They’ve spent all summer packing and unpacking rental trucks, driving from Missouri to Colorado to Florida, working days that start early and end late. But when Student Life staffers pulled onto the PBA campus for their final week of youth camp, they may have been more energized than when they’d started 10 weeks before.
That’s because Student Life summer camp is a place where hundreds of middle- and high-school students commit or re-commit their lives to Christ, and it never gets old.
Roosevelt Odidi, a Student Life recreation squad leader from New York, tried to describe the tradeoff for all the hard work, long days, and thousands of miles: “We’ve gotten a front-row seat to salvations each and every single week.”
Vans of students and their youth leaders rolled in on Monday, July 30 for the five-day camp. About 250 students attended, mostly from Florida churches. Calvary Port St. Lucie sent a contingent that included Alicia Roberts, Aravis Noll, Adrianna Guantes and Imani Pierre. For them, Pierre said, the week was about “making new friends who love God as much as you do.” Guantes said she realized that being surrounded by people her own age made her feel more free to worship and explore her own faith.
All week, through music, message and personal connection, the Student Life mission is to provide a foundation for churches and youth leaders to help young people grow in their relationships with Jesus.
“There’s so much behind-the-scenes work we do for churches so they can pour into their students,” said Abby Bals, a Student Life stage host from Alabama. “It almost feels like long-term mission work in a sense, because we’re setting up those individuals for long-term success.”
Each week, Bals has performed an intensely personal monologue in which she explores her own struggles with self-doubt and darkness – a heart cry for holiness.
Because she is so visible, students often seek her out. Earlier this summer, she said, a young man approached her with tears in his eyes. “He could barely talk, but he said, ‘Thank you so much. I can’t even tell you what it meant to me.’” Over the course of the week, Bals learned he’d opened up to his youth group about his deep depression, which included acts of self-harm. “It was such a breakthrough for him. He had never opened up before, and had been living in such darkness.”
At Student Life, campers begin and end their days with worship sessions, and the schedule includes small groups, quiet times, Bible studies, and games. The recreation-based module uses games and competitions to help students to connect with each other on a deeper level. The hope is that these fun, team-building moments will create opportunities for discipleship.
The other track, which focuses on mission work, provides a ready-made service opportunity. Student Life takes care of the logistics, and youth teams go out into the community to work and serve. During the Palm Beach County swing, Student Life teams volunteered at Seagull Services, Paint Your Heart Out, and Acts of Kindness Summer Camp.
From the stage, it’s not always easy to know what reaches the young listeners. But what happens at Student Life camp is truly just a beginning. “We’re here to serve and equip,” Bals said. “If we see the fruit, that’s a bonus.”