In the fall of 2008, the Cornerstone Conference began looking for a new way to reach children and teens. Their summer youth camp program at Camp Dayspring had been a tremendous success, but it was geared primarily toward young people who attended area churches. Conference leaders felt God calling them to do something more, to design something to reach the unreached.
Bishop Tommy McGhee and CEM Director Joel Boyles found their answer in Amarillo, Texas.
Eighteen years ago, Gary Burd, conference bishop and senior pastor of Christian Heritage Church, launched Free Camp, a one-week experience for young people between the ages of 8 and 12. He and his wife, Carolyn, envisioned a different kind of camp, where children and teens were free to experience God’s love.
“We were sending our kids who were raised in church to a camp that cost a lot of money,” said Burd, “but the kids we were busing in didn’t get to go to a church camp. So we decided at that point to sponsor a free youth camp.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
The Free Camp mission is to “provide kids with a free spiritual encounter with God, where social, economic, and racial barriers are broken down.” As the name implies, Free Camp is totally free to the campers. No one, regardless of his economic standing, pays a fee to attend. All of the campers are viewed as equal. Those who attend Free Camp are not necessarily “church kids,” but come from every walk of life.
“Everything about this camp focuses on building the individual,” said Burd.
Bishop McGhee and Director Boyles discussed the idea of adding a week of Free Camp to their summer program. After talking with Bishop Burd, all three agreed that Greensboro, North Carolina, would be the perfect location for the IPHC’s first national Free Camp event. So the planning began, with a target date of July 2009. At this writing, the event is still in the planning stages. By the time this appears in print, it will be recent history.
Free Camp will allow campers to participate in activities that they may not have had the opportunity to experience before. Some will climb a rock wall for the first time. Some will learn that paddling a canoe is not as easy as it appears. Some will slide across a zip line 17 feet off the ground. They will swim, build crafts, make new friends, and learn to work as a team. They will enjoy the camp “experience.”
Most importantly, campers will learn that Jesus loves them, died for them, and desires to receive them as His children. They will be taught the importance of living for God. Some no doubt will hear of God’s love for the first time and choose to receive Him as their personal Savior.
The staff, made up of volunteers, are former campers whose lives were changed by their Free Camp experience. Others are teenagers looking for a hands-on opportunity to minister. The vision of Free Camp encourages teens to “discover servant leadership.” Adults and teens alike will work in all aspects of the camp from the kitchen to recreation to chaperoning campers. It will be an experience they will remember for a lifetime.
Projected attendance for the first national Free Camp was 500 students and 250 staff. But unlike other programs at Camp Dayspring, this one had no source of income. How would they get supplies? What would everyone eat?
“This is where trusting God comes into play,” said Boyles. “Just as Jesus fed the multitude with a boy’s lunch of two fish and five loaves (John 6), He will provide for Free Camp. I believe God is going to give us people willing to share their lunch with Free Camp.”
It takes a leap of faith to start something new, especially something as large as Free Camp, but when we believe God for greater things, He will give us the vision and the means to reach new people in ways we never thought of before. Free Camp is one of those ways.
Practically, Free Camp is about giving young people the opportunity to experience summer camp, regardless of their economic status. Spiritually, it is about helping youth discover a new destiny.
by Joel Boyles, Shandra Youell, and Mégan Alba
Reprinted from IPHC Experience Magazine, August 2009, pp. 20-21
Photos and digital reprint can be found: http://www.iphcexperience.com/_pdfs/2009/Experience_Aug09.pdf
At the time of this writing, the Free Camp in Greensboro had not happened yet. For up-to-date information about Free Camp’s spiritual impact and ministry success, visit the IPHC Blog at http://comm. iphc.org, or check the Here & There section in upcoming issues of IPHC Experience.
CEM is honored to partner with Free Camps by promoting it to our conference CEM directors and supporting it through the annual Global Quest offering received annually at Youth Quest. We look forward to more Free Camps being hosted in conferences across the U.S