One of the casualties of social distancing this summer is the cancellation of church camps. Tens of thousands of students across America will not experience a week at church camp, and here in Oklahoma, one of the most famous camps in the world, Falls Creek, has been canceled.
When I was growing up, church camp was the highlight of my year. Churches from around the community would bring their young people in old, beat-up buses and cars, sleeping bags and suitcases strapped to the roofs. For a week, we lived in a temporary makeshift community with eternal results. The cabins were musty, not air-conditioned and close to being condemned. You might have called them run-down, but I think advertisers today would refer to the camp as having “rustic charm in an outdoor setting.” Two-thirds of the word “rustic” would be a more accurate description.
The worship tabernacle was a slab of concrete with poles holding up a hot tin roof. There we sat on old wooden pews, sweating, worshiping and watching the pastor sweat as he taught us the Word of God.
Those camp days have been engraved in my memories until the day I go home to be with Jesus. Here are the five things I remember most:
- The opposite sex: During elementary school years, camp was about us boys hanging together, but as we entered junior high, our focus began to shift. We were now traveling as a group of boys checking out groups of girls. And what better place to do this than camp? We had heard rumors that the girls from the next county over were prettier than the girls in our county, and the boys in that county had been told the same about our girls. The new girls came from exotic towns like Utica, Meadville, Linnaeus and Brookfield. Some of them had come from as far as 30 miles away. But none of us boys were sure what to do if one of them ever approached us. Still, our hearts went home full of hope that next year, we wouldn’t let this opportunity pass us by.
- Music: At camp, we sang fun songs, songs with motions, songs in which the tempo got faster and faster with each round. We sang songs about Jesus and His wonderful love. We sang in the morning, afternoon and evening. One night during the week, the staff built a huge bonfire. We sat in its glow singing our hearts out, praising God and hoping the evening would never come to an end.
- Activities: I remember many of the camp activities. I was taught how to build a fire, tie many different knots and swim. During first aid class, I learned to identify that rash on my arm as poison ivy. Each activity was led by someone who found out an hour earlier that they were to teach this class. The only different between the leader and the students was that the leader had the instruction book.
- Friendships: The fourth thing I remember about camp was the friendships we made. Spending a week with the other members of our youth group helped us grow closer to one another. We knew each other from school and church, but something happens when you sit on your bunk and talk about life. During the week of camp, we moved into more spiritual conversations. We prayed together and shared our hearts with each other.
- Bible studies: These are what I remember most about camp. We were taught the importance of the Bible. Here, I learned how to have a “quiet time.” Each morning, we would take our Bible and lesson sheet and seek a place to be alone with God and His Word. The lesson instructed us to pray about the Scriptures we were going to read, asking God to illuminate that morning’s truth. Then we would answer questions about our study such as “What does this mean to me?” or “How do I apply this truth to my life?” Being a junior high student, I hadn’t become a deep thinker, but I knew that one of these days, I would have to seriously think about these questions. Then we would go to small-group Bible study and then on to large-group Bible study. This camp’s priority was getting God’s Word into all the campers.
As I reflect back more than five-plus decades ago on my camp experiences, I only remember a few of the names, and I can’t remember how to tie a knot or start a fire. But I still remember most of the songs and Scriptures we studied. And those can never be canceled. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:8, NASB).