There are lots of challenges facing young people who make a commitment to Jesus. Camps are no exception – especially for those who go home to unbelieving (and sometimes hostile) families and friends, or churches where they’re the only young people and don’t have much support.
I became a Christian at a youth camp. On my return, I burst into the house saying: ‘I’m saved! And you need to be too’. Then I embarked on a hoovering and preaching campaign to prove How Jesus was Brilliant. My parents who aren’t Christians, were sympathetic, but uncomprehending. They just wanted the old me back. But though the hoovering soon stopped, my passion for Jesus remained. And even though my parents weren’t hostile, something had changed. The world was different – and so was I.
My experience was pretty benign. But for others it can be the first – and one of the hardest tests of their faith. Here’s some friend’s experiences:
‘‘Converting to Christianity … was a really difficult time – I’m Jewish and my family were so confused and hurt and upset with me, and I internalised this a lot – I was only 14 – and thought I was a bad person because I’d caused such upset in my family. Plus, the identity thing of being Jewish is so strong that when I found Jesus, I didn’t know what to do – it was like I suddenly had to craft a whole new identity, and I didn’t know how to do that. It’s been years trying to put both aspects of me back together again’.
‘‘I used to think Jesus wrecked my life….I have a non-believer sister who was breezing through life … whereas here I was with a God who was stirring it all up inside me and falling apart as a result! It made me so angry!’
“(When I became a Christian), ‘It felt like opening pandora’s box. I wanted to be transparent (I still do), a desire to be open, to be real and to express myself but words wouldn’t come out, I just couldn’t articulate what was going on inside me. And I felt weird and I had no idea who I was or what I wanted… It was as if I decided to repressed all emotion. And somehow I managed to master what I thought was a beast. But when God showed up, I just couldn’t ignore my heart, it came alive….my stress increased, because now I was interested in being the real me: but who is she? And because now I was interested in being human, in having a heart: but what was I feeling? Was it OK to feel this way?”
“When I was in my late teens, I went through a phase of telling too many people about my struggles. I was a new Christian, and I thought that all Christians could somehow be implicitly trusted and would understand. In fact, a lot thought I was just being manipulative and making things up for attention. I was very hurt when I discovered that.”
“For quite a few people, church is a social thing, I find that hard to get used to God being a taboo and “don’t ask any personal questions”, I imagined church like a messy family I guess”
“Since becoming a Christian I feel like I turned into an oddball, I feel disconnected from many conversations especially when it comes to tv, gigs, movies or expensive restaurants, fashion etc. I tried to fit in but they are not things I enjoy, I only feel enjoyment in Christ or hanging out with others I can connect a bit more with….I would love to be able to enjoy other things like other people do. I do not know if this is normal or not but according to my GP I must be depressed because I don’t enjoy what most people enjoy’
Life at camp is intense and fast-paced. For some it will be the only time they feel surrounded by adults who are genuinely interested in them: plus, returning home can mean a return to pressures like school or exams. If you’re returning from a camp yourself, remember that a bit of a slump after your high of camp is completely normal. But Jesus is just as much in the every day as He was in the mountaintop moments. Find Christians around you who you can be real with and share your day-by-day struggles with. The high octane moments are special, but the everyday journey with Christ is the real stuff of the Christian life.
If there are young people you know who have just returned from camp or become Christians, let’s pray for them and encourage them to reconnect with local church. Let’s go out of our way to make them feel welcome and listen to what they’ve been learning and what God is teaching. We can remind them that Jesus hasn’t been left at camp: He’s is with us now – and church is all-year round family, where they are precious and welcome.