Sending Your Child to Their First Summer Camp

Marie Osborne

Marie Osborne
Published Jul 06, 2023
Sending Your Child to Their First Summer Camp

This boy, who doesn’t like anything about youth ministry activities, keeps coming home from the youth group with a smile on his face. He’s a living reminder that people, not programs, make up the church. The leaders have welcomed him. A few friends have embraced him. They have shown him the love of Jesus, and it’s that love drawing him to camp. 

“Save the Date for Summer Camp!” The title of the email caught my attention just as I was about to delete it. Our church youth ministry sent out an update announcing when the summer youth camp would be taking place. I was about to move it into the trash when I realized: hold on, this applies to me now. 

It’s Time for Summer Camp

This will be my oldest’s first year in youth ministry and his first summer attending youth camp. Somehow this snuck up on me. Of course, I knew he was entering middle school and would be moving up to the next grade level at our church. I just hadn’t thought about summer camp until the email hit my inbox. 

I opened the message, skimmed through the details, and added the dates to my calendar. His first Tuesday night at youth group takes place the first week of June. Middle school youth camp is scheduled for the last week of July. I looked at my calendar and sat back to catch my breath. I could hardly believe this day had come.


I didn’t grow up in the church. I never went to youth ministry camp myself. When I came to know the Lord as a young adult, I had missed all opportunities to sleep in cabins, play games, sing songs, and make memories with my peers as we worshiped Jesus together. Year after year, I heard stories of youth coming to know Christ, kids getting baptized in rivers or lakes, and teens coming home from camp on fire for Jesus. I wished that had been my path.

My husband grew up in the church. He went to a youth ministry camp every year. He has incredible memories of whitewater rafting, sleeping under the stars, and singing worship songs around campfires. He made lifelong friends and lifelong memories and forged a lifelong faith in those summers at camp. He is the man he is today, largely shaped by those summers, and I’m so thankful that was his path.

Now our oldest child is about to embark upon his first summer youth camp experience. I logged into our church registration page and filled out the forms, both nervous and excited for my boy. I read the details of their week away. The travel itinerary, the number of days, the various activities await him. My nervousness increased, and my excitement dulled.


Youth camp is like a dream come true for some. If you like loud music, large group games, competition, team dynamics, and outdoor activities. All things are loud, athletic, outgoing, and extroverted. But what about kids that don’t fit that mold? What about a kid who isn’t into loud, wild worship? What about a boy who has never played or shown any interest in organized sports or competitions of any kind? What about a child who struggles to make friends and fit in? What about my child? How will he fair?

I shut the laptop before completing the registration. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe youth camp isn’t for my kid. Maybe he can grow in his faith without sleeping under the stars and singing by the campfire. Maybe this isn’t part of his faith journey. Maybe God has other plans for him. My heart ached thinking of how much I had wanted this experience for him, how much I had wanted it for myself and my husband, and how I hadn’t realized I wanted it for us all.

A Trial Run

A couple of weeks later, I was driving my son home from his first Tuesday night at youth group. “How’d it go, buddy?” I asked as casually as possible. “Good,” he mumbled nonchalantly. Silence hung in the air. I didn’t want to push it, ask too much, or put pressure on him. “I think I want to go to the Overnighter,” he offered out of nowhere. “Really?” I tried not to sound too surprised. “Yeah,” he replied, “it sounds fun.”

The next week, I found myself handing him a sleeping bag and $10. My husband drove him to church at 8 pm for 12 hours of large group games, loud music, and sleeping on the floor. The Overnighter is a sort of youth camp primer. A 24-hour test drive before registering for camp. I was still thoroughly surprised he was at all interested in this event. The description listed all the things he regularly mentioned he disliked about the church. Yet, for some reason, he asked to go.

When he came home from the Overnighter, he was smelly and chatty. He told us he stayed up till 2:30 am. They had pizza for dinner and donuts for breakfast. There was loud music, large group games, and all the usual “awesome” youth ministry stuff my boy had never shown interest in. I asked if he played the games or sang the songs. “Not really,” he shared as he stifled a yawn. “I mostly just walked around with people.”

Bad Reviews

He took a 3-hour nap that day, exhausted from all that “walking around,” I guess. When he finally woke up, we got a chance to hear more about how things went. Yes, the worship was loud and wild, not his cup of tea. Yes, there were games and competitions, not something he was interested in. Yes, there were kids who seemed to know each other, who laughed and played and showed no interest in him. There were even a few boys he knew from last year who made fun of him. 

I felt my heart catch in my throat. I remember coming to know the Lord as a young adult. I remember the warmth and welcome I experienced in the Body of Christ. I remember hearing the truth of Jesus preached for the first time, the impact the Gospel had on me, and how the love and friendship I received in the church was just further evidence of this God I wanted to follow. It broke my heart to hear my son describe such a disappointing experience. 

“I’m sorry, buddy,” I choked out as calmly as possible. “Why?” he replied. “I had fun.” I was shocked. What do you mean? You didn’t like the worship. You didn’t participate in the games. You were on the outside looking in. You were made fun of and ostracized. It didn’t compute. “The leaders are super nice. And I got to walk around with my friend all night. I think I want to go to camp, too.” I was flabbergasted.

Off to Camp, We Go!

I opened my laptop again to complete the registration. My husband and I have our reservations. The Overnighter was 12 hours. The camp will be seven full days. The Overnighter was two minutes from home. The camp will be ten hours away. But it seems the Lord delights in surprising us. This boy, who doesn’t like anything about youth ministry activities, keeps coming home from the youth group with a smile on his face. He’s a living reminder that people, not programs, make up the church.

He isn’t excited about the worship. He’s not looking forward to the sermons. He is anxious about the camping and rafting and all the other activities. But he still wants to go to camp. The leaders have welcomed him. A few friends have embraced him. They have shown him the love of Jesus, and it’s that love drawing him to camp. 

With my laptop closed and the payment sent, I put my boy in Jesus’ hands. Here we go, Lord. Make this first youth camp one to remember.

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