Picture it, Sicily 1922… Wait I’ve never been to Italy.
Picture it, Montezuma, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico. It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m heading off to my first student ministry camp. Now as a middle schooler, there wasn’t much I was excited for, except maybe the blob at the lake, being away from my parents, and meeting girls, but I was about to have a very real encounter with a very real God.
I could feel my mood and spiritual relationship with God start shifting a little each day. I still remember how personal the camp speaker made God sound and how the band didn’t just perform fun songs but created an atmosphere where I started to understand what it means to sing praise to my heavenly father. I grew up in church so this wasn’t new to me, but there was something about being away from the anxieties and stresses of life, being up in the mountains and up close with God’s creation that caused me to see things differently. I could feel this tug on my heart getting stronger and stronger each day with each new spiritual interaction.
On the second to last day, they made our group get up earlier than normal, like that sun wasn’t even up yet. After a few minutes of complaining and a few pop tarts, I settled in. They explained that we are going for a hike and that we will be carrying this giant cross with us. Excuse me, what? Jesus carried that thing so I wouldn’t have to, right? One by one each person in our group took turns carrying this, what seemed to be 100 ton, cross up the hiking trail. As each student struggled and starting slowing down, we were coached not to say anything to them or even help. After a few moments the leader would call on another student to carry the cross. After we all had our share of carrying this giant cross, the leaders jump in and we all help carry it to our destination.
We finally made it to “Sunrise Peak”. I spot where now I understand why they made us get up before the sun. I will never forget the sunrise that morning, seeing that beautiful New Mexico sun come up over the mountain range. As we rest, catch our breath and take in the view, our leaders gave us each a piece of paper, a pen and a nail. They asked us to spend some time thinking about our struggles, our sins, our doubts, issues, etc. After a few moments, we each went up and nailed those pieces of paper to the cross. With each hit of that nail, more tears streamed down my face as the sacrifice Jesus went through become so real to me. I surrendered my life fully to Christ that day and was baptized in the lake at the camp. I felt a fish swim by my legs as I was being dunked. It was pretty cool!
Summer camp is a HUGE part of my story. And it was a place where God became real to me, where I knew I needed to surrender my life to Him. That is where I found full life in Jesus!
A couple weeks ago our student ministry team took 42 high school students to CIY Move. CIY, Christ in Youth, is a fantastic organization that puts on summer camps for preteen, middle school and high school students.
Our high schoolers got the chance to spend 5 days away from their worlds, their struggles, their anxieties, their distractions in beautiful Holland Michigan. They had 5 days filled with opportunities to experience the same real, loving God that I got to meet when I was at a summer camp.
The days were filled with gathering together for worship and teaching, small group time where students had the chance to process and talk about what God was doing in their lives, and yes we got some fun beach time as well.
Each night during large group, I had the blessing of seeing our students raise hands and exalt our God during worship, surrender their life to Jesus and get baptized, recommit their lives back to Jesus after experiencing some struggles and we even saw a few students stand up as they felt called into church ministry! PRAISE GOD!!!
Summer camp isn’t just a fun week away from our parents and realities. It’s a week where students get to encounter their heavenly father that created them, that loves and that wants to see them live in the full life He promises them.
Thank you White Oak family for allowing us to minister to your amazing students and for all the prayers and support for our ministry. What we do is possible because of you!
I’m already ready for next year!
Ross Student Pastor
White Oak Christian Church