In her years as a camp counselor, Leslie Schultz has seen lives change right in front of her.
“You can take a kid out of camp, but you can’t take camp out of a kid,” said the leader from First Baptist Church in Atwood. “I have kids who live for this week.”
They’re drawn to the chance to get away from the pressures of life, she said, to come and relax, to build relationships, and—at Lake Sallateeska and its northern Illinois counterpart, Streator Baptist Camp—to learn more about God and develop their personal faith in Christ.
The theme of this summer’s IBSA camps at Sallateeska and Streator focused on that vertical relationship. “UP” camps were held throughout the summer for kids in elementary school and high school, along with two additional specialized weeks of camp for teens—Elevate and Fused.
At Greenville College, Super Summer continued its more than 20-year tradition of training the next generation of Christian leaders, a mission shared by Summer Worship University at Hannibal-LaGrange University.
Going to camp comes with an expectation, Schultz said, to see kids and students leave with their lives changed. The camp experience is difficult to describe in words, she said, but the evidence is clear.
“Once you come to camp, it’s in you.”
Family of faith
At UP camp at Streator, kids were grouped into family units, with a “Ma” and a “Pa” assigned to each. “For our kids, we want Streator to feel like a home,” said camp co-director Jacki Mattingly. “And to further enforce that family feel, most all our leaders have been working at this camp for about 10 years, creating a consistent, continuing relationship with our returning campers.”
The same sentiment also rings true at Lake Sallateeska.
“The camaraderie the kids get to experience each year they revisit camp is just wonderful,” Schultz said. “For the older kids, camp gives them fellow Christian friends they can connect with and call up and keep each other accountable in ways that your regular school, club, or sports friends cannot.”
Similarly, Super Summer and Summer Worship University have also seen a budding community grow among returning campers. The annual weeks for students in junior high and high school are focused on learning—about God, about worship, and about living out your faith in the real world.
Super Summer director Chad Ozee describes it as a “week-long intensive Bible school for kids grades 6 and up.” For Samantha Johnson, it’s where she found a family of faith.
“Super Summer is a place where you can find other people who really care about you,” Johnson said. Once a Super Summer student herself, she said her inspiration to return as a Team Leader was through the family she gained there (see page 10).
“You’re going to be around people who are strong in their faith,” Johnson said. “And you’re not always going to be around that out in the world.”
Travis Strobel has come back to Summer Worship University for six years in part because of the friendships he’s developed there. “They’re like family to me here,” he said of IBSA’s annual week-long camp focused on music, worship, and training in evangelism and hands-on missions. This summer was Travis’s last year before he leaves for college, but even that hasn’t stopped the student from First Baptist Church in Ramsey from wanting to come back.
“I’d for sure like to come back and help out if I could.”
Along with the relationships he’s developed, Strobel has also seen his musical talents grow at camp. “The skillsets SWU has taught me are amazing,” he said. “I’ve learned how to effectively lead worship not just for people, but for God.”
At Summer Worship University, students learn how to be effective worship leaders inside and outside the church. At Super Summer, the focus is on biblical interpretation.
“These kids are learning how to hear from God in Scripture and how to know the Bible from Genesis to Revelation,” said Phil Nelson, pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale and a long-time leader at Super Summer. “These are lessons many adults don’t even get to have.”
After 23 years at Super Summer, Nelson said he continues to marvel at the many things he still learns there.
“You can’t come to Super Summer and not have your life changed,” he said. “The whole purpose of this camp is to elevate a change in our students’ lives and to mature them as young disciples. And quite honestly, there are many things I learn here at Super Summer that I did not even learn when I went to seminary.”
Lonnie Trembly, who leads ninth graders at Super Summer, loves the week because of its focus on Christ, and the impact it has on students. His son, a former Super Summer camper, now leads the week’s worship band. “Seeing the next generation taking up the mantle, stepping up, loving Christ,” Trembly said, “it’s both emotional and awesome at the same time.”
After visiting Super Summer as an adult several years ago, Lonnie Trembly felt challenged in his faith and recommitted to growing more in Christ, leading him to leave the corporate world and go into full-time ministry.
After more than 20 years at Super Summer, Trembly now says he has seen more students’ lives changed there than any other place.
“This camp will change you because the leaders are passionate about the things of Christ. And our students respond to that.”
Lives are changing
Jerry Higdon tells his church their two greatest evangelistic opportunities happen in the summer: Vacation Bible School and camp. The pastor of First Congregational Church in Kewanee has served as a counselor at Streator and has seen the impact of camp in his own home.
“The joy we saw happening in our kids through camp was just infectious to our entire family,” he said during UP camp this summer.
Camp is a place where many kids meet the Lord for the first time. Jacki Mattingly was one of those kids. She made her personal decision to receive Christ as her Savior at church camp.
Because of her experience, Mattingly’s desire is to see kids grow in Christ at camp and to find him there. Even for those who are Christians, she hopes camp can offer a rekindling of these students’ faith.
“We stay because we want to see our kids grow up in the Lord,” Mattingly said of the camp leaders and counselors. Before camp even begins, leaders at Streator pray for the students, asking the Lord to shape and mold them and to have campers find him there.
At Lake Sallateeska, Leslie Schultz has always enjoyed working with youth and watching their lives change and grow in the Lord. It’s what inspires her to serve as a leader at camp.
She has had opportunities to lead people to Christ and watch them grow in their faith.
She has seen campers from her church in Atwood change throughout the years because of the experiences the kids take back home with them.
“I’ve seen one of our own girls grow in her leadership, tell her testimony, and encourage others,” Schultz said. “It’s been such a joy to watch her blossom in her relationship with the Lord.”
For many, that’s what camp is all about—a chance to get away, learn more about the Lord, grow in your relationship with him, and return home different than before.
Schultz said, “It’s a chance to come with an expectation to leave with a life changed.”