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Campers, counselors experience God at summer camp

Campers, counselors experience God at summer camp

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Campers, counselors experience God at summer camp

Aug. 1, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0339} 

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LEESBURG — Campers take a moment to enjoy water activities on Lake Griffin. The Warren W. Willis camp grounds, which house the majority of the summer camp activities, are located on the shores of the lake. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-220.

LEESBURG — God doesn't "live" at the Warren W. Willis Camp here, but summer camp organizers and counselors did their best to help this year's campers find him amidst the tall billowing trees nestled against Lake Griffin.

Throughout the nine weeks of camp that were offered May 30-July 30 through the Florida Conference's summer camp ministry, 3,600 campers played and learned about God under the watchful gaze of 88 counselors, or team members.

Audrey Warren says summer camp has always held a special place in her heart. The member of First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, is a summer camp veteran. She has attended summer camp since the fifth grade and this year worked behind the scenes as a summer camp team member in the areas of worship and small groups.

"Here at summer camp you have the freedom to be who you are called to be," said Warren, who felt the call to pastoral ministry while at camp. "You can dance and be crazy and feel the love of God and be loved by others."

Warren, who plans to be a local pastor, said God has something new to share with her every time she participates in summer camp. She said the experience is just as powerful for campers, referring to it as natural mixed with the supernatural all at once.

"If you want to see God, I promise you, you will find him here," she said.

Nicole Hoover, a member of East Naples United Methodist Church, has spent three summers working in the summer camp office and one year as a camper when she was younger. She said being a part of the camp family " ... feels like home."

Zack Williams said being a counselor allows him the unique opportunity to minister to children in a way he never dreamed possible. The member of Faith United Methodist Church in Fort Myers said he plans a ministry career focusing on missions.

"I experience God's love through these kids," he said. "I get the opportunity to be there for these kids. I have the awesome chance to be Christ for them."

Camper Alexander Craske, a member of Anona United Methodist Church, said camp means two things to her.

"It's fun to come and hang out with my friends," said the seventh-grader, who has attended camp for several years. "And every year I move further along with my relationship with God."

LEESBURG — Jacob Moye, 11, (left) works up his courage to pet a snake held by summer camp team member Morgan Hopfensperger. Hopfensperger and fellow team member Jenny High were preparing the class to go on a nature walk. Campers share in small groups, worship together and participate in different activities, such as nature walks, each day of the week-long camp sessions. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-218.

First-time camper Shea Koons said she was having the time of her life. "I love it," said the member of St. Peter's United Methodist Church in West Palm Beach. "I want to come again so I can experience new things."

That's just what Mike Standifer wants to hear. Standifer is director of the summer camp ministry. He said it encompasses many different purposes, but the number-one goal is to have a lasting impact on the lives of campers. He said summer camp is a safe place where children can come and learn about the love of Christ in a deep and meaningful manner.

"We love them for who and where they are," he said. "Summer camp is working; it's reaching kids for Christ."

In addition to having a lasting impact on the spiritual lives of campers, Standifer said summer camp can have an equally lasting impact on the lives of counselors, many of whom go on to careers in the ministry. He said being a summer camp counselor, and its training, is the best young adult ministry the conference currently offers.

"It's a training ground for future pastors and laity," he said. "Sometimes we forget that because we focus so much on the campers themselves."

The campers are important, especially to parents who may be many miles away from the camp.

Standifer said he knew parents were sometimes apprehensive about sending their children to camp, so the summer camp ministry team began posting 300 to 400 digital photographs of campers in various activities throughout the day on the summer camp Web site so parents would get an idea of what their children were doing. Each year parents are also encouraged to e-mail letters to their children, which are printed and delivered to the campers, helping family members stay in touch. Standifer said worship is also streamed live on Tuesday and Thursday of every camp week. He said he wanted parents to see what their children are experiencing and have dialogue about it during the drive home or perhaps later.

Each year summer camp is organized around a theme. Using the theme "Be Altered" for this year's sessions, Standifer said he and the team wanted the campers to return to their communities, churches and schools and be committed for Christ.

LEESBURG — Team members momentarily trade their Bibles for instruments as they motivate campers in the morning with several songs. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-219.

"We want the kids to return home, (and) plug into their youth groups, Bible study and churches," he said. "This is not a one-stop deal. It may feel like God lives here, but he doesn't. We want them to go home and explore even more what makes them different from everyone else."

Ryan Fields can relate to that. The middle school team leader, who attends Creekside Community Church in Gainesville, but calls Arlington United Methodist Church in Jacksonville home, said he remembers what it feels like to be a camper. Attending camp since the sixth grade, Fields said he was in awe of the "cool college students" who were counselors.

"Here I was, this nerdy kid, and I was loved by these counselors," he said. "They made a real investment in me, and I left feeling loved. I want to give back what was given to me. I want to do this for the next generation."

Fields said he turned down summer office jobs offering more money than he earned as a camp counselor, because, for him, it wasn't about the money or anything tangible.

"I couldn't see myself anywhere else, but here," he said. "These kids are going to experience God's love in a way they never have. You can see the body of Christ at work here. I didn't want to miss out on that. This is a once in a lifetime experience."

For more information about the summer camp ministry visit


This article relates to Discipleship.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.