The Christmas Camp Tradition Continues

Geoff Hensley

It’s been 30 years since Northland’s student ministries team began taking students to Christmas Camp, and what a joy it has been each year to see lives changed and students grow in ways we could never plan for. This year was an extra special one for us, as there were many challenges along the way that nearly prevented us from continuing this annual tradition. This year’s trip took us on an unexpected journey filled with lions, tigers and a bear (really!) that left us all asking who is this Jesus guy, really.

A quick history on Christmas Camp: it kicked off with a small group of students and leaders going to Gatlinburg and eventually turned to Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida, where Christmas Camps were attended for many years. A little over a decade ago, we began having Christmas Camp in the beautiful mountains of north Georgia at Sharptop Cove (a Young Life camp). Sharptop, to our current high schoolers, is synonymous with the Christmas Camp experience, but this year many conflicts and obstacles caused us to take our students back to the original Camp Kulaqua.

Each year Christmas Camp is driven by a theme with a major plot that students are led through as they journey through camp. This helps drive everything from main sessions to games to lunch time fun, all carried out by a few adults dressed in silly costumes. For the last three Christmas Camps, I have had the unique opportunity of being one of those in costume along with some of my fellow adult volunteers and staff. The theme this year? Well, “camp” of course! Myself as uncle Elron, along with Marty Tracey as Mary Lou Peggie Sue, Jamila Millette as Jessie, and Northland’s Middle School Minister Bryan Royals, as Brodie, led the high school students through an adventure for no other purpose other than being together and thinking about our faith in a fun way.

Even though our norm was shaken up when we ended up back at Camp Kulaqua, the importance of community and building relationships with our students is what we focused on. Late night cabin talks, morning and evening sessions, games, and meal times all helped facilitate an environment where this could happen between adult leaders and students, as well as between students and God.

We had several speakers and international guests join us this year to center our focus on these relationships. Each morning we connected through technology with friends in other countries and each evening we had a pastor or guest teacher speak to us about three primary topics: game on (who Christ is and if we can trust Him), time out (looking at what’s really fake), and a re-do (acknowledging we need a do-over).

One central topic our speakers kept coming back to was this idea of ‘olly olly oxen free’, which is a catchphrase used to indicate that players who are hiding can come out into the open without losing the game. Our time at camp was an “olly olly oxen free” moment for many and it became extremely evident as the days progressed and this idea was expressed through the songs, speakers and even games.

To close out our time each year, we take Communion together on the last evening before packing up to head out. During this time of Communion, we take a mental snapshot of those around us to come back to throughout the year to remind us what Jesus did for us. Since Camp Kulaqua has a zoo on property, there was an ever-present echo of a roaring lion in the distance. As Pastor Sean Cooper pointed out during Communion, this echo of a roar is a reminder of the lion’s presence — and what great imagery as we stood there physically experiencing an echo of what Jesus did for us.

Camp is often a mountaintop experience, but we weren’t on a mountain in North Georgia this year. Instead, we were surrounded by the beauty of High Springs, Florida. Christmas Camp 2017 is a marker for our students who experienced a holy moment, and we’re praying it doesn’t stop there.

Will you join us as we continue praying for our students who showed up and had an eternally impacting holy moment with us?

If you are a high school student or a parent of a student, would you consider joining us for the first Rally of the semester? The kick-off is on January 17 at 6:30 p.m. and we’d love to have you.