Written by Jesse Hamilton

Student Camp is a 5-day getaway, jam-packed with fun. The students barely even get a chance to catch their breath as they go from activity to activity; they don’t stop until they all pass out on the bus ride home! But camp isn’t only entertainment, Student Camp is one of the key ways that we invest in students.

Christian is a bright-eyed and talented freshman. He is interested in photography and video and is already putting out some great content. But Christian hasn’t always been this level-headed.

Before camp last year, Christian had one goal in life: to find acceptance. He wanted to fit in, to find a place to belong. He thought he had found a way in with a group of popular guys at his school. This group of young men would often get into fights, finding their status in their strength and their ability to make others afraid of them. Christian was in at least six different fights that year, slowly rising through the ranks; but even with some level of respect from the group, he couldn’t say they were good friends.

Over the summer something changed: Christian went to camp. He says the best thing about going to camp was that, “everybody’s weird.” He laughs as he says it, but he goes on to explain. “When you’re at camp, everybody is accepted,” he says.

Christian loves how there aren’t cliques at camp and popularity doesn’t matter. He made new friends that, he admits, he never would have gotten to know otherwise.

Since camp Christian still struggles with wanting to seek status through fighting, but has seen considerable improvement. He even influenced one of his friends to get out of that group and stop fighting altogether. Christian is one of the friendliest and most accepting students you will meet.

“I want people to feel like they belong,” he concludes.

Brook just graduated in May 2016 and is a bubbly, creative type. She is a singer-songwriter and has been involved in many different arts. She has lots of friends and has been a major influence on other students in the High School Ministry.

But it hasn’t been easy. Two years ago, Brook had an experience at camp that she describes as the second worst moment of her life. The first was when her older sister, Shelby, attempted to commit suicide just months prior. Brook says she felt so much guilt inside herself that she must have somehow contributed to her sister’s decision.

Brook didn’t want to deal with the pain, so she did everything she could to escape it. She self-medicated with parties and shallow friendships. She wound up feeling isolated and miserable.

That year, going to camp didn’t sound very fun. Not only was her sister going, but she knew that every night they would have ‘cabin time.’ Cabin time is when everyone from your cabin gathers together to talk about that night’s message. Often, this is when students talk about real life and what is going on in their lives.

Wanting to keep her pain a secret, Brook hatched a plan. “I’ll only talk about what’s going on if someone asks me about it,” she told herself. She hadn’t told anyone about what had happened, not even her closest friends. It was impossible for anyone to ask.

But God had another plan. On the first day at camp, Shelby came up to her and revealed she would be telling her story to the whole group later in the week. Panic set in as Brook struggled to keep her composure. For two days and two nights she waited in anticipation. She tried to have fun but couldn’t stop thinking about it. During cabin time she kept things on the surface level. Her cabin had barely gotten to know each other since no one was opening up.

That second worst moment of her life finally arrived Wednesday night of camp. As Shelby began to tell her story, Brook could feel the pressure from everyone staring at her. All the pain she had been hiding was suddenly very public. Shelby talked about how sorry she was to have put her family through that, as she looked right at Brook. Brook began to sob.

Afterward, Brook confessed to Shelby her feelings of guilt and they talked openly about it for the first time. Shelby affirmed that Brook was not to blame and that she had no reason to feel that way. Brook describes that moment like a giant weight being taken off her chest.

During cabin time that evening everyone sat in silence for five minutes, just looking down at the ground. Finally, the cabin leader asked what they had learned from the message. Reluctantly, Brook shared with them about the healing and freedom she had just experienced with her sister; and then, the whole group began to go deeper. Girls began sharing about difficult life issues they were facing. Some were major issues, things you never would have known just by looking at them.

Since camp, Brook has had more healing to go through, but she is learning not to bottle up what is going on inside her. She understands now that relationship is vital to life. She is determined to keep moving forward, even when it’s uncomfortable. She also has a newfound compassion for others who are hurting.

“Healing is hard, but you have to do it, and you can’t do it alone.” – Brook