Smurfs and the Family Camp Conversion

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by Caitlin White, former LECFamily summer staff

 For those of you who were not with us at our Foster Family Camp through the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home or our third session of Grandparents and Me Camp, I want to tell you about one of our greatest blessings this summer: youth volunteers. 

We had seven youth from Community UMC in Fruitland Park volunteer during our Foster Family Camp to help with our activities. We need all the extra help we can get with so many different ages represented, and some parents came alone with as many as six children. However, when three of our helpful “Smurfs” (nicknamed for their royal blue t-shirts) returned to help at our last Grandparents and Me Camp for the summer, they were a little confused about how they could help.

The grandparents did not need help with tending to the kids in the same way the foster families did. Instead, they got to see and help out with our "Under Construction"-themed "Tool Time" sessions where grandparents and “me’s” heard bible stories related through songs, videos, and activities and talked about the faith questions involved.

By the last night of camp, these three youth had all realized how valuable family camp is, though it was not what they expected.

Many of us camp lovers start with the same question about family camp: “Isn’t the whole point of camp to get AWAY from your family?” For traditional camp, yes, that is a huge benefit as you play and meet new people independently.

However, I saw our volunteers come to the same conclusions I did last summer as I grew to love these camps: There is a need in the Church to bring families together in conversations about faith, and family camps are a vibrant and fun way to help make those conversations possible.

Some of these grandparents only get a few weeks out of the year to visit with their grandchildren, and just getting to spend quality time with their grandkids without needing to cook and clean helps them enjoy their time together more.

However, something much deeper happens when families come with open hearts and intentionality for growing in faith together. Grandparents get to share their stories and what faith means to them with a younger generation.

If nothing else, those who study intergenerational ministry know that children who regularly see family members actively worshipping and praying are more likely to do similarly as they mature. The spiritual growth is not one sided though! When children answer questions like “What does ‘worship’ mean?” in bright, articulate ways without any prompting, we see grandparents get surprised at the wisdom that comes from their “me’s”.

For many of our summer staff, Deuteronomy 6:4-8 is a primary theme for building faith in the home:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Scripture calls us to talk about faith with children and make it a topic of conversation in our homes. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that faith is usually something only talked about outside of the home at Christian churches, camps, schools, and conferences. We build our understanding and love of God is a separate environment with different people, and then we wonder why we struggle to live it out at home with those we love most.

It is one thing when a seminarian comes to that conclusion (we are weird by definition). It is quite another to hear teenagers say that they wish they had done a camp like ours with their grandparents when they were younger because faith and family should be that connected.

I would argue that the family unit is where we lay a foundation for lifelong discipleship. Yet, if we do not share faith and practice it at home, the same is also true. We simply get a different kind of foundation for our relationship to spirituality.

How much stronger would our congregations be if we started faith formation long before we entered the church walls?

I believe it might just be enough to build up a church capable of transforming the world.

At the Life Enrichment Center, we aim to make our events part of a larger lifestyle for families that hope to live out faithful lives together all year long. Of course, camp is not the only place families can come together around faith.

Spend some quality time with the kids in your life, and don’t wait for the hard questions to share your faith with them. Younger folks, call your parent and grandparents, even if you are 20 and you already know everything. Let’s get the conversation started!