by Tony & Lorraine Harris
On the weekend of 23rd – 25th September we held our first Connect Camp at Camp Koinonia, Evans Head . We took a group of 27 young people and 11 leaders for a weekend of bible teaching, beach activities, games, laser skirmish and of course, plenty of food.
Our story began when God placed on our hearts the idea of a camp where young people could learn about God’s love for them personally. We live on the far North Coast of NSW where there is a high rate of suicide. Our purpose was to give hope to some of the youth who are living in a society where many are struggling with their sense of self-worth and purpose in the world and to show them that God is real and He loves each and every one of them.
As youth leaders in our small church, Lower Clarence Baptist Church, we decided to make connections with the youth leaders from The Hub Baptist Church in Grafton, who enthusiastically joined our group of leaders. The leadership team were all united in our one purpose of showing God’s love to the youth in our towns. Every leadership meeting was a blessing as each person willingly contributed ideas, time, talents and resources to enable the camp to take place.
From the initial concept of the camp, our local church offered prayers, support and encouragement at every step, as we set about organising the weekend. As a church, we sought God’s guidance for whom to invite and that He would enable the right young people to come. Our church hosted a fund-raising day with all proceeds going to subsidise every youth for the camp. The youth had a car wash and the people from the church had a cake stall, car boot sale and BBQ. As there were a number of youth who come from families with financial difficulties, we approached the church family to contribute towards enabling all to come, without the burden of the expense. The floodgates opened as people contributed financially according to their ability to give.
As the weekend approached, we started getting our youth excited about the camp to come. We were surprised at those who chose not to come, but we were even more surprised at some “unlikely suspects” who were keen to attend. When our final numbers were confirmed, we gave names of the youth to specific people in our Churches, with the purpose of praying for them by name as a lead up to the camp and then during the whole weekend.
With mini buses borrowed from our local Christian Schools, we drove our youth to Camp Koinonia. Upon arrival, they all chose their beds for the weekend and then we all assembled in the hall for the first time. After introducing all the leaders and setting out the rules for the weekend (including no devices for the whole weekend), we set about to help the two groups to connect and learn something about each other. Within moments the two groups were joining together and participating in all activities. This was the norm for the whole weekend, with all the youth combining together as a united group. At no point was there anyone left out of activities.
Our theme for the whole weekend was God’s love. To deliver this message, we had three men who each presented a short talk, which was then followed by small discussion groups. The leaders provided the questions to be discussed. On Saturday night we had live music that was interspersed with three testimonies, which was a very moving and inspirational night. On Sunday, we had a Q and A session. The youth were encouraged to put their questions into a box and our panel of “experts” were there to answer the questions.
At the start of camp, we got everyone there to write their name on an envelope, which we put up on a board. During the course of the weekend, all at camp, both leaders and youth, were invited to write encouraging notes to each other and place them in the relevant envelope. Before camp, we asked the prayer partners from church and the young people’s parents to write letters to encourage them. At the end of the camp, we placed these letters in the envelopes as well. These were handed out at the end of the camp, before we gave the opportunity for anyone to make a commitment for Christ and for others to consider being baptised. While packing away, a young man approached us, asking to be baptised. God is good.
Since our amazing blessings at the camp, God has continued to show that He is working in the lives of our youth. Between the two churches, we have had the absolute privilege to be able to witness not one baptism, but EIGHT, two of the leaders and six of the youth. GOD IS GREAT.
Another amazing flow on from the camp is the sense of united purpose our two youth groups now have. We are looking towards 2017 and all the ways that we can combine our talents and abilities to reach as many young people as we can with the message of Christ and His love for them. Our camp next time will include more youth groups, so we can help and empower more of our local youth leaders in the roles that God has called them to.