When I was in 6th grade, my neighbor and best friend invited me to something called ‘WyldLife.’ I had no idea what it was, but my parents said yes and it was something new to do on a Friday night. An evening spent in her basement playing ridiculous games, watching skits, singing songs and hearing a leader share scripture changed my life.
For those of you who don’t know, WyldLife is the middle school branch of Young Life, an outreach Christian ministry. This organization is founded on one simple thing- building relationships. The types of relationships where leaders constantly show up where kids are at, regardless of where that may be.
That type of acceptance, without an agenda, is what made WyldLife so attractive to me. With a background already rooted in faith, I knew the basics of what following Jesus looked like, but I struggled to live that out and understand how it tangibly looked. Attending my first weekend camp at Windy Gap rocked my world – I heard the Gospel presented in such a dynamic, relevant way. I had the chance to share my thoughts, doubts and questions with my peers and leaders.
That weekend was eleven years ago. It was literally so long ago that I don’t even have digital pictures from it (throwback to disposable cameras). Since then I have spent countless days, weeks and months at Young Life camps across the country as a camper, leader and on volunteer staff.
This past weekend I had the privilege of taking middle school girls from Chapel Hill to the same camp that changed my life eleven years ago, in the sweet mountains that I call home.
We laughed a lot, played games, waited in line wayyy too long for the giant swing (I’d do it again though) and had real talk after each club. A theme we discussed at great length was social media and how it plays out in these girls’ lives. It was fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. While we all agreed that social media creates unrealistic expectations and portrays an alternate reality, we also recognized out utter obsession and dependence on that very thing.
While the weekend was filled with countless beautiful moments, my favorite was watching hundreds of kids just play – free from most of the pressures they face in their everyday lives.
One of my favorite things about Young Life camping is that no camper has their cell phone while they are there. Whether it’s for a weekend, week or a month of serving. While collecting cell phones, ipods and the assortment of technology on the bus can be slightly dramatic, it transforms the entire experience.
I got a firsthand seat to watch these girls, whose face immense pressures from their community, peers, culture and education system be free. Even though it was only for a weekend, I got to witness them just be kids. To play and laugh and engage with each other. I watched them forge authentic relationships, not ones laced with false knowledge and judgement gained from someones Instagram profile; but ones based upon shared connection and the joy of camp.
It was a beautiful thing. I think we should all go to camp more, unplug more and take the time to invest in authentic relationships.