One thing that Larry and I decided even before we had children 18 years ago was that they would always, without exception, participate in camps. They never had a choice. No option. No voice in the matter. We felt strongly about camps when we were youth pastors because of how they had affected us in our own lives, and we always put a high priority on camp when we youth pastored. But when we began to senior pastor, nothing changed in this regard - we have always placed a high priority on camp for our children and the children of the church we pastor - and we always will.
Now, please note - we've never had to "enforce" the rule of camp attendance because they all three love it! But if the time ever came where we had to do that we would. Also, we have had to make many family sacrifices in order to do camp. But whether or not to "do camp"is NEVER a question in our minds.
Just how committed are we to this? Well, let me tell you...
A few years ago was my husband's 20th high school reunion. He was all excited. My husband has great memories of high school and he couldn't wait to go back. Then he found out...it was the same week of Pen-Florida teen camp! Our hearts sunk. The events overlapped by just a day. We needed to leave for Pittsburgh for the reunion on Thursday morning, yet the boys would not be finished with camp until Friday. And we feel very strongly that they receive the full camp experience. Nothing comes before camp. Not a job. Not school. Not work. NOTHING.
Well...we started thinking creatively. We knew that the kids not going to camp simply wasn't an option. So, we had a family meeting and prayerfully developed our strategy. We sent our boys to teen camp with the youth group and then my husband, Savanna and I packed the van and headed to Pittsburgh. The boys experienced camp and on the day camp was over, the youth pastor drove them to the airport, put them on a plane to Pittsburgh and we picked them up where they joined us for vacation.
In addition to the cost of camp that year, we had to foot the bill for two plane tickets from Tampa to Pittsburgh, and they had to fly to Pittsburgh with all those messy clothes from camp and I had a lot of dirty laundry to do when they got there, but was it worth it? YOU BET. ABSOLUTELY.
Years ago when we were pastoring another church and living on the poverty level, our district (the Potomac District) had a capital campaign for the camp. We were practically so poor we couldn't pay attention, but when they had that campaign, Larry and I both felt VERY strongly that we give a generous offering for it. This was a very significant gift for us at the time, paid out over several years time. In the natural, it would have seemed crazy to some people had we told them we were giving to this because at times had it not been for my mother in law's help we would have never even had basic essentials like school supplies for the children. But when our superintendent talked about this campaign, Larry and I were immediately united in our desire to give. You see, I do believe that when you sow a seed, you can aim it.
Without getting too Copeland-Hagin on you here, let me explain what I believe that means.
Every seed has an assignment. An apple seed will produce apples. An orange seed will produce oranges. So when you sow a seed, I believe you can give it an assignment and tell the Lord what you are aiming it at when you give an offering above and beyond your tithe and believe God for an increase. At the time, I could have given that seed and said, "God, just bring us an increase in finances so we can buy the kids school clothes...", or, "Lord, you know Larry and I haven't had the money to go away together in so long..." but Larry and I both felt united in purpose that we would give this as a seed that not only would thousands of other children be changed through the camp experience, but that God would touch, change, bless and increase our three children. Nothing is more important to me than my children's walk with the Lord - not school, vacation, or any other pursuits we could have in life.
We paid our pledge toward the camp for two years and every time I wrote the check I prayed, "Lord, touch our children...keep them for your glory..." Even after we moved to another state and began pastoring our church here and our kids started attending camp in Florida I realized, location mattered not - for we had planted a seed and God could give the increase anywhere!
Camp is unlike any other experience your child will ever have. Did you know a majority of our Assemblies of God ministers received a call or a confirmation of a call at a children's or teen camp?
Miracles happen at camp.
Friendships are forever formed at camp.
Spiritually life changing decisions are made at camp.
Healings occur at camp.
The Holy Spirit comes in a powerful way at camp.
Memories are made at camp.
I'm so glad that a few years ago, we didn't say, "oh, let's just skip camp this year and go to the reunion..." because true to form, God showed up at camp. Our son received a real breakthrough that year, more than any other. That seed that we sowed in Maryland began to produce fruit here in Florida.
Some people say, "Our church is alive with the power of God - my kids don't need camp." Well, our church has the power of God too and we have miracles, signs and wonders occuring. I don't need my kids to go to camp to see a miracle. But in spite of going to a church where the power and presence of God is working, there is still something different about the camp experience. And Larry and I don't want them to miss it!
As I close this post today, there is no better testimony that I can give of what I have shared today than to share with you my son's own words. After I had written this post, Dustin gave me a paper (without knowing the topic of my post) that he had written for his college English class this past week. He wanted me to proofread it before he turned it in. I had no idea that he was writing about camp at the same time I was! After reading this I asked his permission to include it here on my blog and told him I had, in fact, just written about the value of camp.
I know I'm biased, but I think there is no finer boy on the face of the earth than my dear son. He loves the Lord and serves Him wholeheartedly. I'm so glad we sowed that seed years ago in Maryland, toward his future which has unfolded here in Florida. Alright, Here we go...
My Camp Experience
By Dustin Michael Shrodes
It is sometimes said that when a very bad event occurs in a person’s life something is triggered in their brain, and they block out the memory of what happened. Since I was young I always had the feeling I was being judged harshly for everything that I did, and a large part of this is because I am pastor’s son.
For a majority of my life I blocked out all of those memories of the harsh words I received from people for no reason, and all of the punishments I received alongside those words. The second I allowed myself to unblock all of the memories and think about everything that happened, was one of the most important times in my life. Because of Pen-Florida Assemblies of God Youth Camp I was able to get through the feelings I failed to realize even existed.
Every year I attended a summer camp which was intended to aid me in forgetting everything going on in my life and give me an enjoyable week. But Pen-Florida Assemblies of God Youth Camp in 2006 had the exact opposite effect, and I loved it. Something big happened because of the getaway that camp provided. I forgave all of the people who made assumptions and judgments about me just because of my father’s occupation. In my head I held a grudge against all the people who treated me badly, a grudge that lasted a long time and gave me a very negative viewpoint.
When I gave myself time to think, and time to talk to my friend Stephen about how I felt, things started happening. I suddenly remembered in vivid detail all of the events that brought me down and I cried like a baby. The tears that I thought caused weakness ultimately brought me strength. I had held back thoughts of the past for so long that when I finally released them it gave me a peace beyond measure. I learned how to let go of all my thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. I learned how to get over failed relationships, and through mentors who had walked out on me, and then work through the anger I built towards both of those issues.
Having some of my other friends open up and explain that they were dealing with similar feelings helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. I was led to believe that I had to put on this mask of masculinity; that if I ever showed an emotional side, or said how I felt about something it meant I was acting like a little girl. To me that was a very crucial stage in my life, and that whole week changed my perspective on so many things. I never took the time to think about how I felt about pretty simple things. The mind is a powerful thing, and Pen-Florida youth camp freed mine from being enslaved.
The week I spent at Camp may not have been the best week of my life, but really they were some of the most essential days I have lived. Aside from the fact that I learned how to get out my feelings, I learned that I wasn’t alone in the things I felt and circumstances that I went through. This experience strengthened friendships and created bonds that could not be broken with a thousand swords. Camp didn’t just give my mind a freedom it needed so much, but it gave me friends to share my thoughts with. It changed my life and without it there is no way I would be the same person I am today.