|Field where the teens played soccer, volleyball, and held a lot of the fun outside activities.|
Last spring, I was asked to be a a high school counselor at a Christian summer camp. It sounded daunting until my friend reminded me that I volunteer every day at our local high school helping with the choir (as accompanist and "choir mom"). For some reason that thought slipped my mind and suddenly the idea of being a camp counselor sounded like something that might be kind of fun.
High school camp meant one week away from my family (for both me and my daughter who would also be there as a camper). My husband and rest of the family felt they were up to the task in my absence.
Most of the counselors arrived Sunday and we spent the day meeting the counselors and staff, learning rules, schedules, discipline issues, first aid issues, and getting acquainted with logistics. The campers arrived around 6 pm.
I was paired with a young college student who was an absolute delight. This was her first time at this particular camp, so we both were learning together as counselors. There were eight young ladies in our cabin. Fortunately, some of the campers in our cabin had been camp leaders at prior camps and they knew the ropes, so we encouraged them to help us out as newbies and they loved teaching us.
|Typical Daily Schedule|
The days were quite full and scheduled. Every morning was a counselor meeting in which we discussed the events of the day, recapped any special issues from the previous day, had a devotion time and sharing time. Chapel was held twice a day, including a time of praise and worship. After each chapel, we spent 30-45 minutes discussing what we learned during chapel time. This was a great time together as a group. We were able to take the lessons learned from chapel and tried to make them applicable in everyday life.
I observed the experienced counselors a lot. They spent a large part of their time getting to know the campers, learning their names (there were over 120 kids), getting to know a little something about them so the next time they saw them, they could go a little further with that conversation. It was a challenge to learn so many names/faces, but as we invested the time, the rewards were forthcoming. The kids delved deeper into conversation as we played games or as we worked together for kitchen duty, etc.
The camp directors encouraged the counselors to make a big effort to have one-on-one time with each of their campers to see where they were spiritually, emotionally and try to encourage them. This was stressed very strongly at each counselor meeting in the morning. And after spending a week very close and personal with some amazing high schoolers, I now get the importance of this special meeting.
How often do you ask how someone is doing and really mean it and wait for a response? How often do you avail yourself of some time to sit and talk with someone about their joys and trials? How often do you boldly ask a person how their relationship is with Christ? Or if they have any spiritual questions? Or do they have someone in their life as a mentor? That's not something that I normally do. Wow - it was powerful.
Eventually we started having one-on-one meetings with the campers. After the initial ice breaker questions, we went deeper. The range of topic conversations was wide. Some things were very difficult for my ears to hear and I wondered how they could be so bold to share such intimate information with me, someone they met just that week. There is something really unique about the camp setting. Because of the close quarters and living with each other 24/7, the level of conversation probably progressed more easily than in normal life.
Not all of these kids were church-going kids, so there were many negative influences and experiences represented: drugs, sex, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, sexting, troubled parental marriages, eating disorders, issues with family members, cutting, etc. It did not take much effort for the campers to open up, whether it was one-on-one, or in a group setting, they wanted to talk. Each one really wanted to talk. That surprised me. Sometimes we tend to imagine teens with facades of having it all together and not wanting or needing adults in their lives. That simply is not true. We need to remove that idea and push ourselves to be bold in initiating conversations with teens.
The bottom line is teenagers, maybe more than any other time, need adults in their lives. It occurred to me as some young ladies shared their very personal stories with me that they might not have the opportunity to get to this level of intimacy with an adult in their normal busy life. What was I going to do with this information and how could I help them? What tools could I give them? How could I show them Christ? How could I show them what God thinks about them? Wow, what a privilege. This was the privilege all camp counselors were given. It's a privilege and a gift because it sure stretched me and made me more sensitive and caring and wanting to get closer to these precious souls.
Another valuable lesson it taught me was that I am not doing this level of communication nearly enough with my own children. We get so busy with our kids and the day-to-day activities/sports/music that it's easy to forget those personal questions.
The last evening, we sat around a campfire and got to hear from campers who were graduating seniors and would not be able to come back the next year. Some had been going to camp for years and for others, it was their first time. The powerful testimonies of the things that God had done at camp were wonderful. Some said that camp truly made a difference in their life throughout the year - especially as they ran into other familiar campers and counselors at schools, in town, etc. Many of these campers made decisions for Christ at camp. Another interesting tidbit I found out - many of the counselors and staff had experience as campers and some of them, too, came to know Christ at camp through the amazing power of relationships and people investing in their lives.
All wasn't so deep and spiritual, however. There was an incredible amount of fun. Here is a picture of yours truly. I was unaware when I went to volunteer, that this round, the counselor (ahem, me) would be volunteering to be completely covered with two cans of shaving cream. My cabin girls had fun plastering me with the white foam and aside from it being quite :::touchy::::, it was actually a great bonding time with my girls. I will have you know that our team won :) And no, I'm not the least bit competitive.
After having this experience, I will definitely make the effort to go to camp again. Making relationships with teens when I play the piano and help in choir at the local high school is great, but in the public school setting, there's not much opportunity to discuss topics things spiritually. But much can be accomplished at a Christian camp for a solid week.
I thought that the camp experience would be all about the camper. It's not. It changed me, it stretched me, it encouraged me, and it make me resolved to make much more effort to invest in the lives of precious young teens. It made me realize that asking one probing tough question might be the key to unlocking secrets in a teen's life that could lead to emotional, physical or spiritual destruction. What a privilege and a gift this was to me. I'm completely sold. I highly encourage you to get involved in the lives of teens and if you have the opportunity to go to camp, please do. I am sure that you will be so blessed and see what a joy it is to be involved in the lives of our precious teens.