Two years ago at the EMW Aberystwyth conference I was accosted by a dear brother, regarding my potential involvement in the youth camps. He told me that they were “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory).
At the time I was juggling a full time job as well as the Ministry. I politely declined the offer to assist with the promise that if the Lord allowed the Ministry to be self supporting, I would give it a go.
Well the following year, the Lord provided and within days of leaving secular work I was contacted by the EMW (efficient as ever) and I agreed to be a chaplain at this year’s 10-13yrs camp (6).
I did not have a Christian upbringing (at all). Camp is an alien concept and as a result I was terrified. I was sure that my lethargic, miserable demeanour would simply not appeal to the children. I am way out of touch with today’s youth (despite having four children of my own) and I grappled with God for many hours to prepare what I hoped to be relevant messages and studies.
I had already met with the team earlier in the year, at a day conference for the camp. This made me feel a lot better. All but a few of them had grown up together through the camp system (and never left). They were a solid, tight, friendly and professional outfit. I could see that the Lord had blessed me with a unit that was strong enough to support my weakness!
I arrived at the elegant Pentrenant Hall, already exhausted and we began to welcome the families in. As the children settled the parents disappeared. It had begun!
Each camper joined a team and “we” came up with a theme song that would anthem every activity of the week. I was a proud Seahorse!
The typical day started early with a camp officers meeting followed by a time of prayer and devotions. The early bird campers then came down for prayer. Breakfast was served followed by announcements and the odd letter from home publically read (the parents knew this and made them extra embarrassing). After each meal a different team was assigned with the clean-up duty. “Seeeeeeeaaaaaa – horses”!
We then went into the marquee for the mornings worship. We sang hymns, read God’s word, prayed, the children were recommended books and then I preached. We went through Ruth together looking at identity (more on identity here).
After the service we would invite the children to stay and pray. The officers were always on hand to discuss spiritual matters/concerns with them.
The mornings worship was then followed by a plethora of activities; craft, swimming, archery, sumo, gladiators, table tennis, table football, pool, air hockey, volley-ball, football and wide games. Split by a healthy lunch that gave us time to rest and regroup before the afternoon shift.
Day trips to the beach, the farm or the lake for water sports were accompanied by a packed lunch and ice-cream/ fish and chips were also provided. The children also enjoyed seminars on biblical inerrancy, mission and Q&A.
The evenings were spent in dorm groups where camp officers worked through the bible studies I had prepared. All were parables of Jesus that mirrored the morning’s message in Ruth. These intimate discussions gave the children opportunities to open up in smaller groups, among friends, pray and ask questions. We would then all meet up in the marquee for fun and games before settling with a hot chocolate and an epilogue from one of the officers. Then bed and repeat.
I had to leave camp a day early to conduct the wedding, so I unfortunately missed out on the BBQ and the fancy dress on the Friday evening. You should have seen the costume that I had prepared!
It was a delight to serve the Lord in such a way with an amazing team. The camp leaders were so organised and caring. The officers were all young professionals or undergraduates, with a great heart for the Lord and gospel service. They were all fine role models and their evening testimonies made God’s working in their lives real to the children.
The children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing was of the utmost importance. Officers were staying up until 3am with some children (homesick or simply naughty) and then awake again at 6am, fresh and smiling to begin the next day. On the longer coach trips through the windy country lanes, they were the ones lovingly holding back hair, rubbing backs and scraping the sick from the seats. Whatever situation, they kept spirits high, always singing, playing games and always willing to join in. Despite their love shown, none were “soft touches” and they made clear boundaries so that everyone could have fun in a wholesome manner. All the officers were simply marvelous.
Moments of any contention were few and I put this down to the food. I must have gained at least a stone in weight. Each meal was two courses, cooked in love. How they kept to budget I will never know. The meals were of the highest possible quality and offered a balanced diet with amazing desserts. They really went beyond the call of duty and there was little waste – the kids loved it. With filled tummy’s, the children had no room for arguments, and their minds could focus on the spiritual food.
The camp gave me several fantastic opportunities to speak with the children. Although having to sit in a minibus, facing backwards, through those country lanes, whilst answering 20 questions to some very inquisitive young ladies, did cause my stomach to turn.
During the down time, I was often sat with a book in the grounds, but this did not stop the children coming across to ask questions about the message, the Bible study, their life and their faith. We would pray, encourage one another and lift up Jesus together. The outings gave us all a real opportunity to bond and share. Often walking around in groups I had endless opportunities to speak and engage with these young minds at a deep spiritual level.
What shocked me the most was how tough it has become for these children to practice their faith today. Many said they were not willing to commit (although they did believe) because they felt that they would have to let Jesus down at some point to survive school. Others confessed that they were bullied at school for attending church, others were mocked publically by their RE teachers for believing in the Bible. Many told me how other religions were “tolerated” and thus respected and encouraged in their school, but this was at the cost of Christianity and as a result they did not feel comfortable enough to profess their faith in Jesus to their friends.
Such conversations were a huge wake-up call! They brought me to my knees! For the first time I began to realise the utter importance of this ministry. These children that I had the privilege of spending a week with are our future! They are tomorrow’s church members, deacons, elders, missionaries and Pastors and they are already being ostracised and undermined by the world. Their faith is already being tested to its limits.
The EMW Camps are a most important provision for our next generation. They should never be viewed as secondary to any other ministry. They give such a unique opportunity for ‘our future church’ to take a week away, to rest in the Lord, to make memories and be with friends their own age who share the same trials. The camp allows ‘our children’ unrivalled access to spiritually mature Christians who can answer the questions they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask at home or in church. The week equips campers with answers to take back to school, it strengthens them as they face hostility and I pray it encourages them to share the gospel with their friends and family outside of the kingdom.
In the second letter to Timothy (2:1-2) Paul tells Timothy to take what he has heard (the gospel) and pass it on to reliable people for them to tell others. Paul is preaching with four generations in mind. For the survival of the church and the gospel witness in Wales, we must prayerfully do the same. We must embrace the EMW camps, pray for the work and financially support it.
We need to make every effort to send our children and encourage their friends to go with them, and if you have no children (or they are grown up) please help others send theirs. It is simply an unrivalled opportunity for these young minds to come and know the Lord as their own, for them to hear the gospel and share it with others back home, so that one day they may tell.
We can rejoice that by God’s Grace those who came to camp professing faith, left in greater assurance and those far off, grew closer to God in Jesus. By God’s Grace…camp works!
The day after camp, I went down to my study, I began to prepare my notes for Sunday, but I could not resist browsing through the uploaded pictures of the week. I was quite emotional as I realised that I was already missing the team and the children. Camp was truly “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory). I have clearly caught the bug! 51 weeks to go!