north american division
EEleven-year-old Benjamin Cunya attended a Seventh-day Adventist summer camp for the first time this year.
Benjamin, originally from Peru, eagerly jumped out of the car when he arrived at Camp Victory Lake in the US state of New York. Even though he is learning English, he went on the hunt to make friends and have fun. He said he found both – and more.
“I learned that God created the Earth and made mankind beautiful,” he said. “My mother wanted me to come here and learn more about God. I’m glad I came.
Benjamin is one of more than 23,000 children across North America who attended the church’s 67 camps and conference centers last summer. Each year more than 1,100 campers make decisions for Christ and about 300 are baptized.
Jesus is central to the camp experience, said Bill Wood, camp ministries coordinator for the North American Division.
“Camp ministry is youth evangelism at its best,” Wood said.
“Imagine a small child waiting in line, anxiously clutching his pillow as the manager hands out cabin assignments,” he said. “The child is ready for the adventure, but he may not even realize that the adventure he is about to embark on will show him the most amazing picture of Jesus he can ever encounter. his life – an image that will finally make him live forever with Jesus in the kingdom of God.
dreams come true
Adventist camps, which have changed thousands of lives over the years, began inauspiciously 89 summers ago in the state of Michigan. In 1927, 14-year-old Luther Warren and 17-year-old Harry Fenner recognized that the boys in their church needed a ministry that would help them grow in their relationship with Jesus. The two walked down a dusty country road, talking. Soon they stopped and knelt in a field and asked God to direct their dreams and plans.
The boys’ prayers were answered soon after when Grover Fattic, who dreamed of a broader youth ministry, presented a proposal for a summer camp program to Michigan Eastern Conference leaders. Fattic was the conference’s volunteer missionary secretary at the time, and with the conference’s approval but without funding, Fattic founded a Boy Scout camp at Townline Lake.
The first Adventist summer camp, organized by Fattic in Townline Lake, Michigan, lasted 10 days and cost $10 per camper. Conditions weren’t ideal, and indeed some parents who drove their sons to camp thought it was too dangerous and took their sons home, Wood said. The 18 boys who remained swam, camped and socialized together.
“The event was such a success that Fattic hosted a similar experience for the girls the following summer,” said Wood, who has been involved in Adventist camps for 40 years and continues in retirement. “That first group of boys helped birth a program that was quickly followed in Wisconsin, California, New England, and eventually across the country and the world.”
These humble beginnings have blossomed into Adventist Youth Ministries, which include Adventist Camp Ministries, Pathfinders and Adventurers.
Today, most conferences in the North American Division have a youth camp, and the combined 14,600 acres (5,910 hectares) of Adventist campgrounds are worth about $1 billion. Some camps are located in rustic environments and only operate during the summer and early fall, while others are large camps and conference centers that welcome members of their local conference and Christian groups or outside lay people who rent the facilities.
Nearly 370 staff members and their families work year-round at the North American Division camps, Wood said.
“Most of our camps and retreat centers operate year-round,” Wood said.
He said more than 35,000 Adventists attend child, teen and family camps each year, but they represent a small fraction of the total number of guests.
“Many camps host non-Adventist retreats, family camps and lay conferences, and it’s subtle evangelism at best because it gives our non-Adventist friends a fresh look at Adventists,” he said.
Children spending summer days at Adventist campgrounds are unplugging their electronics to enjoy the great outdoors. A variety of activities, including swimming, water skiing, rock climbing, arts and crafts, and campfire time, keep campers and more than 2,700 summer staff busy. But Adventist camps are more than that.
The camps provide a safe haven for young people, said Norm Middag, a pioneer of Adventist camping in North America and founder of the Association of Adventist Camp Professionals.
“Camps provide a place in a natural setting where young campers as well as families can enjoy healthy outdoor experiences and family-friendly, cost-effective vacations,” he said.
Not only do campers learn to be part of a community and develop new skills and interests, but they also grow spiritually, Middag said.
“Camping helps develop spiritual meanings and values that help camp users build character,” he said. “Lifelong friendships are formed through these experiences. And the main purpose of our camps is to provide an atmosphere where young and old can experience a new relationship with Jesus Christ.
Summer camps also offer their young adult staff members the opportunity to develop a commitment to the Adventist Church and see their faith in action as they seek to win campers to Jesus, said Jason C. North Sr., youth and camp director at Camp JR. Wagner in Cassopolis, Michigan.
Among those staff members is Chelsea Dancek, who served as a counselor at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida, for several years.
“God showed me that camp is a time to learn how to love and be loved better,” she wrote in a July 13, 2016 blog post titled, “Not Just a Summer Fling.” “He taught me that the campers and staff I was surrounded by were not only people I could serve, but also windows into his heart.”
Debra Brill, vice president of the North American Division who presides over youth and young adult ministries, said Dancek’s story is repeated in the experiences of hundreds of other young adults who have worked as staff in Adventist camps. She said research commissioned by the North American Division in 2009 found that more than 60 percent of people employed in summer camps retained their connection to the church, becoming faith leaders in churches and Adventist institutions.
Committed to Christ
God uses summer camps to bring decisions for Christ and baptism into the church, said Rob Lang, camp director at Cohutta Springs Youth Camp (CSYC) in Georgia.
“There are so many ways God connects people to a saving relationship with his Son, Jesus,” Lang said.
He shared how God worked in the life of a camper named Elise Jones last summer.
Jones had been to camp before, but this summer she decided to sign up for two weeks. His first week was at Ultimate RAD Camp, a specialty camp for teens that offers a different outdoor adventure every day. Jones tried mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting. For her second week, she went to Teen Camp 2.
Over the two weeks, the teenager grew closer to her camp counselor, Lizzie Williams, who encouraged her spiritually, Lang said.
“Elise prayed about it and felt such a sense of peace,” Lang said. “She decided it was time to take a stand.”
She was baptized at the camp on July 16.
Jones, who started high school this fall, described camp as “a fresh start.”
“Everyone at camp is there to support you and help you get closer to God because you’re basically family at camp,” she said.
Her father, Matt Jones, principal of the Atlanta Adventist Academy, is thrilled that his daughter attended the camp. A few days after the baptism, he wrote in a letter to Lang, “I just want to thank you for the incredible ministry of CSYC. Words are not enough to contain the meaning and emotion watching my youngest step out of the water during her baptism last Sabbath.
Cohutta Springs Youth Camp serves over 1,800 campers each summer. Across North America, more than 1,100 campers make decisions for Christ each year, and an average of 300 people are baptized.
Camp “is a great place to make decisions that can last for eternity,” Lang said.