It was Dr. Charles Luxmoore who ran our first camps from his own home in Halifax back in 1907 and 1908. Dr. Luxmoore’s desire was for young people from different churches of God to study the Word together ‘so that they would appreciate the value of fellowship and friendship in the things of God’. Since those early years there have been camps in the UK every year except when the Second World War interrupted things in 1940-41. After the war-time hiatus, UK camps started up in earnest again, with girls included for the first time and, from 1946 onwards, UK camps were held in several districts rather than as one national affair. The late ’40s also saw camps beginning in Canada, America and Australia. So, from then until now, camp-work has grown into one of the cornerstones of our outreach work, and it is a thrilling and rewarding work to be involved in.
The original intention of Dr. Luxmoore is still at the heart of why we are running camps for young disciples today, and of course, there is a strong Gospel mission at the heart of our work with younger boys and girls. For those who are involved with the young people of camps, and for those who support with prayer and their finances, camp is a precious work, more than worthy of the demands it lays upon us. What is it that makes camp work so special? I think a large part of it is that camp presents a unique opportunity for us to build stronger relationships with the children we work with. Instead of seeing them for an hour or so once a week, at camp we spend every waking moment of a full week with them. You get to know the boys and girls as individuals. You build bridges with them and hopefully build trust, so that they begin to see you as someone genuinely interested in them and their welfare. When camp is over, those ‘one hour, once a week’ youth club sessions have value added by time invested with the children in camps. Time at camp is time away from distractions and, in many cases, distressing situations. Some of the children have home lives we can scarcely imagine, and very worldly environments. Simply removing them from that milieu has a big impact in itself – I’ve often seen youngsters who cause real problems at youth club seem much more agreeable after a day or two at camp, which shows just how important background influences can be. The camp environment is a unique opportunity to present a sustained programme of the Gospel, where the seed can be sown and then nurtured. It’s not a quick 10-minute message and then off home until next week – it’s hearing the Word of God a couple of times a day, singing songs about Jesus, giving thanks before every meal for Jesus, holding conversations with workers about Jesus. The campers can ask questions and get answers, and there is time for them to think over the things they learn. Over the years, the Holy Spirit has worked consistently, wonderfully and mightily in the hearts of young boys and girls through camp work, and the full reaping of that harvest we’ll not truly know until we see faces we never thought to see in ‘the glory’ – in the age to come.
We have seen a renewed focus in the last 15-20 years on camps run for young Christians, which was Dr. Luxmoore’s original intention. I’m certainly thankful that we began a Mixed Week here in Northern Ireland just as I turned 15 years of age. I benefited a great deal from both the times of study (which to me were a new experience at that time) and ministry. Where else might I have had the opportunity to spend that amount of time, at that age, engaged in getting to grips with God’s Word? I also formed many friendships with other young people from across the UK and further afield. The value of close friends who share your enthusiasm for the Lord’s service has been proved to me countless times, and camp has furnished me with many who have encouraged and sustained me over the years.
It is a very special thing to me to now be running camps and seeing young people form those same bonds of friendship; I can chart their spiritual development from year to year as they respond to the discussion groups and ministry sessions. I look at these young Christians and pray that I am looking at the future of the Fellowship of Churches of God and I count it a privilege to encourage their growth, even as I am encouraged by them growing. Dr. Luxmoore would, I’m sure, be delighted to see exactly that end result he hoped for in 1907 now being borne out of camps all over the world in the Churches of God today. May God continue to glorify Himself in the salvation of young souls and the adding of young disciples to churches of God.