Patricia E. Clawson
All too soon campers head for home, filled with memories of their time in the sun. Strangers have become lifelong buddies; some met future spouses; others claimed the faith of their fathers as their own.
This summer a dozen camps with Orthodox Presbyterian ties will be geared for kids or families. Some focus on fun and fellowship, while others concentrate on teachingbut all are fueled by God's Word. Whether the camp has tents or air-conditioned cabins, somewhere in the OPC is a camp for you.
Churches in the Presbytery of the Southwest have only a few young people in each congregation, so their OPC Youth Camp in Cleburne, Texas, is focused on fellowship. "The main goal (of the camp) would be fellowship above teaching," said Todd Bordow, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, Texas. "Each church is fairly small and doesn't have a youth group, so every year seventy to eighty kids their own age get together. Deep friendships are forged here that last a long time."
That fellowship includes kids from Indiana and Colorado who long for a week in the country on a lake with air-conditioned cabins and activities that include a swing dance and a banquet. Sarah Davenport, 18, attends college with six fellow campers. A flurry of e-mails kept their friendship alive.
The campers also get to know the volunteer counselors and work crew. The counselors "are really concerned about us and our spiritual life," said Sarah. "I know I could have a conversation with anyone on staff, and they would help you and want to guide you." Sarah plans to volunteer this summer. Bordow said, "It's a great privilege to be with kids with their guard down and who are willing to talk."
Andrew Moody, associate pastor of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, Texas, has morphed from camper to program director. "For the average OP kids, it's being able to see that there are a lot of kids out there just like them who have the same biblical convictions," said Moody. "With this group of kids I really fit in."
Spending a week with pastors was eye-opening. Moody remembers how the pastors tied up their shirts and did a river dance in perfect unison. "You get to see a side of the pastor that you don't normally see," said Moody.
Across the country, French Creek Bible Conference in eastern Pennsylvania dates back to 1949, when mattresses were stuffed with straw. Today the mattresses are more comfortable, but FCBC's goals haven't changed: "Good food, good teaching, and an opportunity for Christians to find mates," said Rebecca Mullen, who was the camp cook for two decades.
"We say ‘French Creek Bible Conference' because the primary emphasis is on being a Bible conference, not a camp," said Roy Hoogerhyde, a conference director. "Our motto is ‘God's Word, God's Creation, and Fellowship'the three in harmony. You're there to enjoy all three. They learn Scripture in an environment more comfortable to them and learn the value of having a friend you can talk to or pray with."
The rustic conference, which draws campers from several states, offers a swimming pool, friendly sports competitions, and Bible memorizationplus other charms. Hoogerhyde is one of literally dozens of people who met their soulmates at FCBC. His daughter also met her husband there.
Friendships are cemented at FCBC. "We like to say friendships are stronger at camp because they're built on a Christian foundation," said Dana Schnitzel, 15, who is both a camper and a kitchen crew member. "The speakers were really good and spoke to the age groups there, so we understood what was going on."
Dana's father, Ed Schnitzel, has volunteered for more than fifteen years. "The gospel is presented first and foremost, with the campers learning it, grasping it, and taking it home," said Schnitzel.
Compared with FCBC's humble cabins, Camp Westminster of the Presbytery of the Midwest is luxurious. Whether you stay in a tent or a trailer, or prefer a cabin, house, or hotel, and whether you cook over a campfire or on a stove or eat cafeteria food, this family camp is for all ages and tastes. Amenities include a beach, boating, golf, hiking, tennis, bike riding, and arts and crafts. The speakers limit their talks to forty-five minutes. Afternoons include organized children's games, such as water balloon fights and capture the flag in the forest. "It's an opportunity to get away from normal things and recharge yourself spiritually," said Bill Acker, pastor of Apple Valley OPC in Appleton, Wisconsin.
"It accommodates so many people with many needs," said Judy Lewandowski, who prefers the hotel to her daughter's family camping. "You get to know other people in the presbytery, and you share and talk. You're in such a comfort zone."
Instead of going to church camp one year, Kevin and Karen Baldwin proposed a different vacation spot, but their kids put up a fuss. "It's fun to run around the campsite with the other kids," said Alyssa Baldwin, 13. "You have to go to the meeting to listen to the speaker twice a day. That's OK. It doesn't last too long."
The Machen Retreat and Conference Center is in its tenth season in McDowell, Virginia. "Getting out of our typical environment and getting in an environment bathed in fellowship with believers and having instruction in God's Word is extremely important for us today because there is so much hustle and bustle in our normal lives," said David Tack, camp director. "When you're out of your element, you're more receptive to and more open to receiving things from the Lord."
Tack notes that Jesus often encouraged his disciples to go to a lonely spot and receive instruction from him (Mark 6:31). Andrew Jones, 15, enjoys being in the woods. "There are no roads nearby, so you can wake up in the morning without technologyhow it's meant to be."
The lodge has air-conditioning. Many sleep in cabins, tents, and campers. But fellowship tops facilities. "It's good to know that the OPC owns it, and that the people coming are part of the OPC," said Anne Jones, 18.
Volunteers from the Presbytery of Northern California, who comprise the Sierra Christian Conference Association, give up Saturdays to help develop twenty acres of donated land nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It sports flush toilets, hot showers, fields for baseball and volleyball, a sandbox, a swing set, and a barbecue dinner for their 110 campers. "It's the best place to take kids to the mountains and let them run around," said volunteer Janet DeBoer.
Other OP camps are available too. You're in time to camp with fellow believers or volunteer your time on staff. Besides the fun, fellowship, and feeding on God's Word, you never know when the person roasting marshmallows next to you may one day be your spouse.
The author is the editorial assistant for New Horizons. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2007. For a current list of OPC-sponsored camps and conferences, click here.