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The Power of Camp

by Joleen Steel

There’s just something about an early morning on the beach with a campfire crackling, the waves lapping on the shore, and the smell of fresh caught fish sizzling over the coals. Imagine being on that beach with the Son of God beckoning you to join Him for breakfast. This is what Jesus did for his disciples in John 21:9.

“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.”

Jesus knew how to create special moments for His disciples. He understood the power of sight, sound, smell, and sensation in hardwiring memories. Peter had just jumped out of the boat fully clothed to get to Jesus. He was wet, happy, and most likely hungry. I can imagine the image of his resurrected Lord standing on that beach with a warm fire and yummy food became a memory he never forgot.

Camp is like that. Camp is a place to create special moments where you can meet Jesus on the beach, or hiking in the woods, or standing under a starry sky, or singing with friends and family around a campfire.

If your family is discussing the idea of camp and all the packing, time, and resources that are required to actually get there, I’d like to share three reasons you should pursue the opportunity to be at camp this year.

#1 The Power of Family History

Jesus created moments with His disciples. That beach in John 21 was not their first experience together. For three years, they toiled, laughed, cried, rejoiced, and rested. Jesus built history with these men.

My grandfather had the same idea when he built one of the first cabins at what is now Arlington Beach Camp and Conference Center. Grandfather set out to create a gathering place for his family—a place where we could meet Jesus. Four generations later, that cabin is full of our unique family history.

I have fond memories of Sunday afternoon drives over the prairies. Golden fields of wheat dotted with red grain elevators and silver silos stretched on for miles.

Grandma would roll down her window and point. “You see that field over there? That’s where farmer Jones’s son was struck by lightning. All they found were the poor boy’s boots!”

Or she’d holler, “Stop the car, Wesley! I just saw a bush of Saskatoon berries!”

We’d tumble out of the hot car and start running up and down the ditches before Granny could thrust tin buckets into our hands, saying, “Start picking.” We always picked in the end, mostly because she said so but also because of the Saskatoon berry pie we knew we’d enjoy over the next few days.

Evenings were spent on the beach with a campfire blazing and the Northern Lights shining overhead. My dad would tell stories of God’s faithfulness, and we’d sing songs about our love for Jesus. I still recall laying my head on my mom’s lap and feeling the warm glow of togetherness and belonging.

Growing up at camp built strong memories of family and gave me a history to belong to.

So, if you are asking yourself if taking the time to go to camp is worth it, I’d say, “Yes.”  Camp is a place for building strong memories of a family centered on Christ.

#2 The Power of Friendship

Jesus knew the power of friendship. He didn’t just show up and say, “Ta da! Here I am. Did you miss me?” No, He expressed interest in their fishing and served them a meal and was willing to just be with them on that early morning beach. His intention was to facilitate life-long friendship amongst these men.

Arlington Beach Camp rests at the end of a seventeen kilometer dirt road. Turning down that road aroused the greatest anticipation for my siblings and me. We would crane our necks out the windows of our brown station wagon, peering through the dust and heat, longing for the first glimpse of the lake. Finally, with the lake gleaming on our left, we’d turn onto the campground road with our horn honking hello to friends riding their banana bikes or running alongside us, their grinning faces orange and sticky from the dripping popsicles in their hands.

My summer friends and I grew up chasing the same prairie dogs, swimming together, and staying up late to watch the Northern Lights. As a pastor’s kid who moved every three years, I found solace in the on-going friendships of the lake. It’s been over fifty years and just last summer I returned to find my friend Shawna sitting outside her cabin. How sweet to hear her call out, “Joleen, come on over and sit down awhile.”  We chatted about our lives and laughed as children rode by on their bikes with dripping popsicles in their hands.

So, if you are asking yourself if camp is going to help your kids find faithful friends, the answer again is yes. Give your children the opportunity to return again and again to the same camp, to forge meaningful friendships and lifelong connections.

#3 The Power of the Gospel

In John 21, Jesus took time to mentor Peter. After breakfast, He asked Peter a powerful question, “Do you love me?” When Peter responded, “Lord you know I love you,”  Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep” and  ended with “Follow me.” This moment on the beach became the trumpet call for Peter’s ministry.

Camp is a place for trumpet call moments.

When you turn sixteen, you are old enough to get a job at Arlington Beach. Of course, that often comes with some risk for the campground. A whole group of teenagers working on the campground can be like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all going in the right direction, one of them drives a tractor into the lake. Yeah, that was not me. But still, I did spend an entire afternoon washing down the kitchen floor from corner to corner because I smashed a gallon of dill pickles by accident.

Being a teenager working at a Christian camp for a whole summer means sitting in on terrific camp chapels and worship nights. The two summers I worked at Arlington are forever etched in my memory for two reasons: the power of friendship and the power of the gospel. One year, our chapel speaker had the last name Valentine. He was a muscled man with a Spanish accent and boisterous laugh. He challenged us to live for Christ no matter the cost. His stories and words moved my heart so that several nights in a row I cried my eyes out at the altar call, asking God to give me a deep abiding love for Christ. And God did! I count my years at camp hearing speakers like Mr. Valentine among the most spiritually formative of my life.

So yes, send your kids to camp! Go to family camps together. If you have a church conference camp, go to that together, too. Go for the family history you will make. Go for the friendships you will forge. And go for the spiritual formation that will impact your lives for years to come. Go experience the power of camp.



Joleen Steel is a Canadian who spent her summers at Arlington Beach Saskatchewan. Joleen currently lives in Warrenville IL with her husband and youngest son. Joleen teaches kindergarten at a Charlotte Mason inspired Christian school. She writes for all three of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine publications and has published several short stories for children. Joleen is the executive director for Go to her website to find out how you can hold camp in your own backyard!


"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).