S’mores over the campfire. Water balloon fights. Swimming in the lake. Any number of craft projects involving yarn and popsicle sticks. As a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s, these are my fond memories of summer camp. Also as a native Virginian, I have the tendency to think of summer camp as a very “American” tradition. The most cross-cultural aspect of my summer camp experiences was singing “Kumbaya” on taco night.
Since starting at TEAM a few months ago, I’ve learned that summer camp ministries are a vibrant part of God’s work around the world! These short-term but highly impactful initiatives offer an excellent way for global workers and national churches to partner together to reach not only children but their parents and communities as well.
As we enter the summer of 2022, it’s a particularly exciting time for camp ministries. For the past two years, COVID has either canceled or severely limited summer camp ministries worldwide. As countries and cultures around the globe begin to return to relative normalcy, TEAM’s summer camp ministries are swinging into gear. For the month of June, will you join us in praying for God to change lives through 2022 summer camps?
Here are four ways you can pray for summer camp ministries:
1. PRAY for camp ministries to have a fresh and vibrant new start after COVID.
Although camp ministries could not operate “as usual” during the summers of 2020 and 2021, TEAM workers found ways to do summer outreach in place of their summer camps. “We’ve learned a lot about pivoting and changing our plans quickly when needed,” says TEAM worker, Pattie. Pattie and her husband Phil serve in La Paz, Mexico where they along with another couple started a ministry to families called “Transformados” (“Transformed”) in 2015. One of the ministry’s projects each year is a basketball camp for elementary, middle and high school students.
The pandemic, however, forced the Transformados team to think outside the box. They distributed “VBS in a bag” materials to younger children in the community as a way to provide activities for families and to foster connections with the local churches. For children 12 and older, COVID restrictions allowed small groups to gather. So Pattie and Phil’s team held different activities like hikes and other outings followed by devotional/teaching times.
Natalie, a TEAM worker in Tenerife, Spain relates a similar approach to the COVID protocols in 2020 and 2021. Natalie’s team typically holds summer camps called “Impacto” (“Impact”) in three different locations, but for the last two summers those camps were not possible. Their workers walked around the city streets inviting people to an online program and praying together. “But this summer we are planning to be in person,” Natalie says. “Many people recognize that we were the group in the plaza [these last two summers] and they are excited for things to be in person.”
Thankfully, TEAM summer camp initiatives plan to be back in full force this summer. Pray for protection over the campers, workers, and families as they regather, and for the excitement of fellowship to translate into open doors for the Holy Spirit to move.
2. PRAY for strength and unity for each summer camp staff.
Working with children and youth in any capacity can be exhausting both mentally and physically. Summer camp ministries are often exceptionally so! Most camps are filled with lots of high-energy activities and long, tiring days. The staff of most camps consists of long-term global workers, short-term workers who come to assist, and national leaders and volunteers from local churches. As these people come together to work cross-culturally, conflict can occur especially when team members get tired.
Stan and Annamaria are veterans of summer camp ministry (among other things!). They’ve been operating summer camps in Italy for 18 years. As church planters, they saw the need to “assist people in their search to discover or rediscover the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves, their family and the local community,” says Stan. The summer camps grew out of a ministry they created called “Path of Hope” with that mission in mind. Stan shares that he’s so grateful for the wonderful colleagues that have joined him and Annamaria in the camp ministry and how much they are all looking forward to working together again this summer. He along with other camp staffers from various ministry areas all stressed the need for prayer for their teams.
Perhaps Natalie says it best: “Pray that [our teams] are unified, serving in the strength of the Lord and with joyful hearts!”
3. PRAY for relationship-building not only with campers but also with their families and communities.
A common thread among camp ministries is that summer camps provide great potential to reach people who might never consider visiting a local church on their own. Stan says that the camps are an ideal entry point for the Gospel because they meet a real need. “Because the school break in Italy is really long (almost 3 months), parents need these types of programs for their kids.” As families learn to recognize and trust the camp workers, relationships are built that can lead to further engagement.
Other TEAM camp ministries use creative ways to draw the parents in as well. The Transformados camp in Mexico as well as Impacto in Tenerife incorporate daytime camp sessions for the kids and then evening sessions that welcome their families. Natalie says that these evening times are great bridge-builders. “We’ll have 60-80 kids in the plaza in the evenings. Many of their parents are close by, enjoying coffee and homemade cakes provided to promote conversations.” The local church also uses this time to connect families to other ways the church can assist them, such as by providing food and clothing. These opportunities allow “the community to see that this same church is serving in all these different ways,” she says.
Natalie shares one story that exemplifies how life-changing camp ministry can be. Camila and her 4-year-old daughter, Lucia (names changed) came to one of the evening Impacto events three years ago. Some ladies from the church welcomed Camila into their conversation while Lucia was drawn into the kids’ activities. Lucia attended the camp for the rest of the week, and her mom continued coming in the evenings.
“Team members began to talk with Camila and answered her questions about God and the Bible,” says Natalie. “Her then-skeptical husband also joined them and remembers enjoying the free cake! All three started attending the church on Sundays. Camila accepted the Lord! Then her husband [did the same] about 3 months later after beginning a couple´s discipleship study. They became members and got baptized and are now an integral part of the church.”
Pray for camp workers to cultivate relationships with families that can connect them to the local church.
4. PRAY for open hearts to receive the Gospel.
Whatever activity the camps are centered around, those endeavors are the means to an end. Kids come to the camps because they love the sports, crafts and silly games, but the goal is always to advance the Gospel.
“We have found that people are more open when engaged in activities like sports, music, arts, etc.,” says Pattie. “These activities provide a non-threatening environment to build relationships and trust. Once you have a relationship and trust, doors are often opened to sharing your faith.”
Pattie goes on to say that over 16 years of camp ministry, they’ve seen young people come to Christ as well as many instances where the first seeds of the Gospel were planted. “Last year during our adapted camp for middle schoolers, we had one student ask about whether God would stop loving us if we did something bad,” she recalls. “Considering the works-based religion predominant here, it was not a surprising question and it opened up a door of discussion among the middle school students regarding God’s love, His forgiveness and the security we can have when we believe and follow Christ.”
As Pattie and Phil look ahead to this year’s camps, Pattie sums up the call to prayer beautifully: “Pray for God’s Spirit to open the hearts of children and their parents to the Gospel.”
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