It can be easy to see an unhappy camper as a problem to be solved, rather than a person to be loved. But what would Jesus do?
Church camp goers come in all forms. Some have counted down the days to be there while others are counting the hours until they can go home. Emotional stress at camp can stem from changing friendships, changing hormones, personal faith crisis, physical or social exhaustion (introverts especially!), plus a myriad of other things. Here are a few practical suggestions for anticipating and meeting the needs of stressed-out campers.
Before Church Camp:
Train leaders. Do they know the signs of an overwhelmed camper?
Plan. Will they be sent to the nurse? A compassionate adult? A quiet area?
Designate. Is there an area with music or art to help calm anxiety?
Address bullying, hazing, or pranks. Are clear rules and policies in place?
At Church Camp:
Remind leaders to be aware of campers in distress.
Redirect overwhelmed campers to alternate activities without guilt or shame for "not participating."
Allow campers to call home (or go home) if they ask.
Check in through a brief leader meeting at the end of each day. What went well? What could be improved? Who needs extra care and attention?
After Church Camp:
Ask for anonymous feedback from leaders, chaperones, and most importantly, campers.
Follow up by implementing suggested and needed changes the next year.
So, what would Jesus do with a stressed-out camper?
When I think of that question, I picture Him stopping everything to comfort that little sheep. On the last night of a church camp I attended this summer, one camper shared an impactful experience. Inexplicably, she had become overwhelmed during a blind-folded faith walk. When the Camp Director saw what was happening, she dropped everything and pulled the young woman aside to comfort her.
At that same camp, I saw a wide range of physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual experiences offered, and nothing felt forced. Hikes were acclimated to slower hikers, and those requesting to call home were allowed to do so with no questions asked. When one camper struggled socially, a leader did her best to address her concerns. When another didn't want to stay, she called mom and went home. People were more important than "planned experiences."
Helping teens in faith crisis at church camp
Sometimes, a camper is completely rejecting camp. After months of careful planning that can be hard for adults. It can be easy to think, if you'd just trust me and participate, you'd see! I picture God looking at us with the same thought. We can participate in helping to accomplish His work, but we also have to trust. When we do so, we'll likely see that these are His children, and He is leading them one step at a time. It doesn't depend on one camp, one day, or one experience - lasting conversion is usually a culmination of many.
So, how can we have lasting influence, even on those struggling with their faith? We can start with a simple question:
"What's your greatest concern at this time?"
Unlike "Why are you..." or "Why aren't you..." type questions, this is a non-threatening way to understand individual needs. Full participation in every activity may not be the true measure of success - the way individuals are ministered to may be. When the 99 are having a good time, they'll be fine for a bit while the focus is on ministering to The One.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Galatians 5:22-23
*Introductory thought inspired by Thomas Monson, "Never let a problem to be solved become greater than a person to be loved."