By Dave Sekura, Executive Director of Manderley Christian Camp
Abby was the first camper I would catch on the zipline. I was trained, ready, and waiting on the side of a hill here at Manderley Christian Camp. On the opposite hill, my staff member yelled, “Clear!” I yelled back, “Clear!” Abby reluctantly took that big step off the platform, then let out a scream which was soon replaced with laughter as she zoomed across the chasm. I caught her as she zipped up my hill and asked her, “How was it?” She said, “At first, I was afraid to take that first step, but after I did, the fear went away. It was really fun!” As I was disconnecting her lead line from the cable, I simply said, “That was a great faith lesson, Abby. Sometimes God will ask us to do things that seem scary to us at first, but when we take the first step of faith, the fear goes away. Action cures fear.” Abby and I had a moment of discipleship on the side of that hill this summer. I’ll always remember Abby, my first camper on the zipline. When Kaysen came zipping to me laughing and yelling, “Mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes,” my comment to him probably wasn’t as profound! All I had at that moment was, “Kaysen! Taste and see that the Lord is good! And I hope you have mashed potatoes for supper tonight!”
Camps provide some of the best opportunities to disciple children beyond the four walls of our churches. There is a feeling of being unplugged and removed from the norm to a place away from the influence of the world. We gather on a secluded piece of property dedicated entirely to ministry. Every moment of every day is designed as a potential platform for discipleship. As we escape from the constant distractions from the outside world as we know it, we are in a better place at camp to hear God’s voice. Our camp is in the hills of East Tennessee. We understand that God speaks to us on this mountain so we can produce fruit for Him in the valley. Our opportunity is brief but profound.
Discipleship among the children in the camp experience starts with the camp staff. The staff counselors are the spiritual superheroes! They have dedicated themselves to ministry and discipleship of children and are serious about every aspect of the program having a spiritual impact. The outflow of their walk with the Lord leaves an impression on young lives who realize that knowing and following Jesus is real and desirable.
Many children don’t have a spiritual mentor in their lives. Camp staff can model Christianity 24/7 as they journey with children for a week. It’s a responsibility that they desire. The summer staff is serious about fun, too! They understand the program is their vehicle to see children laugh, make new friends, gain new confidence, and eventually drop their walls. When that trust is earned with campers spiritually, the seed of the Word shared in devotions and chapel has a better chance of finding receptive soil in their young hearts. A decision made in that week of camp can reverberate throughout their lives.
Jon Paul was a camper when I was a young program director. He wrote me a note when he was 15 that I have kept in my wallet to this day. It reminds me that what I do matters, and I can make a difference spiritually. Young people are watching me. Jon Paul said, “Thank you for allowing God to have his way in your life and letting Him live His life through you. . . .” He wanted to spend more than just one week with me in camp ministry, so he joined my summer staff and worked for ten consecutive summers! He was a remarkable and gifted staff member that impacted hundreds of children who came to our campus. Today, Jon Paul is a camp director in West Tennessee and considers me one of his spiritual mentors. We enjoy serving together a few times every year. A moment together during a week of camp started a friendship that lasted and grew for over 30 years. One program director living the life before him and sharing God’s truth with him resulted in Jon Paul following the same biblical principle at his camp, living the life and sharing God’s truth with this generation. Discipling young people today will result in more faithfulness in this generation and in the generation to come.
This is why many parents, children’s pastors, and youth pastors consider camps as one of their greatest tools in discipling their children. A week or a weekend away can accomplish more than months of meeting once a week in a church building. A theme can be developed during camp, verses will be memorized and explained, and a biblical worldview will be strengthened. A decision can be made in a quiet time sitting under a white oak tree reading the Bible or in corporate worship where the Bible is taught. A heart can be mended. Secular worldviews can be identified and eliminated. Comfort can be found. Grace can be embraced. The next spiritual step can be taken. Camp provides that opportunity to disciple. It happens on the zipline and the ropes course. It happens in the cabin devotions and chapel. The atmosphere at camp provides spiritual clarity in a powerful way.
Take advantage of the unique opportunities at camp as you disciple your children! Get in God’s creation with your family and hear that whisper from the Creator. Help your children take that next step in their faith journey. Expose them to a staff who love Jesus to the point they want every child to know and experience Him. God moments are waiting. I’ll meet you at the zipline!
Dave Sekura is the Executive Director of Manderley Christian Camp and Conference Center, or MC4, in Pikeville, Tennessee. He and his wife, Stephanie, have been serving in camping and sports ministry since 1989. They enjoy one daughter, Allison, who is a senior in college playing soccer. In addition to directing the camp, Dave often speaks for churches and Christian schools.