Why is it so difficult to rouse children from their beds during the year for school, yet they spring out of bed and dash outside quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat” during the summer months?
There is an enthusiasm for summer: freedom! New adventures to be had, vacations to take, visits with grandparents, playing outside past sunset and long past bedtime.
With summertime comes the opportunities for trips that children and youth can take away from family, school teachers and the humdrum of normal household routines. Those trips can be day camps, overnight or weeklong camps and Vacation Bible Schools. These trips are wonderful opportunities for children to learn about Jesus, learn new skills, explore different places, overcome old fears, make new friends and renew friendships from previous summers.
Camps can be a wonderful part of what summer means for a child. I have such fond memories of summer camps. Even though my parents were Baptist, my grandparents were Pentecostal preachers and church planters, so I went to summer camp with the Church of God every year.
The first year I went, I was miserable for the first two days as I missed my family terribly. It was difficult to make new friends, adjust to the different routines and activities and be away from my own home and in a strange place.
I had a wonderful camp counselor who talked about Jesus with me. She gently nudged me out of my comfort zone, and I began to see that I could learn about God through different ways and activities. By the end of the week, I did not want to leave camp, with our singing, praying, making crafts, playing games and reading the Bible filling my days.
I returned to camp for six more years and had opportunities to mentor those first- and second-year campers. Even now, 30 years later, I remember Bible verses and books of the Bible that I memorized during those summers at camp.
So how can we prepare our children for summer camps so that they have the best experiences? You know your children and their unique personalities. Talk with them about activities they might like to do or learn. Have them imagine what they think camp might be like. Also, speak with them regarding what might scare them or make them apprehensive to attend camp; you can begin to assuage their fears before they even begin camp or VBS.
When they have arrived home from camp, they will be full of stories and want to share what they learned, the new people they met, what kinds of food they ate and the activities in which they took part. Their enthusiasm and energy might be overwhelming, but how wonderful it would be to have them share their decision to follow Jesus with you and their friends and their church.
If they had any fears or apprehensions before they went away and were able to conquer those fears, encourage their triumph over those fears. Their successes might be the part they remember, rather than the original fear, when they wish to go back again next year.
Throughout the year, continue to talk about camp and help reinforce the values they learned and decisions they made. Lessons such as cooperation and sharing will be invaluable for them with siblings and friends at school.
Having the courage and faith to talk about God and ask questions about Jesus will help empower them to speak more about their faith to their friends when they return home. And they will continue to sing those campfire songs about how Jesus loves them long after the warmth of summertime has faded.
I pray that as our children experience all types of camps and vacation Bible schools throughout the summertime, they will be blessed with treasured friendships, encouraging counselors and leaders, and experiences that they will carry with them not only when school resumes in the fall but for the rest of their lives as well.
Janie Koch is youth director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Billings.
The Faith & Values column appears Saturdays in The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 5910, or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.