“MY LIFE has completely changed,” says Tristan Checkley.
“It’s been amazing seeing the change in myself,” adds Joshua Hubbard.
These comments are from the Facebook page of a group of young guys who went on a youth camp this year.
Simeon White, 23, main organiser of the boys camp, explained: “The aim of the camps was to get lads together over a few days and give time for us to input them and build relationships together.
“Each day had a different focus with activities centred on God, our identity and adventure. In the daytime we undertook activities such as a barbecue, mountain trekking and enjoying the beach. We also built dens, wrote chants and juggled.
“In the evening we had ‘Word’ sessions. There was a group for younger lads focused on building relationships and confidence and a session for older lads consisting of an interactive teaching session and a “Q&A” slot. The older lads were hungry to find more of God. Of course they were also hungry for good grub – in large quantities!
“Meal times were followed by a ‘Boiler-room’ session – for worship. We started worshipping and took the lads with us. We loosened up in dancing and there were opportunities for the lads to be prayed with. Some of them had never been in that atmosphere and some were quite insecure to begin with.
“The evenings finished with a campfire coupled with jamming sessions, hot chocolate and marshmallows. The last night was the highlight. Lots of them came forward for prayer. There was a lot of forgiving and finding forgiveness. One lad was healed of a rash on his legs – and afterwards gave his life to Jesus. Four to five other lads came to know Jesus that night. Many others were touched by what God was doing. There was a very deep atmosphere and a sense of God’s presence. It lasted three hours and then carried on around the camp fire.
“On the last day we had an award ceremony. Every lad was recognised with a personal award: ‘Made more friends than any one’, ‘Never moaned,’ ‘Has a big character’ etc.
“The camps started a movement, for sure,” said Simeon, “We’re trying to keep up with it. A brotherhood has been formed among a good crew of them and now they are leading each other forward in God; several of them have been baptised. They’ve come back wanting to pray, to read the Bible and to be discipled. The hilltop experience is over now and we’ve got opportunities to bring them into a fruitful life, into the church family, the body of Christ, and the adventure of following Jesus.
Simeon concludes, “I’ve realised the importance of re-prioritizing my life in order to give to something that counts – no excuse. When you hit gold, you drop things in order to dig deeper. I want to equip these lads, to give them space and if necessary to get out of the way!”
Val Hasall, 30, project organiser for the girls’ camps, is enthusiastic. As a teenager she went on what she describes as “rough and ready” camps and to this day still remembers the overwhelming stench of manure!
She recalls how much they helped her as a young Christian and were the source of strong friendships, set to hold her in difficult times. Val explained: “The aim of the camps is to give opportunities for the girls to bond with other young Christians from different parts of the country; they learn to support each other, be spiritual with their own peer group and find a deeper relationship with God in a non-threatening environment. Many of the girls, too, come from urban areas and have never had much chance to enjoy the beauty of the countryside.
“Each day of our camp followed a similar structure: Before breakfast we gave each girl a subject to meditate on. This year’s theme was “the father-heart of God”. Everyone was given a “God-book” to record their inspirations in.
“After breakfast we had interactive teaching sessions, for instance, dramatising a Bible story or theme. One morning one of the leaders, Faith, stuck some sticks in the ground to represent different stages in the girls’ lives: school, college and career. The girls tied a ribbon around them in turn, pondering their choices and each girl was prayed with about what they were to do in these areas in the coming years.
“In the afternoon we went walking, often in pairs in order to talk more deeply with one other.
“The evenings were Holy Spirit times; times to draw close to God, sometimes to dance before Him in the open countryside, times for hearing from God and bringing His words to each other and learning to use spiritual gifts. There were some very special moments of worship, daring and wild, free from inhibitions and sensing the presence of God.
“Camps are great training ground for leaders. Quite a few leaders, now mainly in their early 20s, have been through girls’ camp themselves; camps have made a difference to their lives and now they want to lead.
“The camps really push us as leaders. We find each girl needs something different; each has to be carried individually on our hearts. We like to do something special for each one – this year we leaders made each one a personal card and gave each a meditation candle to take home.
“Girls’ camps are one of the most worthwhile things I do in a year; it is so beautiful to see young girls discovering God and finding fresh confidence. You get the feeling that you are making a difference to the shape of their lives. I feel a great pride in the girls when I see some of them get baptized or take another step into God. I always come back stronger, too, from girls’ camp, because I’ve pushed myself and been dependent on God.
Around 40 girls took part in 4 girls’ camps and around 40 lads in one large boys’ camp. Since the camps in the Spring, young people have made decisions to get baptised, been part of community initiatives and formed lasting friendships.
“I think, for the moment, camps are essential,” says Val, “If we don’t invest in our youth we haven’t got a future. I had lots of input as a teenager. ‘How did they put up with me?’ I ask myself. They really invested in me. Now? I really want to do the same for others. ”