Bonhoeffer said that following Christ is an invitation to “come and die.” He is referring to the life-changing nature of following Christ that includes intense suffering. You are invited on a journey that passes through death to new life. March is here, and a specific invitation to Christ-following is taking place across the country. Now is the time when camp professionals race around to colleges and universities to recruit the young Christians that will make up the core of their camp communities this summer. Staff recruiting is an incredibly stressful process because there is so much at stake, but it is also filled with hope and expectation. The undeniable and rather frightening truth is that the summer staff experience has the potential to transform the lives of the staff members (not to mention the campers they will serve). It might be the subtle suggestion of a pastor, the overbearing encouragement of a friend, or the dumb luck of noticing the camp recruiting table in the student union that completely alters the young adult’s life. They turn in the application, not knowing fully what they are getting themselves into. It’s probably better that they don’t know.
As camp directors travel around to these colleges and universities trying to find the very best young people for their camp staff communities, they try shifty ways of convincing the young people to apply. They will tell you things like, “Serving on camp staff looks great on a job application!” or “You will acquire great practical skills that will serve you in whatever career you choose.” They will even go to great lengths to convince you that the first-year summer staff salary of $250 per week is actually a lot of money, since you do not have to worry about expenses like rent and food. To be fair, they are not technically lying to you when they tell you these things. However, they are not being entirely truthful, either. They know full well what will happen if you are hired to work on summer staff at their camp, but they also know that if they tried to describe it, you would go running for the hills. So they tell you nice fluffy stories to convince you that you should apply. Let me be clear: they are not being malicious; they are simply being prudent. They want the best people to work at their summer camp, and if they were entirely truthful with the applicants, only insane people would apply, and they wouldn’t pass the required background check. I know you will forgive them. They are simply being practical.
If they were honest with you, it might sound something like this: If you work at our camp this summer, chances are you will never be the same. Your current ideas of God and the world will be challenged and probably completely changed. You will be stretched to your physical and emotional limits in a number of ways that may even push you past the breaking point. You will be more vulnerable than you have ever been in your life, and you will entrust your deepest secrets to people who are now perfect strangers. In a single day, you will experience deep sorrow that will penetrate to the core of your being and overwhelming joy that will make you physically nauseous. You will forge life-long relationships, and you will rethink the status of some of your current relationships. You will consider and probably decide on a completely different career path. Your words and actions will completely alter the life course of someone you come into contact with. Though you will probably never know that you affected them, they will never forget you. You will encounter someone going through previously unimaginable suffering. You will try desperately to help them but will never know if your efforts did any good. Through it all, you will be embedded in what will probably be the most loving and supportive intentional Christian community of your life, but this community is temporary. I wish I could tell you exactly what the experience is going to be like. However, the Holy Spirit is at work, and that’s a big wild card. We have no idea what the Spirit is going to do with you this summer. Chances are, it will be unexpected and at times uncomfortable. But it will be wonderful. Trust me.
I suppose there are reasons why camp professionals do not use “Come and Die!” as a recruiting slogan, but they all know what the camp experience is really about. It is not about job applications, salaries, fresh air, great tans, or playing fun games. It is about participating in the activity of God’s Spirit at work in very specific and powerful ways. If we talk about this too much, it will scare people to death. We don’t want that. We want them to work at summer camp because we believe that it has the power to change their lives for the better. I wish that every single Christian young person would work at summer camp at least one summer during their college years. I think we would have a better church and a better world. Do you know a young person or two who should consider working at camp? Mention it to them. It might change their lives!