Camping makes lasting impact on campers, counselors, families

5/6/2010

 Spending a week away from home at summer camp is a rite of passage for many children and teens, a time of fun, freedom and friendships.

But for many, attending a South Georgia Conference Summer Camp at Epworth By The Sea is more than just a fun-and-sun-filled vacation away from home and responsibilities.  It’s an impactful, life-changing and challenging place where youth grow closer in their relationship with Christ.

“It (camp) has really helped me grow closer to God and become a stronger Christian,” said Ansley Avera, 14, and the daughter of Rev. Matt and Stacy Avera of Wynnton United Methodist Church in Columbus.  “There are so many people around me at camp who are trying to get as close to God as possible, it really helps to have that Christian fellowship and everybody there who supports me.  It’s a great opportunity to have.”

Twin sister Ashlyn echoed her statement.

“We both go to a lot of camps in the summer, and the thing I like about camp at Epworth is that you are constantly growing,” Ashlyn said.  “You’re in Bible studies in the mornings and afternoons and have worship at night – it’s not just once a day.  It’s constant and you’re always with the people in your group who are pressing forward to what you want as well.  The company – having the relationships not only with God and Christ but also with the counselors and the other campers – makes camp a great place to be and a lot of fun.”

All four of Rev. and Stacy Avera’s children have attended South Georgia Conference summer camps at Epworth By The Sea.  Daughter Alaina, a sophomore at Wesleyan College, will serve her second year as a counselor this summer.  Son Aaron, a senior in high school, plans on applying to serve on the summer Leadership Team once he finishes his freshman year of college.  Both Ansley and Ashlyn hope to follow in Alaina’s footsteps and become counselors when they’re old enough.

“All four of them, after coming away from camp and building relationships with the Leadership Team, now have a goal in mind of serving in ministry on the Leadership Team,” Stacy Avera said.  “They keep that goal; every single summer when they go it reinforces that goal because of those relationships they’ve built.”

Avera said the camp’s focus on spiritual formation was key when making a decision about where her children would spend part of their summers. 

 “A lot of things that churches offer throughout the year really focus on something fun, like camping or skiing or something like that, and then they add a little bit of spiritual formation to it.  But when they go to camp at Epworth it is the opposite – it’s spiritual formation with fun added into it.  The primary emphasis was not on entertainment or doing something fun and just enduring the spiritual – it is spiritual formation with some of the fun activities that go with it.”

The first year that Lisa Sharpley, Christian Education Assistant at Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah, took a group of children to one of the conference summer camps she could fit all seven kids into two cars.  Now, six years later, she has to rent a bus to fit everyone.     

“It is such a positive experience for them that they can’t help but share it,” she said.  “On Friday when I pick them up most of them are disappointed that the week is over.  The minute we get on the bus they want to watch the DVD from the week – we probably watch it two or three times on the way home.  They want to share the experience; they want to talk about what they did.  I realize, just hearing them talk, that they got it.”

Matt Martin was one of those kids who “got it” and kept coming back.  Now a counselor about to serve his second summer on the Leadership Team, he attended camp for five years as a youth.  

“It really impacted my life in the fact that it made me stronger and gave me a goal,” he said.  “I saw how strong other people’s faith was, and seeing that made me strive for that type of relationship and that kind of spiritual growth.  It seemed like they were having so much fun, and were cool and exciting, and I felt like that’s what it’s supposed to be like, and I mimicked that.  It really has influenced me in my relationship with God.”

Seeing others, especially older teenagers, living a life for Christ makes a big impact on campers, says Sharpley.

“Camp is an experience that lets them know that it’s okay to be a Christian,” she said.  “They just spent a whole week with fellow Christians. They spend that time with kids like themselves, but from all over.  They see that life as a Christian exists outside of Savannah, Georgia because they just met 100 plus other kids.  To see those teenagers, especially the boys, act out their Christian faith and beliefs in that way is a big deal.”

Stacy Avera agrees.

“They come back challenged to grow in their relationship with Christ. They see somebody who is living the life – walking the walk – as a college student.  They see that it isn’t just for little kids or adults, but for them, too. 

“They’re challenged and encouraged and taught ways to continue their personal walk at their level.  This lets them know that church isn’t just for their parents and they just happen to tag along; church is a personal relationship with Christ. They come back with that.  We’ve taught them that, but camp reinforces it.  Being at camp also shows them that in their Christian walk, there is fun to be had as well. It’s not just prim and proper and sitting there, there’s fun, too.”

2010 Summer Camps

All camps will be held at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island

MID HIGH CAMPS

Mid-High Mania 1: June 7-11

Mid-High Mania 2: June 14-18

For those entering 6th-9th grades

ELEMENTARY CAMPS

Elem. Camp 1: June 21-25

Elem. Camp 2: July 5-9

Elem. Camp 3: July 12-16

For those entering 4th-6th grades

MINI-CAMP (New in 2010!)

July 2-4

For those entering 4th-10th grades

Click here for all of the camping details

--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor

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