Searching teens find spiritual depth
YAMHILL, Ore. — I should know the way by now.…
MOCKSVILLE, N.C. — A long dirt road leads to the heart of Carolina Bible Camp, a 65-year summer tradition associated with Churches of Christ.
The blazing North Carolina sun shines down on the 68 acres where 774 young people will gather for camp over seven weeks.
Forced to cancel last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the camp returned this summer at half capacity, executive director Randal Burton said.
Counselor Taylor Dove, 26, welcomed the reunion with old camp friends and the chance to make new ones.
“It’s a place where kids get to experience God’s love in a very tangible way,” said Dove, a member of the nearby Jericho Church of Christ. “Some kids don’t even know anything about God. … I think for them to not just hear about his words but to actually see it played out is so important.”
Mornings at the Christian camp, about 60 miles north of Charlotte, begin with breakfast in the dining hall, followed by Bible class.
On a recent weekday, Abby Dailey, a camper-turned-counselor from Denver, N.C., taught junior campers in a small meeting area in the woods. Sunlight poked through the trees.
Dailey asked her campers to name the fruit of the Spirit.
“Oranges! Apples!” they replied before she taught about biblical concepts such as love, joy and peace.
Even if their answers weren’t always correct, campers jumped out of their wooden seats to answer questions and raced to be the first to find the Bible passages.
After Bible class, kids lined up on a sand volleyball court for a game they call “water balloon battleship.” The staff crowded around the perimeter, yelling and cheering as teams threw carefully chosen water balloons over the net, aiming at opponents. Once struck, players were eliminated until just two campers remained.
In the end, it all came down to a rock, paper, scissors contest. Kids and adults encircled the pair as several rounds were played, shouting “Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!” until one finally won.
After lunch and rest time, kids enjoyed a few hours of free time at the swimming pool, playground and basketball and volleyball courts. The fun included playing gaga ball — which is glorified dodgeball in a pit.
Indoors, campers tie-dyed and painted in the craft room where hundreds of multi-colored handprints cover the walls. And, during free time, campers made several visits to the canteen where they could buy tasty treats and drinks.
Dinner and an evening lesson rounded out the day, and on this particular summer evening, there was a baptism.
Related: Searching teens find spiritual depth
Tobi Lancaster, 14, who attends the Kannapolis Church of Christ in North Carolina, began attending camp as a pre-camper. She was baptized in the camp pool by her dad, John Lancaster.
Fellow believers — including Tobi’s mother, Ryan Lancaster, and cabinmates — huddled near the pool to witness her immersion.
Some wiped tears of joy as she emerged from the water.
“I decided to get baptized at CBC,” Tobi said, “because I have been going there since I was a little kid and have so many amazing friends that are there and that I wanted to be there for me getting baptized.”
Later in the week, two more campers — Jasmine Paz, 13, who attends the Northview Church of Christ in Statesville, N.C., and Leah Kate Holland, 12, who attends Lifepointe Church in Fort Mill, S.C. — were baptized.
As the air cooled, the sunset revealing a night sky, everyone gathered on the amphitheater’s wooden rows for the “campers of the day” announcement and a devotional.
At the front, the illuminated stage was decorated to reflect the camp theme: “Connected.”
Before COVID-19, camps that belong to the American Camp Association served close to 26 million school-aged children with about 1.2 million seasonal counselors, the group’s president and CEO, Tom Rosenberg, told National Public Radio. But in 2020, only 18 percent of overnight camps and 60 percent of day camps were operational.
This year, the majority of camps are back but on a reduced scale to function safely amid the pandemic.
Carolina Bible Camp has implemented pre-screenings, a form for adults and parents to sign and initial health screenings upon arrival. It’s also encouraging volunteer staff to get vaccinated.
Before the pandemic, Carolina Bible Camp drew 1,227 participants to its seven weekly sessions in 2019, according to Burton.
Although disappointed to see the numbers drop, Andy King, a longtime camp leader and board member, said the change did not impact the “overall atmosphere of camp.” In fact, he said, the lower numbers allowed the staff to spend more time than normal with each camper.
All campers are welcome at Carolina Bible Camp whether they come from a Church of Christ background or not. In addition to North Carolina, campers come from Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee. In the past, a group of campers even came all the way from South Korea.
A group of church leaders met at the Broad Street Church of Christ in Statesville, N.C., in 1956 to organize the first Carolina Bible Camp. A year later, 125 young people gathered for the first overnight camp at Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie, S.C., just south of Charlotte, N.C.
From 1962 to 1991, CBC moved six times before purchasing the land it now occupies just outside of Mocksville. The camp held its first sessions at the new location in 1992.
King, an elder over the youth ministry at the Lake Norman Church of Christ in Huntersville, N.C., and director of Carolina Bible Camp’s week seven, has seen how camp changes kids. He recalled a boy named Carlos, who came to camp several years ago with a friend.
Carlos was worldly, disrespectful, defiant and didn’t have much of a family, King said. While at camp, he almost purposefully hit King.
King and Kirk Sams, Carolina Bible Camp’s first-week director for more than 30 years, talked with the boy about his behavior. But every time King saw Carlos that week, he shook the boy’s hand and told him he loved him.
At the end of the week, Carlos walked up to King, crying. Carlos hugged King and said, “I love you, Mr. Andy.” King said he’s unsure where Carlos is now, but for one week at Carolina Bible Camp, he was able to feel love.
King said Carolina Bible Camp means everything to him because the staff and leaders can share the Gospel with the kids and make lifelong relationships.
“It’s not the place,” King said. “It is the opportunity — to shut out the world, to just focus on serving God. And that’s what camp’s about.”
“It’s not the place. It is the opportunity — to shut out the world, to just focus on serving God. And that’s what camp’s about.”
CHLOÉ FRANKLIN is is an intern for The Christian Chronicle. A member of the Crawford Road Church of Christ in Rock Hill, S.C., she is studying journalism at Elon University in North Carolina.
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