change the focus and the conversation. This was a camp of joy! The music, the speakers and the many different youth group leaders all zeroed in on the hope, joy and life that comes through Jesus. And it was a party. If you ever want to get a taste of what a ‘church service’ in heaven might look like, simply visit Southern Easter Camp. I’m actually smiling as I write this just thinking about them.
Our Intermediate eCamp was also a little slice of heaven, but in a different way. Picture a banquet table where all are invited and have a chair with their name on it. That’s eCamp! Sports. Talent quest. Water slides and biscuit rides. Everyone was welcomed. In a world that abandons and excludes, the kids experienced the love, welcome and inclusion of both Jesus and his people this Easter. But what impressed me most wasn’t the outstanding programme, worship team, nor speakers. It was the church leaders who walked alongside all these intermediate-age young people. I watched leaders play with the kids, sit with the kid missing his parents, pray with kids, be ‘pranked’ by the kids, and allow themselves to get tackled to the ground by pre-teens that haven’t showered in three days. That’s love. And that spoke volumes to these young people about how much Jesus loves them. Because the people saying it loved them the same way.
While each camp was different, there were definite similarities. Prayer is central. Everyone. Every day. Each camp’s volunteer teams are simply inspirational. Always serving with a smile, they daily embodied Jesus’ words to love one another. There were senior pastors everywhere! It was incredibly encouraging to meet so many senior pastors who had travelled to camp for the day to visit his or her youth group. Never underestimate the impact a senior pastor can make by simply showing up and hanging out.
Finally, each camp is led by an outstanding director: Blue (Northern), Josh (eCamp), Andrew (Central) and Laura (Southern). Not only do they not sleep, they also don’t panic, don’t over-react, and don’t ever forget to thank God and everyone else about how great their camps all turned out. The best leaders look out the window and give credit to everyone else when things go well, and look in the mirror at themselves when things don’t. These four are the best!
However, the biggest uniting factor between all four of these Easter Camps is their desire to show and tell young people about the love of Jesus. Teenagers went home with hope about their tomorrow. They went home knowing they are known by someone that cares. They went home with memories that they will tell their kids about one day. And they went home with a clear understanding and experience of what Jesus did on their behalf … simply because he loves them. If anything, they now know that God wants them with him more than anything in the universe.
Story: Brian Krum, National Team Leader, Baptist Youth Ministries