By: Brooke Turbyfill
With the Territorial Youth Institute 2016 coming up July 31 through August 7, now is the ideal time for youth and young adults, their parents, their leaders and corps officers to explore the question: First camp, then what?
Campers – whether attending youth councils, Salvationist Service Corps, TYI, TMI, conservatories or the Southern Bible Conference – have the potential to go into repeat mode like a phone’s alarm setting: Attend; return home. Repeat. But a little heart preparation goes a long way.
Territorial youth secretary and associate secretary Captains Bobby and Anne Westmoreland offer advice for the campers, but also for those who support them. One of the chief directives, according to Captain Bobby Westmoreland, for a camper is to “know what the theme is and pray or reflect on that theme. Prepare your heart ahead of time.”
This year’s TYI theme is Story Worth Living. When a camper prepares his heart to know what kind of story he’s been telling and what kind of story he wants his life to reveal, he can go to camp knowing – expecting even – that God will do a transforming work beyond what he can imagine.
Putting people and habits in place to help you follow through on the decisions you make at camp is also key – and that starts before you leave. Here are some of the Westmorelands’ top tips:
- Choose your electives ahead of time if you can. This makes it paramount to think about the camp theme in advance. It also means you’re more likely to get into the electives that most interest you.
- Journal ahead of time what you want to get out of the camp.
- Talk to your corps officer or youth leader about an opportunity to share your experience when you return.
- Learn the camp’s theme and start praying about what God has in mind for you during that week.
- Pack appropriately. Ask others at your corps for help costuming if there is a dress-up night or costume event.
- Prepare your heart and your friends for understanding that your activity on social media will be much less, if at all, while you’re at camp. It leaves more time to connect face to face with others at camp.
- If someone is committed to helping you financially with camp or spiritually, take time to meet with them, thank them and share some of your goals or hopes. Ask them to pray for you while you’re away.
Captain Bobby Westmoreland said that it’s easy to come to camp and have a great awareness of God’s presence only to return to what feels monotonous back at home. “They come to these events and they’re on a spiritual high. They’ve had a major switch in worldview, especially Salvationist Service Corps members, and sometimes they don’t see a lot of change. They struggle because they have changed, yet they meet up with dissonance because of lack of change when they go back.”
One way to combat that is for the local officers and corps officers to be more aware of a camper’s transition back. “Expect young people to come back on fire and then easily get discouraged,” said Anne. “Let the youth try to do their ideas and mentor them through it rather than just saying no.”
She also recommends holding the campers accountable by asking them what their one or two takeaways were from camp and how they plan to implement those things. It could be unhealthy relationships that need to be broken off or lifestyle changes. “It’s easy to live very compartmentalized lives – it’s easy to have this experience and then go back to friendships and things where you don’t really need to be,” she said.
By having one or two from the corps asking the camper questions about their experience, it can help them make the changes they need to make and cement the Lord’s transforming work. Youth workers can help students debrief not only about their experiences, but also about what the territorial staff can do to make the experience better. “We try to plan practical takeaways and if we lose sight of that at the territorial level, then we might as well cancel. We’re always asking, ‘How is this going to benefit the young people in the communities where they live?’”
Both Bobby and Anne said that everyone involved – campers, youth workers and corps officers – should expect change and embrace it.
Captains Carlos and Valentina Cantu, divisional youth leaders in the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division, agree. “Our kids usually come back on fire and our goal should be – at any level – to fan that flame, not put it out! Assign them leadership roles and give them the ability to flourish. Be their biggest cheerleader as they return instead of a barrier. Listen to their spiritual experience they’ve just encountered and embrace it; perhaps even support their ideas of change and renewal.”
Captains Carlos and Valentina Cantu suggest that campers consider the following questions while they are away and after camp.
- What does all this content mean in my life right now?
- What kind of impact has this conference made in my life?
- Has my relationship with the Lord grown deeper? How?