Growing up, from age 13 to 21, I attended, volunteered, worked at, and visited at least one Christian camp per year. One camp, Word of Life Camps in New York, I returned to 7 summers. That is the camp that God used as a very powerful tool for spiritual growth in my life.
As a young teenager, fun was the driver for going to camp. By my sophomore year in high school, camp was a cairn I passed annually on my spiritual walk. Each summer I'd answer the question, "This summer am I closer to God or am I farther away?" If you plotted my answers on a lifeline or graph it was definitely not a perfect curve up and to the right. The powerful thing about camp, to me, was that it was always a place where God met me where I was at, right then in that week of my teenaged life.
"Camp was a cairn I passed annually on my spiritual walk."
Each summer, my camp experience was an inflection point. I always returned home a bit more mature than when I had left, and I definitely walked away more aware of what God wanted for me.
Some years I had great counselors and some years I had counselors who were “so so” at best. Both types of experiences helped shape the type of counselor I later became. For one week at a time we could create the space for all of us to see God. Campers wanted to have fun, to feel good about themselves, and when we helped them get those needs met, they genuinely wanted to learn about God.
Camps create the space to pull kids out of their daily environment, program to help them relax and open up, people to reinforce for us God's love in flesh and blood, and powerful experiences to later use the memories of camp to act like a guidepost or standing stones moments in our lives.
Even today as a father of 3 future campers, when I enter the gates of a camp it is an examination of conscience for me. "God, am I closer to you this year or farther away? How do you want me to live my life in a new way? I'm ready for you to change me."