By: Jared Briscoe
I am sorry, I lied to you a bit when I said camp changes lives. It is God who changes lives, camp is just the place I first experienced that change. Summer camp gives a unique opportunity for God to work, one that the Lord is more than willing to take. I have now spent ten summers at Heartland Camp as a camper and then as a staff member. I can honestly say that without my time at camp I would not know the love of my Savior the way I do today. As I begin to work full-time for this ministry, I am encouraged to know that my experience is not unique. Many campers, volunteers, and staff have a similar list of ways God has changed their life through camp. Here are the top 5 ways God has changed my life at Heartland:
#1) Christian Community
This is easily part of my experience at Heartland Camp that has had the greatest impact on me. Like most youth going through middle and high school, I yearned for acceptance. School and sports offered tastes of community, but it was never fully satisfying. I constantly felt like I had to prove myself and my worth. Coming to camp as a high school student was a completely different experience. I found staff and fellow campers that had created a family, one where I was included without question. God’s love and the community I experienced at camp was unique and magnetic. It has drawn me back to camp year after year, drawn me to a church I can participate in, and ultimately drawn me back to the Lord. I most likely would have left my faith when I went to college if it were not for the Christian community I found at Heartland Camp.
#2) Reading the Bible
I can still remember the evening worship that led me to begin reading the Bible on my own. It was a Wednesday night, our worship was around a campfire at Maple Ridge. I can’t even remember the topic of the worship. What I do remember is the realization that the week I had enjoyed was quickly coming to an end. The closeness with God I had experienced would be ending in a day and a half. It was at that moment I decided I wanted more, that I wanted to continue to get to know the Lord. That night, and the many nights reading the Bible after, have created a love of reading God’s Word. It is how I have related to the Lord most, how I have learned to rely on and draw nearer to God.
#3) Learning To Pray
Let’s face it, prayer can be a bit of a mystery. Each time I feel like I have learned something about prayer, I am struck by how much I don’t know. It can be awkward, full of distractions, and often feel like my prayers are not enough. These doubts and inadequacies I feel can seem like enough reason to pack it in and claim learning prayer isn’t worth the effort. That is where I was before I came to camp, I didn’t pray because of my insecurities and fears. I didn’t have anyone to ask for guidance, I was stuck. Heartland brought prayer to the forefront. I was able to watch people who took prayer seriously. I was able to notice how they related to God as a father, how they were comfortable talking with and trusted God with anything. I was then able pray with peers I was comfortable with and counselors I looked up to. Becoming comfortable with talking to a personal God has been one of camp’s lasting legacies in my life.
#4) Service and Leadership
The most memorable experiences I had as a camper at Heartland were through our high school leadership program, now called Senior High Leadership or SHL. What made those weeks unique was the call to not only be built up, but also to seek to build up others. As a high school leader; I was able to learn how to lead horses and Bible studies. I was able to teach youth archery and how to forgive, I was able to learn proper face paint application and the patience required to work with children . In short, I learned how to serve. Week after week, my time at camp showed me the earth shattering fact that I am not the center of the universe. As I high school student, you can imagine the shock that ensued. Eventually, as I continued to learn how to lead and serve, I not only grew used to putting others before myself, I found I enjoyed it. My time at camp showed me that serving others is the most satisfying way to live life.
#5) Building Relationships
My camp experience, whether it is as a camper or a staff member, was always special due to the relationships I have built. Through camp, I have learned how to build trust and friendships with people that weren’t like me. I have learned the value of vulnerability: that sharing insecurities and fears with others is not weakness, but strength. I have learned to put relationships before my own desires, being slow to anger and quick to forgive (surprisingly I'm not perfect at this one yet). All these lessons continue to be important as I try to live my life as Jesus would. Above all, I am grateful for one relationship, the one I have grown with my younger sister. We have both had the pleasure of serving on multiple summer staffs at Heartland, and that has changed our relationship for eternity. It is a long story and I will spare you the details, but through staff members correcting my actions, God answering prayers, and a lot of time together, our relationship has completely changed. We now share our insecurities and joys, when before we could only share eye rolls at our dad’s jokes. We can now talk about the Lord together, how God amazes and challenges us, when before I only sought God on my own. She has become one of the people I enjoy and trust the most. This would not have happened if God had not moved through Heartland Camp.
I am so grateful that it is God who does this work, because that makes me confident that it will continue no matter the circumstances. I am excited for summer camp in 2016 and beyond, trusting that God will continue to do greater and greater things at Heartland Camp.