The freedom of youth winter camp: A recap

Preparing to head up a mountain can be scary. After all, you can never be sure what you’re going to find once you’ve climbed a few thousand feet. How much colder will it be? Will the wildlife come out to play? Is there a special kind of tree into which I can plug my Xbox? The questions are endless. So one can imagine our anticipation as we prepared for camp. We knew the weekend was full of possibilities.

But the scariest unknown is always the possibility that we may have to share part of ourselves with the world.

Folks will be quick to tell you all a teenager wants is to be known. But being misunderstood is something we all dislike. And for a species so averse to being misunderstood, we share very little of our true selves with others. We spend an excessive amount of time building a public appearance: our clothes, gadgets, styles, and affiliations. Even our opinions have a tendency to be formed with an audience in mind. As online life grows, so does the more we can pick and choose the parts of ourselves we display to the world. My Facebook friends might be surprised to find out there’s more to me than Ultimate Frisbee and coffee (though admittedly not much more). The photos we post to Instagram are invariably on our good side. How then are we to be understood? How are we to share our true selves when it’s unpopular, uncommon, and downright terrifying?

Enter camp. Camp is a magical place where all of a sudden it’s normal to think hard about your real opinions; to sit in circles and share deep, difficult parts of our lives with strangers; to sing and dance to loud worship with wild abandon; and to meditate alone in nature. It’s an invitation to in every way to be completely and utterly ourselves.

Driving up the 330, we saw snow on the side of the road just before we arrived at Camp Cedar Crest. Seconds after we parked, snow was airborne, being mostly wielded by junior high boys. We moved into our cabins and surveyed the nature in which we found ourselves. It was stunning. Soon camp was in full swing, consisting of worship, debriefing, fellowship, games, food, more games, more singing, and very (very) little sleep. (At this point I’d like to give all my thanks to the heroes of Winter Camp: Amy Carpenter, Kate Sumners, and Nick Tate.)

We sang often and we sang loud. We sang a song whose refrain was one word: “Freedom.” It was fitting that the focus of our worship should be on this particular creative attribute of our Maker: that He made us free, and He loves to see us unchained.

Camp can be the cure for the common desires: to be known and to be free.

Younger generations want to see in others one thing above all: they want people to be “real.” Camp affords us all a chance to be “real,” to be genuine.

My favorite part of our weekend was Saturday night. After our worship, after the message, after a bunch of students decided to try this Jesus thing for real, we met together as FBCR Youth in a cabin. We went around our circle and everyone shared something true about themselves, and they offered real encouragement to someone else in the group. Hearing our youth be honest was amazing, but hearing them encourage and bless each other was the best thing I’ve seen out of them yet. They shared freely of themselves.

Here’s to more …

-Jared Sumners, youth director; as printed in the April 2015 issue of the Tapestry.

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