Transition comes full circle at Christian youth camp
Transitions are hard.
That’s a generally applicable statement, right? I don’t know many people that who say, “Yeah! Transitions! Changes! New things! Awkwardness! Weirdness! Uncomfortableness! Awesome! YEAH! Let’s do it! All the time!”
My transition from college, and my recent graduation from Elon University, to back home came full circle when I traveled with the youth group from my church, Turner’s Chapel, to summer camp at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters in Andrews, N.C., the week of July 4th. I had actively chosen to endure thin, uncomfortable mattresses, little sleep, lots of excitement and a bunch of heavily-caffeinated teenagers for a week. It’s full circle because I found myself in a similar situation to that very week four years ago.
Back then, in 2010, I had just graduated from high school at The O’Neal School in Southern Pines and was a fifth-time camper at Snowbird, on the way to bigger and better things: a future career in Christian filmmaking via Elon University. Fast forward to now, and I was a month into adjusting to life back at home after graduating from Elon, helping out my good friend and Turner’s Chapel’s youth pastor, Phillip Barringer.
Four years of separation from high school has given me a new appreciation for the challenges that come with being a young man in high school. There’s fitting in with the “cool kids,” trying to avoid too much eye contact with your crush, attempting to finish all your homework on time (or just plain finishing it). It’s also reminded me how much some high school behavior can leave you with little patience.
After a seven-hour car ride, we arrived at Snowbird, located way out in western North Carolina, around 3 p.m. Monday, greeted by a bunch of college-age counselors who were starting their fifth week of camp. They were hyped up on coffee and genuine excitement about being able to share their lives and their faith with these high school kids. One guy stuck his torso through the open window into the back seat of my car, and a few more jumped on the church van in front of me.
Oh, by the way, another little twist in this story: I know what those guys are hyped up on because I spent the summer after my freshman year at Elon as one of those college-age counselors, minus the coffee (an addiction which I’ve not yet acquired and hope to never succumb to) though.
So I’m back in this place with these kids, three years removed from being a counselor, four or more years removed from where these youth are now.
I started the week not really knowing many of the guys in the youth group. Some of them I had a little bit of a relationship with thanks to being in the same church as them for a while. Some of them I had no real relationship with, while I had spent a few Sunday evenings with some since the summer started. So I was excited to be able to get to know them at this little Christian camp dropped into the community of Andrews.
Andrews is a small town hidden in the mountains, about three hours west of Asheville and an hour or so east of Tennessee. Snowbird is probably the biggest thing in Andrews, and the camp’s not even really all that big geographically, maybe a square mile if you measure it loosely. The mountains surrounding the area are beautiful, with tree-covered hills providing a beautiful backdrop for great sunsets and sunrises with cool breezes sometimes breaking the humid sun bearing down.
Many great and funny things happen at Snowbird. Before every service starts, kids are welcomed into the “Coop” with counselors dancing (even if they can’t actually dance) to blaring Christian rap music. Imagine a WWE-type entrance of 300 high school students with booming bass and a bunch of those coffee-driven college kids going crazy, dancing on chairs and on stage, welcoming wide-eyed-because-I-just-woke-up or I’m-worn-out-from-whitewater-rafting (depending on what time of day it is) 13-18-year-olds.
In the morning sessions, funny skits involving mayonnaise (don’t ask), rotten eggs and shaving cream pies would start things off before worship and a message. In the evening sessions, a more somber, serious skit would lead into worship and a message.
The point of all of it is to get these high school kids to understand one thing: the gospel. The fact that Jesus, the Son of God, descended to earth, took on flesh, lived a perfect life, died on a cross and rose again, allowing us to enter a right relationship with God through the grace He freely offers. It’s not of our own doing; no work we do can save us, simply grace through faith. Romans 10:9 says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.
I could write a lot about the things that go on at Snowbird, but more importantly, I want to share about the people who go, the people who are affected, the people who need it.
One of the tricky things about this high school generation is getting them to care. Oh, no, they do care, but generally we find high school kids absorbed in whatever is in front of them that means the best for them. Sometimes that stuff shows up on their smartphones, or in the hallways of their high schools, or on the sports fields where they don jerseys and play for their athletic glory.
Sometimes, however, we get so wrapped up in the kids we think are causing all the “problems” in our society that we miss out on the kids who genuinely need our help. Sometimes we get so obsessed in helping the kids we think need help that we miss helping the kids who are looking for it. I’m not saying we don’t help the kids who are the “problem kids,” but there are those out there who are just looking for someone to spend time with them, ask them about their lives and offer our help.
Going back to Snowbird this summer reminded me of the 11 weeks I spent on staff there in 2011. I talked to guys from all over the eastern USA who were doing drugs and discovering it was wrong, liking a girl and not knowing what to do (which guy hasn’t been there?) or trying to figure out what they believed about God and the Bible. It’s some pretty heavy stuff. There’s also kids who are firmly entrenched in their faith, firmly following God with all they’ve got, seeking to mature in what they believe.
As I’m making the transition from being that kid with questions to being one of the guys who’s trying to help answer them, I’m reminded of my own shortcomings as a sinner, the questions I still have about life. Through the week I spent at Snowbird, I was taught I just need to believe in Jesus and His word and push on through all the awkwardness of transitioning.
It sure is awkward. But life’s awkward. It’s how we respond to the awkwardness that counts.