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Two campers share a Bible as they follow along with a daily lesson.
Photo by Sam Mears

Searching teens find spiritual depth

Campers are encouraged and challenged in their faith as they return to summer camp in Oregon.

YAMHILL, Ore. — I should know the way by now.

I’ve been going to Camp Yamhill since third grade. Still, I managed to miss a turn as I drove out to serve as a counselor. I wish I could blame it on the winding roads or distraction by the scenery. Alas, I’m just directionally challenged.

The route wends through rolling hills and sloping farmland before bringing you to a gravel road that leads to the camp, 45 miles southwest of Portland.

Related: Oregon church launches discipleship school

The camp sits on 240 acres of woodland on the Yamhill River, and it has operated as a youth camp since 1957. It is under the oversight of a board made up of members of Churches of Christ in the Pacific Northwest.

Camp Yamhill is an oasis of sorts, a place where you can experience the beauty of creation without distraction.

Camp Yamhill is an oasis of sorts, a place where you can experience the beauty of creation without distraction. And after a year without summer camp, teens were ready for that reprieve, buzzing with excitement as they checked in for the recent high school session.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp Yamhill did not hold summer sessions last year. That forced pause, combined with a change in leadership, gave the opportunity for a fresh start. 

The new high school camp directors are Sam Mears, youth minister for the Southwest Church of Christ in Tigard, Ore., and Steve Haney, associate minister for the Oregon City Church of Christ. They took advantage of the off year to change the way that camp is structured, from the daily schedule to the way lessons are delivered.

The purpose was to infuse a new level of depth into the camp. 

“I have noticed a trend of kids wanting more depth,” Mears said, referring to their yearning for spiritual knowledge. “We have them for a week, so we can teach them a lot and give them direction for when they leave camp as well.”

A camper takes notes during early morning quiet time at Yamhill.

A camper takes notes during early morning quiet time at Yamhill.

The camp theme was “The Race of Your Life.” (Mears wanted to call it “Run for Your Life,” but that was vetoed, much to the disappointment of the teens.) Lessons centered on Christian living and running the race of faith.

Camp starts each morning with quiet time. Teens spread out in complete silence, finding an isolated place to sit and spend time with God. There are plenty of options — the field, at the base of a tree or by the river banks. The air is still cool, dew is on the grass, and every human sound is hushed. All you can hear is the burbling of the river, the singing of birds and the turning pages as campers read the Bible.

After quiet time and breakfast, campers attend morning praise, followed by the lesson.

Under normal circumstances, worship and other group events would be indoors, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, they were moved outdoors so everyone could be together. 

My sister Evania, 15, attended camp this year, and she later told me she appreciated that the lessons were appropriate for people in different stages of their walk with Christ. I agree with her. I’m nine years older than she is, but we were both challenged and encouraged by the conversations and lessons at camp.

Praise time, lectures and small groups were held in the mornings and evenings, and afternoons were devoted to structured games and flexible free time.

Steve Haney

Steve Haney

In between a flour bomb war, the challenge course, water hikes and more, teens had plenty of time with friends. And after a year with limited opportunities for socialization, campers were eager to spend time together. 

Much of that fellowship took place during games like “Smash,” which involves forcefully spiking a volleyball at your friends. Perfect for a summer afternoon!

More importantly, campers used free time to grow in their faith. 

“We had teenagers who were continuing their discussions on the lessons during free time,” Haney said. “It was cool to watch the spiritual aspect of camp carry into the ‘fun times’ of camp.

“It went surprisingly well,” he added. “You’re always expecting to get pushback when you change things that have been set in stone for 20 years, but we didn’t get any pushback at all.”

Sam Mears

Sam Mears

Instead, small groups had deeper discussions, and teens studied the Bible during free time. I heard campers having good conversations and encouraging each other in their walks with Christ. One camper told me that her favorite part of the day was quiet time — she could sit and study for hours.

“They gave up free time to talk about deep spiritual questions they had, or to read their Bible or to pray, and we’ve never seen that before,” Mears said. “They really responded well to changing the direction of camp and to making it deeper.”

As for me, I can’t wait to take a wrong turn on the way to camp next year.

MAKYRA WILLIAMSON is an intern for The Christian Chronicle. A member of the Southwest Church of Christ in Tigard, Ore., she is a 2019 graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark. 

Filed under: Bible camp camp Camp Yamhill church camp Features National Oregon Pacific Northwest Partners Summer Camp Top Stories Youth youth ministries

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