by Carol Smith and Kristin Devine Mueller
This winter, we had the opportunity to attend Winter Camp weekends with both our 7th-12th grade youth and our 5th-6th grade students. We saw God move in amazing and wonderful ways as we had this time away together with the youth of ECC! Camp becomes a sacred place for both our students and our leaders, as we step away from the rhythms and routines of our daily lives and step into a life of close community with God and with each other.
We learned about God, got to know each other in a deeper way, and had so much fun. Many friendships were made and developed over these weekends. Here’s a glimpse into our adventures at Winter Camp!
On our 7th-12th grade weekend, we had 21 students and 5 adults at the second of the combined middle school and high school retreats of the season. Throughout the weekend worship services, we had a fantastic speaker and theme of Relentless! Seeds were planted in the hearts of our group members. We hope that this main idea continues to resonate with our students: GOD IS GREATER THAN EVERYTHING, OUR ANXIETY, OUR TROUBLES, OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS, OUR FEARS! John 3:30 reminded us that God must increase, and we must decrease, meaning that he must be above all other things! This quote also had a strong impact on our students, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.
We learned that God used John the Baptist, who was this awkward guy, to be the one to further the kingdom and announce the coming of Jesus. We don't have to change who we are to fit into the crowd. We need to live into how God designed us and sacrifice for God because God can handle all that.
Our 7th-12th grade students had a few camp victories during the weekend. First, our group became Stumpball champs when they won the stumpball competition! This is a game that is similar to ultimate frisbee but students stand on a "stump" for the goal. We were proud to see that our students played hard all game without giving up (even though they were cold!), acted with kindness toward each other, encouraged each other throughout the game, treated other teams with kindness, and didn't let the competition take over their purpose of having fun!
Our second victory came when our group also won the weekend-long game! This game started as soon as we arrived and ended Sunday morning before breakfast. Our students were committed to talking to the camp leaders and working together. When conflict did arise, students were willing to work it out.
On our 5th and 6th grade weekend, we had 9 students and 3 adults at the largest attended winter camp (and the last) of the season. Our theme was Relentless and our verse was John 3:30, He must become greater; I must become less. We learned a lot about John the Baptist, things like he was made for a purpose; to point others to Jesus. His life was a little awkward; he was misunderstood (sounds like the life of a preteen/teenager) and relentlessly pointed people to Jesus. Jesus relentlessly pursues us and wants us to repent and turn to him. Sometimes our "decider is broken," and we need to repent (turn totally the opposite direction) of the things that makes God sad.
This group participated in prayer stations on Saturday night. The different stations allowed students to experience God through building a prayer with word stones, Bible journaling, lighting a candle for burdens, and several others. They were invited at the end to take a piece of sandpaper and choose the grit. While coarse sandpaper will knock down the roughness of something and work through some big things, less gritty sandpaper will refine and smooth out the material. But all sandpaper makes things smaller. God works down our burdens and he becomes greater than all our burdens.
We’re thankful for the honor and privilege it is to be part of the faith journey of each and every one of our students. Pray with us that God would continue to work in our student’s hearts, and that God would continually bring to mind what they heard and experienced over the weekend.