There is a lot of hateful talk on our television screens and on our social media sites of late. We need camps to teach us how to be respectful to one another.
Our society is experiencing an unhealthy dosage of disrespectful dialogue and rhetoric of despair. Simply put, public figures are being rude and mean to each other. This affects how we interact with one another, especially with those who disagree with us. In the most extreme circumstances, we have witnessed disagreements or misunderstandings expressed violently.
Camps provide atmospheres of hope and positive dialogue with others. This does not mean that camps are idyllic or utopian communities. There are real problems, disagreements, and disrespect. At camp, however, these situations become opportunities to learn about others and their beliefs. People from different backgrounds (whose parents may vote for different political candidates) join together in intentional Christian community. They learn to forgive. They learn to see the face of the other and come alongside them in cases of sadness or despair. They get treated with respect, and they learn to treat others respectfully.
Recent research shows that these experiences of living in respectful and hopeful camp communities affect the campers after they return home. Participants sometimes describe camp as a “bubble” or a retreat from the real world. Camp often feels that way because it is set apart and genuinely different from most other environments that young people experience. Simply getting our children away for a week or more to a safe and positive environment is enough reason to send them to camp. Parents that completed a survey for the Effective Camp Research Project were largely content if their children came home safe and happy. Most had few other expectations of the camp experience. However, they found that the positive environment of camp continued to affect their children weeks after they returned home! If camp is a bubble, it is incredibly permeable.
Parents were asked what changes they have seen in their children in the weeks since the camp experience. Of the 370 parents who responded to the survey, 92% agreed that camp clearly had an impact on their children. The most common change that parents observed was that their children were more self-confident. The next most common response was that their children were more upbeat, positive, or happier since camp ended. The third most common was that their children were more caring, considerate, and respectful of others (including their siblings and parents!).  Most of these responses were tied together with observations of increased faith commitments or practices.
“My introvert who can sometimes be afraid of new experiences came home talking about how he couldn’t wait to go back next year. He was singing songs (VERY rare!) and talking about making friends. Most importantly, he said the experience helped him feel closer to God.” ­(Camp Lutherdale parent)
“She always comes back saying ‘please and thank you.’ She reminds us all to use kind words and she tries much harder to help out and be pleasant. She also reads her Bible a lot.” (Sugar Creek Bible Camp parent)
“They have been more happy, more caring and concerned towards others. They were left wanting to learn more about God and his word.” (Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Camp parent)
These are just a few examples of the comments parents made about changes they saw in their children. Parents loved to see their children more upbeat and confident after camp. They loved to hear them singing around the house. They loved to catch them praying, reading their Bibles, or asking for the family to say grace before a meal. The experience not only affected the attitude of the child. The positive effects extended to their family members, affecting the entire household.
The experiences we have and the language to which we are exposed affects how we interact with others. Hope is contagious. Smiles are contagious. Those who have been in the positive, hopeful environment of a Christian camp community are noticeably kinder, upbeat, and respectful after the experience. During this summer of 2016, when we are constantly barraged by negative political ads and the flags seem to be constantly half-mast because of violent acts, our young people and families could use some positive, hopeful environments.
 
There is still room, but you have to act now. Sign your child up for camp. Sign your family up for family camp!