July 31-August 4 was the 7th Annual Care Camp. In order for Care Camp to happen, Care Fresno depends on Calvin Crest’s generous discount on the use of its campground, on every single meal being donated and delivered by churches, organizations, and individuals, and on volunteer drivers and vehicles to transport everyone to and from camp. The Care Fresno team and additional volunteer counselors serve as worship leaders, skit authors and performers, recreation time leaders, craft organizers, free time activities hosts, and administrators, in addition to staying in cabins with campers as counselors. All of this makes it possible for the kids we serve all year long to experience summer camp by keeping camper costs low - we ask families to contribute $10 for each camper, and we raise the remaining $75 of the camp cost via donations.
This year, we brought 200 kids to Care Camp, many of whom had never been to camp, the mountains, or out of Fresno before. About 100 campers committed their lives to Jesus for the first time, one of whom was Leah, a camper in my cabin. Throughout the week, Leah poured over the Action Bible we gave each of the campers. She wants to learn as much as she can about Jesus and has deep questions about God and faith. While she told me she’s already looking forward to next year’s camp, Leah needs a mentor who will continue to answer her questions and help her learn more about what it means to follow Christ as she goes about her daily life.
Over 30 campers were baptized, including Leah and my mentee Alexa, who wanted everyone to know that she loves Jesus. Part of the Great Commission is to baptize disciples and I have come to believe that it is not just a pastor who can baptize, but every Christian, and that the person responsible for disciplining an individual is authorized by Christ to baptize that individual. With that in mind, I baptized Alexa, having had the privilege of leading her to Christ and of discipling and mentoring her since. When I asked her, Alexa said she wanted me to baptize her because I knew her the best, and I realized that while Alexa’s baptism was a declaration of her faith, it was also in a small sense my declaration that I have been and will continue to disciple her and walk with her through her ongoing faith journey.
Eight of our first-time counselors had previously come to Care Camp as campers. Kids and teenagers who grew up going to Care Fresno programs and camps are now giving back. It is Care Fresno’s desire to raise up leaders from within the communities we serve to lead their own communities, and we saw that happen at camp this year. Nancy has been to Care Camp every year, beginning when she was 10. Last year, she was in my cabin as a camper when I had a cabin of teenagers, and this year she graduated from high school and was my co-counselor for a cabin of kids. It was wonderful watching her seamlessly make that transition from camper to counselor and it was encouraging to hear her share her story with campers and counselors. I look forward to watching these emerging leaders continue to develop and serve their communities.
Care Camp provides a week away from home, a week of intense time together, a week to learn about Jesus in the midst of God’s creation. It is a chance for kids to be able to be kids and have fun without having to handle all of the responsibilities and struggles they navigate at home. From a calendar standpoint, Care Camp is the end of one Mission Care year and the beginning of another. For those of us who have spent the last year living at a Care Fresno site, we enter Care Camp knowing many of the kids and draw on the relationships we’ve built throughout the year to speak into kids’ lives while at camp. For those of us entering a new year of living at a Care Fresno site, we bond and make deposits all week at camp into relationships we’ll continue throughout the year. Camp facilitates the creation of positive childhood memories; it’s the beginning of some kids’ faith journeys and relationship with a mentor; it’s the setting for many decisions and next steps to be made for Christ; it’s an opportunity for campers and counselors alike to pause to focus on their relationship with God and each other. Care Camp is just one week, but when put in the context of our ongoing ministry, its reach extends far beyond a week.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who were a part of making Care Camp 2016 happen! Thank you for partnering with Care Fresno so that stories like these could take place. Please continue to be involved with Care Fresno as we welcome our new Mission Care interns and start a new Mission Care year of neighborhood programs and Bible studies!