Twenty-eight kids and a few adults spilled out of vans into the parking lot. They were laughing about swimming in the lake, sharing stories about playing football, showing off their new step moves, and singing songs together. They shared communal joy and memories as they arrived back in South Atlanta after five days away at Camp Grace.
Going to camp is always a special time for the youth in our community, and this year was no different. Youth leader, Michelle Witherspoon, shared what a joy it is to be a part of camp. After working through homesickness with kids, watching them try new things, and seeing them create strong friendships, she says “I was really proud of them, it takes courage to leave what you know and challenge yourself to do things you haven’t done.”
The obstacles and challenges at camp are bountiful. Some campers face the new experience of their first extended trip away from home. The rock wall, the “Big Swing,” and the zipline can be scary for those with a fear of heights. Swimming in a lake where you can’t see the bottom can also be nerve wracking, especially for those who grow up in the city.
But in the week of camp, the teens were eager to take these challenges head on. There was a willingness to try - and a willingness to fail, then get back up again - that is only cultivated in a supportive environment like camp. As one of the teenagers said, “The rock wall was a big challenge, and I wanted to push myself, so I did it.“
Not only did the week at camp bring about obstacles and risks, but it also was a time of spiritual growth. One example happened at circle time, where campers gather to talk with their leaders about highs and lows of the day. One of the questions was “Where is God speaking to you this week?” Eight-year-old Brandon eagerly shot up his hand to respond. He had been practicing swimming all week but was afraid of taking the swim test. Brandon answered, “I was so afraid to take the swim test, and I wasn't going to do it. But God told me to have the courage to do it, and so I did!” And he passed his swim test!
It’s moments like these that make camp special. Not only did Brandon learn how to swim during the week at camp, but he also owned and understood how God spoke to him. In the sacred place of camp, students have the opportunity to be vulnerable and honest with each other. It’s where they feel safe and act as kids for the week. It’s where they can open their eyes and ears to God. And through these shared experiences and challenges, they become united, relating to each other on a deeper level.
As the kids head back into the rest of the summer, many are still carrying the excitement from camp. Even in the few weeks since camp, there has been connectedness among the youth and a deeper understanding of each other. In a youth group with kids from different schools, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, a shared experience brings reconciliation and moves kids towards each other just a little more.
Thank you so much for supporting our South Atlanta youth at camp this summer!