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Chapter 15

CAMPING WITH CHILDREN



Christian Camps are the highlight of multitudes on their faith journey. Camping is really about doing things, and more specifically about doing them together with other people. We attend willing and expecting to enjoy ourselves as we learn in community with other people. The need for ministry to junior youth to include camping as a part of their yearly programme is important, as children are often most receptive during a weekend away from their comfort zones. Some of the guidelines and principles for organising and running camps for junior youth will be discussed in this chapter.

1. THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN CAMPING
Why go camping? Many reasons could be presented, but we will consider three identified by Tom Slater in, The New Camping Book.

A. SHARING OUR CHRISTIAN LIVES
Relationships are at the core of the Christian faith, and are a deep-seated human need. A camp provides campers an opportunity to enter into relationships with others as they eat, play and experience truth together. A depth of contact is experienced that goes far deeper than a Friday night youth programme.

B. TEACHING CHRISTIAN TRUTHS
We need to be experiencing relationships, but also understand the beliefs that lie behind the way we live. A camp context is an ideal place to learn about God and His place in our lives. The outdoor environment has a way of prompting wonder that leads to a sense of the nearness of the Creator who is ever present to relate to us. The time available provides the opportunity for getting to know people as individuals and exploring issues that relate to our lives as Christians. As an integrated life-style of Christian living is evidenced, a great impact will be made on those who have not yet begun their own faith journey.

C. EXPERIENCING GOD’S CREATION
Camping offers an opportunity to meet personal needs and to meet with our God in several ways, such as through:
(1) Appreciation of creation which leads to a desire to know the Creator
(2) Enjoyment of the outdoors that relieves stress caused by the pressures of life
(3) Participation in activities designed to stimulate group situational learning
(4) Relating to the natural environment that reveals our need to care for it

The specific goals for each camp will depend on the specific needs of the individual campers. Children have relational needs, faith needs and life skill needs. These should be targeted and specific goals for the camp determined.

2. THE MOTIVES BEHIND CHRISTIAN CAMPING
Two strong motives lie at the foundation of camping. They are a desire to win people to faith in jesus Christ, and a desire to take people further in their relationship with God, others and themselves. These two aspects do not need to be seen as conflicting. Unfortunately, a narrow view of evangelism that looks for simple decisions and a narrow view of teaching as Bible study and discussion groups has led to this tension. Christian camping needs to include both evangelism and teaching.

We must think about Christianity from a developmental perspective, rather than as a clearly defined set of “decisions.” By describing our growth in Christian understanding as a faith journey we will have a better basis for ministry. Thinking of Christian teaching in terms of faith shaping will show that those who have not made the “decision” to serve Christ have already been influenced towards a future commitment to Christ. A camp that is designed to teach for commitment will build on the individuals present understanding, a fuller awareness of God that will lead to a closer relationship with Him. We must never induce “spiritual” responses by misusing the camping environment, but honestly strive to make use of the opportunity to share and teach about the Christian faith.

3. TEACHING CREATIVELY AT CAMPS
There is no excuse for a camp to be boring - in fact, no Christian teaching should ever be boring. The content of the Gospel is not boring, but so often the delivery is ineffective.

Four Aspects of Effective Teaching at Camp:
* Love for the campers - Leaders must get to know campers and try to meet their needs
* Conviction about beliefs - Being certain of what we teach will ensure dynamic teaching
* The work of the Holy Spirit - He is the one who removes the blindfold from people
* Creative teaching methods - We must chooses creative teaching methods for the camp

Different Approaches to Teaching:

A. COUNSELLING
This involves relaxed encounters between campers and leaders. For effective counselling to take place trust, privacy and time are essential. The methods used include careful listening and clarification, questions to stimulate thought, sharing Bible reading and prayer and good advice when appropriate. Some of the most significant ministry on a camp takes place in one- on-one encounters.

B. ACTIVITY
An activity-centred approach to teaching involves the whole camper, body, mind and emotions, in the learning experience. Both simulated, ie. Drama, role-play, simulation games, etc., as well as real experiences, ie. group worship, service projects, etc., are appropriate methods. (See Chapter 7 on Devotional Activities)

C. INSTRUCTION
Up front talks and preaching have a place in clearly explaining basic ideas and getting a message across. But in a T.V. age it must be done well, and include a variety of methods and visual aids. Such methods include: witty talks, skits, debates, challenging questions, object lessons, overhead projector, audio- visuals, and other such attention grabbers.

D. DISCUSSION
A good deal of the chapter on teaching truth to children focused on the need to use group discussions with a skilful facilitator who has sufficient questions and background material prepared to lead the experience. Various methods are available, buzz groups which are small groups to discuss a question; study groups of 10 children who read a passage and discuss its implications; care groups which meet regularly throughout the weekend experience to share and pray with each other, and issues groups that meet to thrash out an issue that is of common concern.

Some of these approaches take longer to set up, so it is no wonder that the preaching method is most common. But, the effort is always worth it when the approach and method suit your purpose and the group involved.

4. CHILDREN AS CAMPERS
Most of what has been discussed has reference to camps for all age groups, but what are some of the distinctive elements in running a camp for junior children?

A. EXTRA SUPERVISION
Children are not teenagers who can pretty much fend for themselves. Their parents will not even allow them to attend the camp unless they are convinced that every precaution has been taken to ensure the safety of their child. The organisers of the camp need to explain openly and fully the kind of experience that the campers will experience. Parents will not be too pleased to discover after a camp that their 10 year old went hang gliding off Dragon’s Peak in the Drakensburgh. Adult supervision on the camp is important to maintain parental oversight.

B. MAXIMUM ACTIVITY
Junior youth are full of energy, so the camp must consist of organised activities for most sessions. It is possible to plan activities that will provide a release and communicate truth at the same time. Keep sessions short with plenty of variety, always giving clear instructions about what is to happen next.

C. LEADER INVOLVEMENT
The leaders are not passive spectators. Children of this age want and need adults to be involved with them. This means that the leaders need to be enthusiastically involved in activities and events that they may not normally do, cheering the children on and getting alongside those who are scared, hurting or have forgotten how to have fun.

D. FRIENDSHIP DEVELOPMENT
The role of the leader involves getting to know the children on a personal level form the start of the camp. Find out the likes, hobbies, family backgrounds, etc. of the children without prying. The goal is to become a friend of the children. This may involve the leader sharing his own experiences where appropriate, without standing on a pedestal and talking down to the children. Make a special point of caring for the “unlovely ones” who may be from homes where unconditional love and acceptance are not experienced. They need an extra measure of your love and attention.

E. EXTRA PREPARATION
There is probably more planning and collecting of equipment needed for a camp of juniors than seniors. It is a good idea to have a box that is clearly marked, that contains the kind of things needed for this age group: Pencils, scissors, glue, masking tape, string, etc. Think through all the activities and sports for camp, then make a list of all the items needed, and only tick each off when it is in the box.

F. SPECIFIC FOLLOW-UP
Children need an ongoing contact with the leaders after the camp. This is the easiest to talk about, but last item usually accomplished. It is achieved by letters, phone calls, visits, arranging a reunion, sending greeting cards on special occasions, or meeting them on another camp and showing that you remember the experience.

G. LIMIT EVENING INPUT
Children will “give it all” during the day, and usually Zombie-out during the evening sessions. Keep the content input of the evening low, by simply building on the experiences and relationships of the day. During the evening dorm quiet times there will be plenty for the leaders to discuss with the children, ie. What was the best or hardest thing that happened today? Pray and give thanks for these things - showing that God is interested in daily details and activities of their lives.

5. COUNSELLING CAMPERS
It is often remarked, jokingly, that some campers come to camp armed with just a tooth brush and a sleeping bag. But most campers carry a load of emotional and physiological burdens as well, that must not be left at the entrance to the camp grounds but dealt by leaders who are equipped to counsel children. Because of the time available and the environment of caring relationships, a camp is a great opportunity for change and healing to take place within the individual.

Qualities of Effective Camp Counsellor’s:
* Respect: show an interest in, and concern for the individual
* Empathy: respond with sensitivity and warmth to their interests, needs and feelings
* Concreteness: give firm, positive responses, do not just act as a sounding board
* Genuineness: share real thoughts and feelings, do not just pretend to care
* Immediacy: tune in and respond to the experiences and feelings of the person
* Spontaneity: respond is in a warm, natural and spontaneous manner
* Listening: listen to the content and feelings behind the words being expressed

A Simple Outline for Counselling for Salvation:
* Something to Admit - I am a sinner and I need God’s forgiveness and new life in Jesus
* Something to Believe - That Jesus died, rose again for my sin and that He is Lord of all
* Something to Consider - To follow Jesus means becoming a disciple - Making Him boss
* Something to Do - Receive Christ, turn from evil and become an active member in church

New christians need to be prepared for their re-entry into the same home situation that they left. They need to be linked to a youth group and local church where on going follow-up can take place. (See a fuller treatment of Counselling in Chapter 3)

6. CAMP DISCIPLINE
Rules are necessary for any group or society to operate effectively together and cope with clashes of interest. Campers need a clear understanding to what they may and may not do. They need to know their limits to have freedom to explore within those limits. But an emphasis on rules must not detract from what is meant by discipline. Discipline is more than ensuring obedience. Discipline is present at a camp when the following are evident: fair rules and standards, concern for others, good programmes, and understanding leaders. When there is good discipline, the desired behaviour is obtained without damaging relationships or hurting people. Where this is the case, campers are found responding to rules out of co-operation rather than forced submission. Discipline does not just happen. It is evidenced when the leaders create conditions in which the common objectives for the camp are seen as more attractive than the pursuit of selfish or destructive inclinations.

Principles for Creating Good Discipline Conditions:

A. ANTICIPATION
Good discipline involves being prepared for the unexpected. It is important that the leaders get together before camp and agree on standards of acceptable behaviour, and these rule must be communicated to the children from the start.

B. CONVICTION
The leaders need a clear conviction that the standards agreed upon before hand are right, and that they are entitled and willing to insist on certain standards of behaviour. A failure to implement sanctions against the breaking of rules will lead to a general spirit of anarchy prevailing.

C. LOVE
The degree to which campers accept the requirements laid down by the leaders depends largely on what they think the leaders feel about them as people. The measure of our love for the campers is seen by the extent to which we do the best for them. Love is demonstrated when campers are refused permission to do something that is dangerous to themselves or others.

D. GOOD EXAMPLE
The example set by a good leader will rub off onto the campers. If the leader fools around on the horse, so will the children. If the leader throws himself into duties which are assigned, so will the campers.

E. SUPERVISION
Many discipline problems are prevented by the mere presence of leaders. When leaders hang-out together you can be sure that chaos is about to break out. If a leader or leaders are going to take time off, there must be others who ensure that the campers are adequately supervised.

(See Chapter 4 for a fuller discussion of Discipline)

7. A SAMPLE CAMP TIMETABLE

A Typical Daily Programme for a Camp:
07:00am Leaders Rise
07:30am Campers Rise/Wash/dress
08:00am Quiet Time with Dorm Leaders
08:30am Breakfast
09:15am Tidy Rooms
09:30am Morning Meeting
11:00am Morning Tea/Tuck Shop
11:15am Outdoor Games
12:30pm Wash for Lunch
12:45pm Lunch
02:00pm Sports/Outing
05:00pm Bath Time
06:00pm Supper
07:00pm Evening Meeting
08:00pm Milo/Devotions
08:30pm Lights out and Silence




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