Once a Camper, Always a Camper
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then, the cheering would erupt! So it was every summer as our church van rounded the corner and made its way onto the Florida District campground. Every year from the age of eight to nineteen, I felt butterflies as I thought of the endless possibilities that lay ahead of me for that magical week of camp! But the average person was probably not impressed. To get to our campground, you have to drive past acres and acres of empty farmland. Then, smack dab in the middle of what seems like nowhere, is a gated camp with two dorms, two tabernacles, a cafeteria, gymnasium, and a ball field. But to a child who grew up running around the land, it was a second home and one of the most exciting places on the planet!
My father was youth president of Florida when I was a little girl. I remember small things like pictures in my mind—older girls getting to sleep in the big dorm, bigger kids playing, eating, worshipping, and staying up late! Maybe that’s why my mom always said I wanted to grow up too fast. I couldn’t wait to experience my first youth camp. Once I did, I was hooked. I never missed a single camp. I attended every year I was allowed and then volunteered several after that. One summer, I worked at three camps straight! (I wouldn’t recommend it.) Why such an immense love for that little campground in Ocala, Florida? Good question. I can’t explain it. I suppose you just have to go to a camp yourself. I encourage anyone of age to experience a UPCI camp.
First of all, it’s just fun. The staff always works so hard to have games, shows, activities, and sports for all the kids. Then, you meet people. You make friendships that last a lifetime, and you observe the leaders of your district pour themselves into you and your friends. Why? Because they care about you and believe in your generation. Then, God moves.
Perhaps it’s because you have nowhere else to be. The late night activities will be there when you leave. No one has school or is in a rush to get home, so the services can flow as they were intended to—directed by the powerful presence of the Almighty God. Pushing past all other memories, the dynamic, life changing moments I experienced and witnessed during camp services stand alone.
In Crusaders Camp, I got drunk on the Holy Ghost and left the church hours after altar call, laughing with a joy I had never felt before. During Junior Camp, I remember joining other teens as they prayed, marched, and ran around the tabernacle speaking in tongues. During Senior High Camp, I sang from the platform as I watched the entire church lay on the ground before the preacher even took the microphone, and soon I fell to the ground sobbing as I gave Jesus my whole heart.
Church was never meant to be an afterthought. Pressing into God’s presence was never meant to be a chore. Perhaps God moves so strongly at camp because camp allows the children and teens who attend to seek Him as He should be sought—with all their heart, mind, and soul. If I’ve never said it before, I want to say “thank you.” Thank you, Sister Eason and sweet Brother Ben Eason, who recently went to be with Jesus, for leading Sunday School Camp. Thank you, Brother and Sister Robin Roberts for Junior Camp. Thank you, Brother and Sister David Elms, Brother and Sister Daryle Williams, and Brother and Sister Greg Sims for Teen, Senior High, and College Camp. And thank you to every volunteer who helped work. These people gave me those precious moments with God.
If you’ve never been, please go. Then you will know what I’m talking about. Then you will know why there are tears in my eyes as I write about that little campground in Ocala, Florida.
Shenae is a frequent contributor to InsideOut and serves as editor of apostolicgirl.com. She is from Tallahassee, Florida, where her dad is her pastor. She is also a graduate of Gateway College and is currently serving an internship in Ohio. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.