The last two weekends were my last Fall Youth Camps in Beijing. I’ve been thinking back over my years of youth camps. I counted them all up and would you believe that these past weekends were numbers 27 and 28? Then there’s another 5 in Cambodia, 1 in Thailand, plus the 4 or 5 I helped with in Australia.
Youth camps are a LOT of work but I really think they’re worth it. They are an amazing opportunity for relationships to develop and deepen. In one camp weekend, we get more face time with kids than in nearly a semester of weekly youth group. It’s the same for students spending time with each other, especially when you consider how many different schools our students attend. The shared experience of camp can be the catalyst for real and lasting friendships to develop. This is especially important for kids who feel isolated in their normal lives – whether because they live in a small town, feel friendless, or don’t have any Christian friends at school.
Youth camps are also a great opportunity to get away from “real life” for a weekend – to have space to think. Kids are more able to consider things outside the box of their everyday life when they’re away from their normal environment. This is good both for kids who are raised as “good church kids” and for kids who have never thought about spiritual things – both need space to question and process new ideas. Creating a safe space for ALL kids to ask the questions they have, and consider the choices they make, isn’t always an easy balance but it’s a worthwhile goal.
Thinking back over these camps also got me thinking about camp themes. Over the years I’ve become convinced of the importance of these themes. Done well, a camp theme provides a way to bind all the disparate elements of camp together. They also give each camp a unique character. When kids think back, our hope is that each element will reinforce the others. I’m sure it’s not always as successful as we’d like, but I think that we all remember a lot more of the content of messages from camps with strong themes than those without.
The best themes, in my opinion, connect something that’s a part of pop culture with big ideas. This gives space for fun stuff (playing on the pop culture aspects) and opening for big questions, discussing ideas, and considering life from a different perspective.
At our China camps our themes have included: Nothing, Transformers, X-Men, Mythbusters, Unchartered Waters (Pirates of the Caribbean), Full Throttle (energy drinks), Corporate, GO (plane travel), Identity (facebook), ACTION!, Survivor, Swagga, Emerge, Apocalypse, Pure, and now, #CampHashtag (social media). That’s a lot of hooks on which to hang some deep content – not to mention fun games and hilarious skits!
It’s hard to look at that list and not jump into story, after story, after story. So keep a look out – I may write a few of the best up for you in the near future. For now, here’s a some favourite moments from the past two weekends at #CampHashtag.
Talent show – we had team talent shows both Saturday nights, with each of the 8 teams responsible for putting on an act to entertain everyone. So many highlights! Isabel delighted us with rope magic tricks, Ben and Nathan sang a blues song about a neck beard that had us rolling around laughing, and then there was team Black, singing the Circle of Life with awesome drums from Jesca. Team Purple stole a little of their thunder when Joe held up Simba Pai – too good!
Evacuation – Back at middle school camp I missed many of the acts when one of the first included a broken thumb. I went back into town with her so her parents could take her to the hospital. In a lovely coincidence, the girl is Australian and her cabin leader had just returned (that morning!) from a business trip in Australia. She had brought Cadbury chocolate for me (so much of it!) which she gave us as we got in the car to leave camp. It proved to be a tasty distraction as we bumped her broken thumb over potholed back roads on the way to the highway.
Pancakes – we did a pancake breakfast on both Sunday mornings. The staff agreed to let us use their commerical kitchen grill to make the pancakes, but a miscommunication meant we were half an hour late getting started the first weekend. The second weekend we got in nice and early and I proceeded to single handedly pour and flip 291 pancakes. It was quite a personal acheivement!
Dominoes – lots and lots of dominoes. We had 36,000 dominoes, split between the 8 teams for a giant competition. It was crazy! At the high school camp there were specific tasks – like the tallest tower (22 dominoes high) or the longest consecutive line of falling dominoes (I don’t remember exactly, but well over 1,000).
Cannonball – high school camp wrapped up with a big obstacle course. At one of the stations, the team could choose to either catch a live fish out of the lake, or have one person from the team jump into the lake. Every team had someone willing to jump in – including the very lovely Chloe, who jumped in dressed in a pretty dress. I missed seeing it (I was timekeeper at the start/end point) but it was still one of my camp highlights.