An Open Letter to Christian Camp Counsellors Part 1: Camp Isn't Special

It was a beautiful saturday afternoon in late august. The sand was warm beneath my feet as I walked along the beach, looking out over the now quiet waterfront. Just the day before it had been a flurry of activity which I could still see and hear as if watching a favourite film. Boats being dragged in and out of the water, shouting and laughter coming from a full contact water polo game in the shallow end, cheers at an especially impressive dive off the high tower and chanting from a rowdy group of young men who were attempting to peer pressure their counsellor into riding his bike down a large fleet of stairs near the dock. The presence of the one true God, who is love, was tangible. But now, as I neared the water's edge, the only sound was two sets of feet on the wet sand.

“I don’t want to go home” said the young man beside me, the last of my campers whose mother was running late. I didn’t ask for an explanation from him as I knew full well the situation to which he would return. He was an only child and his father, who he never talked about, had left a few years earlier. He had very few friends and didn’t really have much of anything to look forward to upon his return home. Two short weeks prior this young man, only 3 years my junior, was just another face in the crowd and yet now he seemed like an old friend. I had come to know him not as a camper but as another human soul, journeying through the highs and lows of life and searching for meaning in it all, just like me.

We walked back up to the parking lot to see if his mother had arrived yet. Indeed she had and my co-counsellor had already loaded the young man’s belongings into the car and so after a brief goodbye he was on the road. I always feel a deep pain within me after these goodbyes because like many of the hundreds of campers I have met in the past, I could do very little to help him now and I would probably never see him again.

Later that day I too packed my bags and prepared for the journey home. After saying goodbye to my friends, who had become like family during these last few summers of living and serving together, I walked down to the beach one more time and said goodbye to the camp itself. At that moment, there was nowhere else on earth I’d rather be. There was something very special there, something which I would be leaving behind.

I could share dozens of similar stories about leaving camp and goodbyes with campers and fellow counsellors from my 10 or so years of serving at summer camps. I share this story so that you, the camp counsellors, understand that I know exactly how you feel and so I say what I say next not from some lofty place of the purely intellectual and theological but rather as one of you. One who has shared your highs and your lows.

The truths that I will share may upset you and you may not believe me now but I assure you they are true and I pray that one day you fully understand these principles and put them into action. There are four truths that I want to share with you now:

1.) Your camp is not special

As you have just returned from an exciting few weeks at camp or perhaps a full summer where you have seen God do incredible things through you and through others and you have experienced love, joy and deep friendships beyond perhaps anything you've known in your daily life, you find this truth hard to believe. "But David" you say "camp blah-blah is the most amazing place I've ever been and if you would just have been there you'd understand." I do understand but camp blah-blah is not special. There are thousands of camps all around the world doing the same things, where God is working in the same way and where people like you are just as convinced that their camp is special, but it's not. So what is special?

2.) Your campers and fellow staff are not special

If there is nothing special about the camp itself then surely it must be the people at camp! The friendships you have developed during this summer at camp may be some of the best you've ever formed but no matter how much you love your new friends, there is nothing special about them. There are people just like them everywhere else including some within a stone's throw of where you are right now. Had you landed at one of the many other excellent Christian camps around the world this summer you no doubt would have met some awesome people and made some lifelong friendships there instead. Thus the people you met this summer are not special. So what is special?

3.) You are not special

If there are camps just like yours and friends just like yours all over the world then perhaps it is you that made the experience this summer so special! No I'm afraid not. You are not special. The world ran just fine before you and will continue to do so when you are gone. Despite what the cat posters say, you are not special. I was reminded of this again recently when I went to visit a camp I worked at many years ago. Guess what? Even though I have not graced that camp with my presence for years it is running just fine without me. I am not special.

Your camp is not special.

Your campers and fellow staff are not special.

You are not special.

I am not special.

So what am I saying? I am not trying to just return you to the "real world" as some will tell you to do or deny the reality of what you experienced this summer. Not at all. The feelings you experienced this summer at camp, the joy, the love, the purpose, the meaning, the feeling that life finally made sense were all real! However, these experiences were not the result of a special place or special people and certainly not because there is anything special about you. So what is special?

4.) Jesus is special

What you glimpsed this summer was life in Christ, real life, real Christ-centred community. Jesus is special, not you, not your friends and not your camp. Love, joy, peace, do these words ring a bell for you sunday school kids? They are some of the fruits of the Spirit, fruits which are present whenever and wherever true believers gather.

When I stood on the beach that final day it was not really the camp, the campers or the counsellors to whom I said goodbye. Rather, I said goodbye to the one thing, the one person, who is truly special at camp: God. I said goodbye to beginning every morning speaking to God in prayer. I said goodbye to hearing from God through His Word. I said goodbye to serving God by serving others. I said goodbye to putting God and others before myself. I said goodbye to being open and honest with my brothers in Christ. I said goodbye to daily worship. I said goodbye to God.

Did you say goodbye to God this summer?

Your camp is not special, the people you met there are not special and you are not special but the one true God of the universe is more special then we can ever comprehend. Unlike your camp, which you can’t take home with you, and your friends, who you may or may not see again, if you have have asked God to forgive you of the wrong things you have done and accepted that Jesus, God in human form, died to take the punishment you deserve then God’s Holy Spirit journeys with you back to your home, your school, your workplace and everywhere else you go, for all 12 months of the year.

For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen. -Romans 11:36

Camp isn't special. Jesus is special.