By Kevin Starkey
Summer camp season is upon us! Right now, teams of adults are organizing and putting the final touches on camp details in anticipation of the students soon to attend. Camp speakers are praying that God will give them His words for the sermons and altar calls. Bands are ensuring set lists are together and preparing themselves for the critical role of leading our young to the throne room of grace. Activities teams are finalizing game plans and scurrying to gather enough orange cones, beach balls, and whipping cream to ensure a lifetime of memories. Camp directors are poring over every detail in the schedule to ensure safety, fun, and environments where our precious ones can connect with their Creator.
The list of people preparing for camp goes on and on. During all my years of organizing camps for the students of Central Region, the individuals that will forever hold my gratitude are the volunteer counselors. This completely selfless group would give half their allotted annual vacation time or take off work without pay to come to camp. They would give up the comfort of their homes and beds for a plastic-covered ancient mattress on the lower bunk of a cramped cabin with no air conditioning in 95-degree weather. The sleeping conditions didn’t really matter to them because they would average only five hours a night anyway. They would eat food that didn’t agree with them, be the unwitting participant in an unplanned mud war, find out they have no idea what poison oak looks like, and discover sore muscles they didn’t even know they had. And all of this within the first 24 hours of camp.
The question is: why would they sign up year after year for this self-imposed torture? The obvious answer is that they love students and want to ensure each one has the opportunity to encounter the living God. This is an accurate statement but does not reveal the whole truth.”
Some of our volunteers have come to camp because there did not seem to be anybody else with the time or inclination to take the students and they thought that their missing camp would be an unforgivable oversight. Others volunteer in the youth ministry at their church and are already personally invested in the spiritual lives of the students. An electronics-free week with multiple opportunities to deepen relationships and converse with students about deep spiritual matters is too vital to miss. A few come to camp because of their past camp experience as a student. They remember the moment when they were in their teens that they summoned the bravery to walk to the front during an altar call and met their heavenly Father in a way that has changed them forever.
One thing is true, every adult counselor that comes to camp has the spirit of an adventurer who, for a few days, is willing to forgo comfort to be on the frontlines of God’s next great movement. They get to pray with a student to dedicate or rededicate his or her life to the Lord. They get to laugh so hard about something that happened at the lunch table that milk comes out their nostrils. They get to put their arm around a student and weep with them when the pain of sin or life circumstances is too much to bear alone. They get to drive home in absolute silence because everyone else in the van is sleeping, and they smile through the tears in their eyes as they recount all that God has done in the previous five days.
A favorite youth leader of mine, whom we lost to cancer a few months ago, trekked his youth group to our events for well over thirty years. Mel McElwee, along with his wife Jeanie, led the Swea City, Iowa, youth group. He fully participated in every camp activity with a smile on his face. Running around capturing a flag, eating something disgusting during gross games, and standing at the altar space worshiping God while surrounded by teenagers kept him young at heart. I sat right behind his youth group at his funeral and watched a video filled with photos of him with students in all sorts of settings. Remembering all the moments, his group smiled and wept, mostly because of how much Mel loved each of them. His life was dedicated to helping younger generations know God. He still inspires me.
If you are reading this, please send any student with whom you have influence to camp. Consider taking on the hero’s mantle of being a counselor; it will be life-changing. But above all, please be in continuous prayer for the students and leaders preparing themselves for camp. Our Father has been preparing for the 2022 camp season. He is waiting with anticipation to connect with His beloved ones to remind them how personally meaningful they are to Him. It is by far the most exciting reason to go to camp.
About the Author
Kevin Starkey is a husband, father, and grandfather with a special love of spending time with his family. He has spent nearly thirty years focused on student ministries but transitioned last year to the role of Church Planting Director for Open Bible’s Central Region. He is excited about his new assignment while assuring everyone that even though he doesn’t have the same interaction with young people, he will remain young at heart.
Kevin also serves as provost for Harvest Bible College, and leads HBC’s leadership team.