What Does it Mean to Be a Christian Camp?
Bob Strodel, Executive Director
Probably the most asked question from new families who are checking out Brookwoods, Deer Run or Moose River Outpost is “what does it mean to be a Christian camp?” The question is also asked in another manner “what do you do at camp that makes it a Christian camp?” Both questions are understandable. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, in Massachusetts, recently completed a survey and discovered over 33,800 different church Denominations in the United States and over three million different church congregations. Each congregation is unique with different strengths and abilities. No wonder there might not be a clear understanding for everyone with so many diverse backgrounds!
If you were sitting down in my office for a visit, this is how I would answer your question about Brookwoods, Deer Run and Moose River Outpost.
Our mission at Brookwoods, Deer Run and Moose River Outpost is to introduce people to Jesus Christ in such a compelling fashion that they will come to know Him as Lord and Savior. This basically means we will tell campers about Jesus Christ through Bible studies and our own personal witness, with the hope that they will pursue their own relationship with Christ. The structure of our program, and the kind of staff we hire each summer, reflect that mission. We wish our staff to role model the life and love of Christ to each camper.
The staff that work directly with the campers are selected through an application process involving written paperwork, references, interviews and a background check. If the staff member is responsible for transporting campers on the road, we also do a drivers license check, and they must have a totally clean record for at least 3 years. During the interview we look for more than just good character. We look for staff that are demonstrating actions compatible with our mission statement. For example, we look for staff that are currently enrolled in Bible studies, small groups or other support networks that demonstrate their desire to deepen their relationship with God. Do they attend church or seek out relationships with others who desire to serve God? Do they choose their friends wisely? Do they demonstrate sound judgment and decision-making? We might even ask a prospective staff member a situational question, for example, how would they respond to a camper who wants to accept Jesus as their personal Savior? It is important that each staff member is able to speak to the spiritual questions our campers may ask. Each year we have more staff applicants than we can hire, so the process is selective. While our leadership programs are a natural training ground for future staff members, completion of those programs does not necessarily guarantee a staff position in the future. Because of the low staff turnover rate each year, we can always select the best candidates to fill the limited available positions.
On a daily basis at our camps we do the following formal activities directly related to our mission statement.
- Once a day we gather for singing of contemporary Christian songs lead by talented staff members. At Moose River Outpost we gather in Moose Hall and at Brookwoods and Deer Run we gather in the outdoor chapel.
- After singing, all campers and their staff return to the cabins for small group Bible studies. Over one month at camp, topics usually cover some New and Old Testament material, and the topics vary from season to season. This small group study is done in the security of the cabin group, and will last for approximately 45 minutes.
- At the end of the day, when the campers are in bed, the Counselors will frequently present a short devotional or thought for the day. This might take the form of reading a portion of a C.S. Lewis novel or perhaps simply talking about some of that day’s activities in the context of the morning Bible study.
I would also share with you that we don’t “shove” the Gospel of Jesus down the throats of our campers. It would be wrong as adults and people in authority to manipulate an emotional response out of a camper. You have probably heard stories of religious activities involving public demonstrations of faith, and while there might be a place for that in some circumstances, camp is not that place. We don’t sit around a campfire singing “kumbYah” until every camper has raised his hand. We prefer to simply make the presentation and permit the camper to make a personal decision, not coerced though emotional manipulation or peer pressure.
Since all our camps are located in New England, we often get asked if someone from a Catholic background can attend. Yes, in fact we have many campers each summer from Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and non-faith backgrounds who are comfortable with attending our camps. While our non-denominational approach is centered on the historic Christian faith, we are not a denominational camp. We use the 66 book Bible, and our camp philosophy is clearly from an historical Judeo-Christian approach.
Everyone has a different reference frame based on his or her prior experiences. If you are a parent considering sending your child to Brookwoods, Deer Run or Moose River Post, and have questions about some of these topics, please feel free to call me, the Executive Director, at the camp office at 603-875-3600. I’d be thrilled to spend some time with you talking about our great camps!