The Power To Excite

If you do a straw poll in your church amongst adult believers to find out how many people either came to faith at a camp, or had the initial foundations of their commitment and subsequent growth as young believers you may be surprised at just how many of those encounters happened whilst at a camp.  The missional debate has tended to overlook some of the traditional ways in people have encountered God over the years through the ministry of our churches. Christian campsites host a large amount of school groups and other groups made up of people totally outside of the church. We’ve seen plenty of of christian campsites fall by the wayside as the focus of the church turns towards other fronts, or campsites who haven’t quite worked out how to mix business with ministry and seen their campsites emphasize the dollar rather than the Gospel as a matter of survival.

Camping and the facilities that host them are well worth investment by the church given the significant contribution they have made with respects to the Gospel through the generations.  Andrew Grant is the Director of Camping for Queensland Conference and Camping Centres,  and is committed to ensuring that camping maintains its missional edge and contributed this article:

The Power To Excite

It seems most people can speak of the significance of a camp, or camping in their lives.  Mine is no exception.

I gave my life to the Lord as a youngster at a Scripture Union Camp at Shalom Camp in the rugged Matopos Hills, Matabeleland, Africa.  It was a campsite I would return to often (as war allowed) with my parents in their role with Youth for Christ and also with Scripture Union school camps as I grew older.

As a child the highlight of the year was when YFC Bulawayo packed a bus full of 100 teenagers and motored 1000km down the highway to Johannesburg, South Africa for the annual YFC “Youth Week” of more than 1000 campers from all over Southern Africa.  Australian camping experiences have been many and varied.  The epic Family Camps with Townsville Baptist Church on the May Long Weekend, inevitably sheltered in tents at Jourama Falls in pelting rain and the Easter youth camps on Magnetic Island.

There were regular camps at the old Camp Cal site at Dicky Beach (where I was baptized).  Swimming the freezing waters of the Tumut River, sleeping under the stars on Alma Bay, bunked under Victoria’s Grampian mountains, Survival Camp near Townsville’s Rattlesnake Island, hiking the Blue Mountains and bedding down at Burrendong Dam, to mention but a few. And recently I realized the wheel is coming full circle when I packed my eldest son off for his first solo camping experience with Scripture Union at Coolum Beach!

Since assuming this position I’ve been tapping my memory well of dozens of different camping experiences over the years, and have also been pro-active about talking to others and listening to their stories and experiences of significant camping adventures. There is no doubt that for many of us camping has been an important part of our personal and spiritual development.  Think of the times you have been able to get away with like-minded people, to enjoy scenery, hospitality and unhurried time out with good company.

One thing that has fascinated and challenged me recently is that the deep and continued goodwill towards camping from people across generations is somewhat dampened by a sense that modern life has crowded in and made camping less achievable.   Christian Camping International President Bob Kobielush wrote in 2003 that camping “provides an isolated environment that can remove influences and interruptions which often crowd out considerations that lead to change”.

Elsewhere he noted that camping “breaks the cycles of habit-establishing routine and daily duties, freeing people to examine them and then set new habits that may be more appropriate.”

And finally, camping “establishes an environment for out-of-the-ordinary experiences, which tend to be remembered more than experiences in ordinary settings”.

Something that is often talked about in camping is that camps create “temporary community”.  I’m not sure I agree with that being our way forward.  I’d rather think of camps being there to start/facilitate and/or strengthen community that already exists, either as a community starter, or an experience that builds into the lives of existing communities.

Every time a bus rolls into the Mapleton Centre (of which there is several each week) a sense of anticipation crackles in the air.  There is no doubt that camping retains a special power to excite.  The pace of change in modern society is escalating and is being particularly driven by rapid changes in technology.  The challenge for us in QCCC is to ensure that the excitement and anticipation camping engenders remains relevant to modern expectations and requirements.

I’m confident that camping retains a great relevance to modern life, and that our role is to provide an enjoyable break from the everyday, and empower people to return to their “normal” life better equipped to cope with it.  In an increasingly fragmented world where internet and technology means niche communities are increasingly prevalent it means we have to be flexible and innovative in the ways we cater, serve and minister to our guests.

And in this day and age of myriad commitments and time-challenged people, our role is to make camping accessible to ensure the potential of the camping ministry is unleashed in the lives of people, creating new decades of special memories.  We’ll keep you updated on our adventure.

After fifteen years of living in mission communities in rural NSW, Andrew Grant has recently commenced as the Director of Camping for Queensland Conference and Camping Centres, a ministry of Queensland Baptists.  He is publishing the development and growth of the QCCC camping ministry on his blog at www.andrewgrant.me.