I know there are tons of amazing Bible Camps out there and I’m glad. What a fun and nourishing experience for our kids, right? This “how-to” is not really coming from a voice of expertise, but only from what I observed volunteering for our own pre-teen camp in Switzerland this past week.
The camp we attend – held one week in August for the teens, followed by one week for the pre-teens – has been successfully run for the past ten years. Last year we sent Juliet, and the rest of us vacationed in the area. This year we sent both Juliet and Gabriel, and offered our services to boot. After surviving the week, I can tell you two things right now:
a) It was so much fun. I laughed and cried, and played games and cooked in mass quantities, and taught (and learned) things about the heart and the Bible. And –
b) Physically, I’m a mess. There are muscles aching that I didn’t even know I had.
I was a little teary-eyed when we left. Despite being exhausted, I felt spiritually nourished. I was also grateful for the incredible chance our children have to experience this kind of environment – where they can thrive in a beautiful setting, but also where they can observe other kids, teenagers, and adults who are committed to loving God and loving one another. It’s a nice break from the customary playground warfare.
So here are some of the things I observed that I think contribute to the camp’s success:
1. Leaders with childlike hearts. Thierry – our minister for the Geneva church – is, like, five. I mean really he is is 47 and is full of wisdom and grace; but he has no problem putting all that to the side in order to engage in a fierce war of water guns and water balloon bombs. For that matter, neither did Stephane, Pierre-Louis, Georgio or Matthieu mind stooping to that level. (Not my Matthieu – he was happy to photograph the entire event). And honestly, there was something about watching the kids shriek as they ran from the line of fire (I mean, water), and daringly plonk a balloon bomb on someone twice their size. In this, all was fair in love and war.
I’m terrible at playing with my kids. I loved the chance for them to see that (some) adults can be kids too.
2. Diversity in fellowship. We’re lucky in our church that we already have the diversity of countries attending our pre-teen camp. We have kids from the churches in Paris, Lyon, Brussels, Geneva, Milan, Beirut, Nairobi, and even Northern Virginia! But we also have widespread ethnic groups representing Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Middle East. Throughout the week we heard Arabic, English, Italian, and French (and a spattering of Spanish and Chinese just for fun). There was plenty of diversity in the adults and teens who volunteered too.
What that meant was that children got used to being on the same team with children from other ethnicities, and bunking with them, and sharing their hearts with them, and playing with them. It’s like a little piece of heaven on earth. It truly is.
3. Good role models. For a pre-teen this means teens. Some of the adults gave short age-appropriate lessons, but you know who the kids really listened to? The teens! When the kids have a chance to listen to other kids, just a few years older, share about how they handled the pressures at school, sibling warfare, purity (discussed only with the older set of pre-teens), they sat up and listened.
Their small eyes missed nothing. They saw how respectful, affectionate, and pure the teens were with one another – how much they put God first. They were just the type of role model you want for you kids. And when those same “cool kids” gave the younger ones a bit of attention, it made them sit up a bit, and feel worthy of notice. I was so touched because they even included William, who is only six, and was just along for the ride.
4. Local delicacies (and healthy menus). Because why not take advantage of your surroundings, particularly if it’s a place you’re not accustomed to visiting? We got our fresh milk straight from the cows every morning. Isn’t that so cool?!
And we sliced the huge baguettes for toast, and ate them with butter and jelly. Sometimes the most delicious fresh blueberry yoghurt I have ever tasted, straight from the farmer, was on the menu.
Marjo handled the menus and there was not a single meal without fresh fruit and vegetables. I was in charge of the food allergies and the birthdays and I helped peel the zucchinis. Yes, the kids clamoured for a chance to go to the “Coop” – which is pronounced cop and comes from co-op – where they would spend their life’s savings on candy (until we limited it to five Swiss Francs). But the rest of their meals were filled with healthy, well-balanced dishes. And I think that gave them just the energy they needed for all the play.
5. Beautiful scenery
Okay now you’re just bragging, Jennie.
I know. I KNOW. But I can’t help it. I was so thrilled to be in the Swiss Alps. It’s so beautiful and exotic there. But honestly? I don’t think the kids noticed how exotic it was. I think they were just intoxicated by the fresh air, the change of scenery, and the healthy outdoor activities that included water fights. And those are the kinds of thing you can get anywhere near you, no matter where you are.
6. A chance to talk. After the Bible lessons, the kids broke into small age-appropriate groups of boys and girls, each one led by an adult and a teen. They spoke about their hearts, their troubles at home, their troubles at school. Sometimes they learned how to handle them in a different way. Sometimes they just had someone to listen to them, which healed so much. Sometimes they cried. But it helped to assimilate the message they had just heard, and it helped them to feel less alone. All kids need that.
7. Physical activity
When I wasn’t on my feet cooking or serving food, I was hiking, or supervising the diving board at the pool, or getting sucked into an impromptu flash mob dance because the kids wanted to know what we the adults were doing for our talent show. Or I was pulling out my dusty salsa moves (Matthieu is really so much better at it than I am). Or I was learning to dance to Watch Me and Tsnuami. Or I was cleaning up in the wake of the army that had just passed through. I could barely walk by the time we were through – and I hadn’t even done the zip-lining or the Olympics or the water fights!
But the kids remember the fun. And they remember the sport. Some of them live in small apartments and rarely get a chance to move quite this much. This can be a very freeing thing.
8. Praise and worship. I can’t say our church is the best at praise and worship. Like people, churches can take on certain collective strengths and certain collective weaknesses. We’re good at Bible study and obedience to the scriptures, maybe less good at praise and worship (unless it’s a Sunday where the African sisters are pulling out their drums and leading a song or two – holla!)
But praise and worship is an essential part of … worshipping. Ours was held around the bonfire – after the barbecue dinner under the teepee, but before the marshmallow roast under the stars. The children gave songs, prayers, and testimony, which I’m certain produced a holy glow that burned much brighter than the bonfire, though we couldn’t physically see it.
9. No emotional conversions. I know. This is not something everyone is going to agree with. But we don’t baptise someone who is just coming for the first time. Any baptism that’s going to happen at the camp is more likely going to happen at the teen camp after the children have been coming to church for awhile, and have had a chance (a few months at least) to study the Bible and see what they’re getting into. This includes the children who were raised in Christian families. The conversions happen after the kids have had a chance to count the costs on what it means to be a disciple. There are lots of emotions, but no emotional conversions.
10. And, um – the Bible. Duh, right? There has to be that too, or else it’s not a Bible camp. One of my friend’s twin sons went over to his dad in the middle of the afternoon, after the camp was over, and said, “Hey Dad, have you seen my Bible?” As soon as he had it in hand, he lay down in his bed and started reading. His father, who had grown up in a very religious family, but who hadn’t put anything into practice until he was an adult, just whispered to himself. Wow.
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Tell me, have you attended Bible camp, or do your kids attend? What are the essential aspects for you? What makes for a life-changing camp?