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Aug11FriThree stories of how kids found a second home at Salvation Army camp. August 11, 2017 by Captain Lisa Hillier
Every summer, thousands of children and youth from across the territory board buses to go to Salvation Army holiday camps for a week of fun, friends and food, along with a strong spiritual component. Some are anxious, but most are filled with excitement as they look forward to activities such as swimming, sports, hiking, drama, and arts and crafts. For many, canoeing, archery and rock climbing are first-time experiences.
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But it’s not only about the physical activities—a lot of personal growth and development takes place as they learn about self-respect, interpersonal skills, team building and getting along with others. Many come with low self-esteem and behavioural issues, and are welcomed into a loving and caring environment and accepted for who they are by staff that are committed to investing in their lives.
Worship and Bible teaching are part of the daily routine and, for some, it’s the first time they have heard the gospel. They learn that Jesus loves them; that God is with them in the difficult moments of life; that they are never alone. They are taught to pray and to say grace before meals. Many are hearing things for the first time that we take for granted.
At the end of the week, they are given an opportunity to make a commitment to Christ. Hundreds of children come to know Christ every year at camp—camping ministry impacts more children for Christ than any other ministry unit.
The Salvation Army reaches out to children and youth in many ways, such as vacation Bible schools, the Red Cap anger management program, after-school programs and other children’s activities, but camp is special. For a week, we change a child’s world—we provide a safe, warm, caring environment where their needs are met. Many of the children who attend holiday camps are from low-income families, but no child goes without. If things are forgotten or unavailable, we provide them—from a toothbrush to soap to a bathing suit.
There is always lots of food—meals with seconds (sometimes thirds) and snacks in between. Days are filled with activity from morning until bedtime, with no worries or concerns. Lifetime friendships are made and memories are created. Lives are transformed.
We see evidence of this as campers return to camp years later to become staff members. Many want to give back to camp because of the positive impact it had on them. Others want to give children the great experiences they had. Camp has become an integral part of their lives and they want to share it with others. To them, camp is home.
In a recent interview, I was asked, How do we measure success? How do we know if we are doing a good job at camp? It’s not about numbers. Our beds are usually full. There is no evaluation or survey at the end of a children’s camp. I pondered for a moment and then responded, “At the end of the week, when a child says, ‘I have had such a good time, I don’t want to go home’ or ‘I can’t wait to come back next year,’ then we know we have done our job successfully.”
One of our returning campers was asked what she liked best about camp. She said, “I am happiest at camp. I love it here.” For at least one week of the summer, Salvation Army camps make many children’s lives happy.
The mission of The Salvation Army is to share the love of Jesus, meet human needs and be a transforming influence in the communities of our world. At camp, we fulfil this mission every day as we share the love of Jesus with children, meet many of their needs, both physically and spiritually, and have a transforming influence on them that extends into their homes and communities.
Camping ministry transforms children’s lives. Here are three stories from Natasha Burkett, director of community and family services in Moncton, N.B.
1. A Better Person
At holiday camp, we got to know an 11-year-old boy who came to us through the Red Cap anger management program. His mother had died when he was eight, and he had been on a downward spiral since then, making friends with a rough crowd at school and getting into some serious trouble. His dad enrolled him in Red Cap to give him tools to help manage his anger, and thought a week at camp, away from the pressure of his “friends,” would be a positive experience. The boy didn’t really want to go, but his dad convinced him to give it a try.
He had the time of his life. He came home on cloud nine, excited about everything he had learned, the swimming pool and making a new friend. He even admitted he now understood why some of his actions at home and school were out of control.
When school began, the temptation to slip back into old patterns with his friends was strong, but feeling more confident than he did before, he stood up to them for the first time. His friends ridiculed and ousted him from the group. He had no other friends to turn to.
After returning from Christmas break, there was a new kid in his class. It was the boy he had met at camp. They picked up right where they left off and soon became inseparable.
Today, they are still best friends. Our camper tells us that the lessons he learned at camp and making a good friend helped him stand up to his old crowd and become a better person.
2. The Power to Comfort
When we told a single mom that her application for her two kids to go to holiday camp had been approved, she was very emotional.
They lived in a trailer that was in dire need of repairs. She worked full-time at a minimum wage job and took extra shifts whenever possible to help make ends meet. Her 12-year-old daughter was often tasked with making supper and putting her brother to bed. The mom would get home just in time to tuck him in and care for an elderly grandparent. She shared that she tries her best, but worried her kids were losing out on their childhood.
The kids were so excited about holiday camp. They had never been away before. On the day they left, they made their mom a card to wish her a happy week, because she would also be getting a break, knowing they were safe.
They had a wonderful week at camp. I visited them two weeks after they got back, and they were still thrilled with the experience. Their mom was delighted to see her children “act like children.”
A month later, we found out the mom had suffered a massive heart attack and died. The children were devastated, their world turned upside down.
At the funeral, the sister told us that even though they were sad, she had learned at holiday camp that God has the power to comfort. She had prayed to God for help and knew in her heart that he would take care of them. She also said she had told her mom about Jesus after coming home from camp. Relatives told us that camp came at just the right time.
3. The Coolest Girl
One of our campers, who didn’t have a positive female role model in her life, came home from holiday camp and said she had met a counsellor who was “the coolest girl.” She told us the counsellor, who came from a similar background, spent a lot of time listening to her and giving her advice, and it meant a lot knowing she cared. The counsellor had prayed with her, and promised to continue praying for her. For the first time, the camper felt like she mattered to someone, that she was worth something.
The counsellor made her feel special, and showed her there were things she did well. Now she wants to be a camp counsellor, too, when she gets older—so she can be an example to other girls. A counsellor can make a big impact on a child’s life in just one week.
Captain Lisa Hillier served as the divisional youth secretary in the Maritime Division for four years before becoming the corps officer in Botwood, N.L., in June.