Camp Church

February 01, 2005 | Fresh Start | Karl Haffner

"John, Jacob Jingleheimer ..." It’s been 30 years, but I still remember my mind drifting amidst the chorus of campers as the bus rumbled down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Why can't I get excited about camp like everyone else? I wondered. I was about as enthused as a mailman at a pit bull dog show.

I gazed around the bus, noticing the empty seats. There were only two. The front seat next to Captain Menhart was vacant. But that was to be expected—every camper knew it was uncool to sit with the camp director. And then the seat next to me. Even the girl with Elvira earrings and the personality of a truck stop had a seat mate.

The bus roared into Hickory Cove Camp about the same time John Jacob Jingleheimer had matured to one line and a chorus of giggles. We exploded out of the bus and into the lodge. The guys settled into the dank, open basement, while the girls invaded the private, cushy rooms on the first floor.

I tossed my orange sleeping bag on the last open bed. "Hey!" I exclaimed to no one in particular, "why are there ants all over my bed?"

"Chuckie's food drove them out of the kitchen," the kid who'd claimed the bunk above me answered. "Hi, I'm Mike." He interrupted his unpacking to shake my hand.

"Hi, I'm Karl."

"You been to Hickory Cove before?

"No. Have you?"

"Yep, well, I came last summer, for a half week."

"Huh?" I was confused.

"They sent me home after I painted Captain Menhart's dog purple. Listen, I got to meet my buddies at the cafe. I'll see you around."

"Yea, ah, good meeting you," I replied when he was almost out the door.

I glanced down. I gasped. I didn't want to believe my eyes—or my armpits! Sweat spots the size of Madagascar discolored my T-shirt.

I grabbed the 32-ounce jumbo can of Right Guard my mom had packed. She even cared enough to send the "New and Improved Formula." I sprayed like a loaded crop duster.

"Hey you doorknob!" protested a fat kid in the corner. "Don't spray so much! What are you trying to do? Gag us all?"

No, just you, I thought darkly. I could feel a burning blush melt my face. "Sorry," I replied sheepishly.

And so it went that first week of camp. It was a hodgepodge of awkward conversations and new acquaintances; hanging out and growing toward God. But eclipsing all the memories are the friends that I made. It’s not what stands out as much as who stands out. Mike, Reggie, Carla, Max, Randy, Jim, Janet—these are the standouts from camp.

As nice as the boats and bikes and campfires were, I discovered something more significant about camp that week. I learned that camp is only as good as the people who attend. For me, fun at camp was directly proportional to the friendships I formed.

Which makes me wonder: Do you suppose churches could learn something from summer camps? Boil it down, and what’s the difference between people who flourish in church and those who drop out?

It’s community. Connect people, and chances are you’ll make an impact that will last over 30 years. Fail to form community, and it’s lights out.

Charles Spurgeon said it well: “Communion is strength; solitude is weakness. Alone, the free old beech yields to the blast and lies prone on the meadow. In the forest, supporting each other, the trees laugh at the hurricane. The sheep of Jesus flock together. The social element is the genius of Christianity.”