Anyone who follows the news knows that our urban youth face huge challenges. Many of them come from broken homes. Their neighborhoods are unsafe. The only sense of belonging comes from street gangs. The schools fail to educate them. These young people, their worldviews constricted by what they see in front of them, cannot imagine a better way. But there is, and it starts with summer camp.
Let me tell you a story. When 15-year-old Ray came to a camp ministry in Branson, Missouri, called Kids Across America, his counselor, Richard Marks, described him as disobedient and rebellious. “If I told him to go right, he would go left,” Richard says. “If I told him to go up, he went down. Ray was determined then to be a knucklehead. I had to discipline him several times, but I could tell he was hungry for something.”
Indeed. For more than 30 years, Kids Across America has been responding to that hunger, which only Jesus can satisfy, in kids like Ray, who otherwise would be left by the spiritual wayside.
Christian camping isn’t new, of course. According to the American Camp Association, a trade group, camping is a $15 billion industry, with 12,000 camps in the United States. Nonprofit and religious groups, including KAA, operate more than 9,500 of these camps. And Angel Tree camping, a ministry of Prison Fellowship and very close to Chuck Colson’s heart, shares the love of Jesus with the children of prisoners.
Every summer, thousands of Angel Tree children attend a Christian summer camp through the generosity of Angel Tree churches and donors. They know that the temporary communities and beautiful natural settings of camp can give young people the space they need to encounter and respond to the love of Jesus. They know that camp also supercharges relationships with other young people and with godly adult mentors. That’s certainly true with Kids Across America.
KAA serves 6,000 to 7,000 urban kids every summer during 10 one-week sessions at Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Unlike many other camps, this one focuses on helping inner-city kids from across the country and the ministries that work so hard with them every day. Ministry leaders actually get to enjoy their own mini-camp, where they interact with and learn from other ministry leaders from around the country. Just as their young people are nurtured, loved, and taken care of, so are they. The camp, while exposing kids to Jesus, also acts as a catalyst for these ministries when they take their kids back to the city. The results have been life and worldview changing.
Richard Marks points to the results in young Ray’s life. “Through the different classes at camp and the Wednesday night camp service that shares the salvation story through a dramatic skit designed for urban youth, I witnessed his heart soften. Afterwards. Ray came to me and asked me to lead him to the Lord.”
And the conversion stuck. The next two years Ray returned to camp. He also found a great mentor at home, so his growth in Christ, and his Christian worldview, could continue. After that, Ray went back to camp, this time as a counselor, serving under Richard.
And today, Ray serves as a police officer in Miami, mentoring young people in the areas he patrols. Ray is no longer disobedient and rebellious. He loves the Lord, loves serving Him, and is a perfect example of how God can move in a camper’s life and change the trajectory of the future.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.