Each summer of my pre-teen and early teen years I attended church camp in several different locations. The experience was similar at each one. I was a shy little girl so attending camp where I didn't know anyone else was really a stretch for me, yet I went back several times. Now I realize how important those camps were to my faith life. They gave me a place to practice sharing my faith with others and to learn from watching others share theirs.
There were the usual craft times, songs around the campfires, caring counselors, swimming, sunburn and mosquito bites. I think church camp was where I discovered my love of nature and where I learned that worship in nature came so easily. The peacefulness of God's surroundings made it easy to talk to God and sometimes hear His response. The beauty all around sparks a desire to praise God with all my heart.
Church camp taught me to fellowship with others, to laugh and cry together, to share heart to heart. I found acceptance even though I was a timid, gangly teenager. I discovered that God loved me too, just as I was. I learned to search the Bible for answers and direction and to turn to it often. The counselors became mentors for that week and when I returned home I was a different girl because of the acceptance I received and the new friends I made. For months afterward I would exchange letters to the one or two special friends I connected closely with. Sometimes we even met again the following year.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned at church camp was how to encourage others and to be encouraged in faith. It's a valuable tool I still need to remember.
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25 NIV).