I just finished my 25th year of summer camp. That’s right, 25 years of summer camp! Even at 35 years of age, I can honestly say summer camp is hands down my favorite week of the year.
My world changed when my dad took me to Camp Shiloh on Delta Lake in Rome, NY in 1993. I had been to 2 other Christian summer camps prior to Shiloh, with that year being my 3rd new summer camp in as many years. It was just me and my dad that summer; nobody else from my church came. He counseled at the Junior camp simultaneously being run while I was a camper in Senior camp. I didn’t know anyone; not a soul. In fact, we arrived early because my dad had to go thru counselor training. I remember walking the grounds and sitting in my cabin, before anyone had arrived, thinking to myself, this is gonna be a long week. I even remember the awkwardness as my cabin mates began to arrive, and we went to our first meal together. I didn’t think I was gonna like Shiloh very much. But I was dead wrong.
That particular week, and each week I’ve had the privilege of spending at Shiloh, has dramatically changed and impacted my life. I can honestly say the course of my life was altered because of summer camp.
For me personally, Shiloh has been a place of acceptance and friendship. During the seasons of insecurity that can encompass your teen years, camp was a haven. Camp was a place where I felt I belonged; I was accepted and loved. I could be myself, craziness, quirks and all. It was an environment that built up my confidence and self-esteem. It was (and continues to be!) my home away from home. Despite only spending one week out of each year at Shiloh, some of my closest friends are from summer camp. They just “get it.” There’s an extraordinary understanding and knitting of hearts as we walk thru the experiences of camp together. Maybe it’s because at camp, our common bond is Jesus. There’s nothing stronger than a bond brought together and held together by Jesus. To add further perspective, I invited only one high school friend to my wedding but countless Shiloh friends. One of those Shiloh friends was also in my wedding. Jenna was the first friend I made at Shiloh way back in 1993, and we are close friends to this day. The relationships built thru summer camp have been supremely instrumental in my life.
Camp of course has provided some key encounters with the Lord. There’s something to being away from your normal, every day life setting. The camp environment helps eliminate distractions but also provides opportunity for your heart and mind to open up in ways that wouldn’t happen at home. From worship amidst passionate worshippers, to being fed the Word of God, while also learning to seek the Lord on your own, it’s an environment that easily ushers one in to the presence of Jesus. Not to mention Christ loving adults praying with you, over you and for you. There’s nothing like camp! I could literally walk you through various spots on the camp grounds and in the chapel, pointing out specific places where the Lord met me, spoke to me and healed me thru the years. It’s a special place, a sacred place, and the Lord never fails to show up in great ways at camp.
What has probably meant the most to me personally is the encouragement I’ve received thru the years. Countless counselors who have poured their lives into me. Directors who have loved on me, even when I was unlovely. People who have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself; speaking life and faith into my spirit. Just being around Shiloh people encourages me, and puts a skip in my step. The decades spent at camp have yielded dear friends and mentors from former directors, counselors and fellow campers. Just last week I had the privilege of sitting down with my directors from 17 years ago! We chatted over coffee for a solid 3 hours, and I left built up and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead. The encouragement, mentorship and Jesus bond continues post camp, thru time and distance.
Life changing and life giving.
That’s what camp was to me and continues to be. And that’s why I love serving at camp to this day, 25 years later. It’s also why I love bringing youth to summer camp. There’s simply nothing like it. (And I didn’t even touch on all the fun events and activities going on thru the week!).
In my church we’ve built a culture where attending Shiloh is what we do. It’s a year-round focus as people fundraise, give and serve for Shiloh and the life change that will come in the hearts of the young people attending. Because we know life change can happen at summer camp, we will literally do just about anything to provide a way for kids to attend.
For those who are involved in summer camps, I simply say well done good and faithful servant. Don’t lose heart. It’s tiring and fundraising is the worst. But the outcome is priceless. To those who have yet to attend or send your youth, I simply say, get moving! Camp is only 11 months away!
Laurie serves as the co-pastor of New Testament Christian Church in Rochester, NY and has over a decade of full time youth ministry experience under her belt. She juggles a variety of tasks that extend beyond the local church. Laurie is a director for Camp Shiloh’s summer youth camps; serves on 2 national youth ministry boards; helped start a mentoring program in a local public high school; has taught abstinence courses in several local public schools; coached 3 different sports on the high school level for 10 years; and is called upon regularly to preach at both adult and youth gatherings.
In all she does, Laurie’s life is marked by energy, passion and commitment to the cause of Christ. Her desire is to simply “love people and lead them to Jesus.” Laurie is an EBI grad and ordained minister with EF. She lives in Rochester with her husband James, where they manage to survive despite her lack of cooking skills.