By Tim Bearden
Senior Manager, TN Baptist Conference Centers
My camp experience began when I was about 10 years old. A group of boys from a small town in Georgia was loaded up in cars and driven to Camp Glynn in Brunswick, Ga., to attend Royal Ambassador Camp. That trip began my lifelong love for camp. I attended different camps several times after that. Each experience changed my life just a little.
The summer after my high school graduation is still one of the primary spiritual markers in my life. That summer I became a camp staffer in that first camp I attended as a boy. During the staff training week, I was taught a statement I have never forgotten. “Camp is for the camper.” The interpretation of that phrase for the staff was simply, it’s not about you, it’s about the experience for the camper.
I can still remember that summer very vividly. I was a “cabin counselor.” We don’t use that term anymore. Each week I was responsible for the care of eight to 12 boys almost 24 hours a day. One week of that summer there were eight boys from inner-city Atlanta in my cabin. They had never slept in a cabin, ridden in a boat, camped out on the ground, or seen the ocean. They were 250 miles from home.
I had the privilege of leading them to experience all of that. I watched and smiled as they tripped over their first wave and tasted the salty water of the ocean. We ate fried chicken and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together on the beach. We walked down the beach at sunset and talked about the love of God for each of them.
After 46 years, I still say that was one of the hardest weeks of my life. Some of that group of boys were homesick, some were discipline problems, but WE were different when the week was over. Three of the boys accepted Christ that week and I began to hear God’s call to ministry.
I strongly believe the statement “Camp is for the camper,” but it goes beyond the meaning I learned as a camp staff member many years ago.
When it comes to camp, God has taken me “full circle.” How He led me back to this is another story but, I have been serving in Tennessee Baptist “camps” for the past 12 summers. I love the sounds of “camp” like kids singing, worshiping, playing. I love walking the river walk at Linden Valley any time of the day and watching God’s creation. I love listening to the creek at Carson Springs as it rushes across the rocks. I love seeing the same friends returning year after year because they love to minister to kids. I love retreat season when things slow down a little and our adult groups find a place of refuge and retreat at “camp.” I love the fact that God uses “camp” to his glory. I agree with this quote from the website www.thepowerofcamp.com which says, “At camp, young people have the mental room to consider some of the most important issues of life. This break from the craziness of their regular routine allows campers to think about their future, to evaluate unhealthy patterns, and to discover the truth that God loves them and has an amazing plan for their lives.”
For me, young or old, “Camp is really for the camper!”