I'd like to start off by saying that I am not an overly committed religious person (like I'm don’t’ go to church every Sunday or praying every day) and until recently I've had a very negative view of Christianity which I'll get into later.
I suppose I better start from the beginning, so here goes. As a baby I was baptized as a Catholic Christian, which is the doing of my mother, who is what you'd consider a 'Christian on paper', with little or no loyalty and conviction to her faith in real life. I took Communion and Confirmation when I was about 10, along with most of my classmates from my Catholic primary school (also where my mother went to school). Going to a private Catholic primary school meant lots of talk and exploration about faith, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, however as a child, I never really connected.
Once I finished up at primary school, I started at a Catholic all-girls school, of which I did not have pleasant experiences with. As I was older and started to explore my views on certain topics and issues and unabashedly asked controversial questions in my Religion class (mandatory for all students) I soon learnt that while there were some great values in Christianity, the Catholic Church is extremely conservative, and if you will, hung up on outdated stances on certain issues. Perhaps I can go so far as to say slightly hypocritical as well.
I stayed at this school for two years, and I ended up moving due to not liking an all-girls environment and the quality of education which was rapidly declining.
I left to go to a Lutheran (also a branch of Christianity) private coed school for the remaining three years of high school. While my new school was also fairly religious, I found that they went about it in very different ways as compared to my old school. We have an entire school Chapel 3 days per week in the morning for 1/2 an hour, where teachers and groups of students are welcome to talk about faith as befitting to the current theme. At first I was really sceptical and I instantly would tune out, sometimes getting a bit of shut eye in Chapel, but gradually it became apparent that a solid 80% of the time they were talking about positive values etc. which is something that really, really appeals to me.
Like my old school, we also have mandatory religion classes called 'Christian Studies', which for the last year, was rather frustrating and lack lustre as we had to study and interpret a huge chunk of the bible for most of the year. One thing that I didn't like personally (although I understand why they didn't do it, because after all, it is a Christian school) is the lack of exploration of other religions and cultures. This is something I really enjoy, particularly the comparison between the key values that each faith is built upon, which most often, turn out to be extremely similar or parallel with one another, if not the same.
However the program for this year has had a huge turn around for the better, and consists of talking about moral issues and debates, like right and wrong and whether the death penalty is fair etc, which are also things I really like exploring.
Over the process of about a year and a half, I began to re-develop a more neutral (calling it positive would be a stretch) attitude towards Christianity, and became more understanding towards the concepts under the umbrella of this religion.
Going to Youth Group
A lot of my friends are practicing Lutherans, and along with going to church, they also went to youth group, which is where kids from years 9-12 can hang out and apart from worship, they can also do fun activities like a wheelbarrow race, mini Olympics or partake in community service.
I was invited along pretty much as soon as I moved to my new school, but I declined up until the middle of this year. I had a lot of preconceived ideas in my head, that in hindsight, seem quite stupid.
However, I decided to go along to Youth just once, as I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a shot, and much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. There was a casual, relaxed atmosphere, and as someone with social anxiety, youth was one of the few places I felt truly at ease at. I enjoyed the singing, the worship, the discussions and the games- so all of it really! There was no sitting around holding hands, singing 'Kumbaya', and they weren't anything like Amanda Bynes and her preachy posse in Easy A.
At the end of the night, one of the leaders promoted their upcoming winter youth day camp that was being run over 4 days. I spoke to her afterwards about my qualms, and she assured me that there was no pressure to be actively involved in anything, you can simply come along and listen, regardless of your faith as well.
So, a quick refresher. This is a youth day camp run over 4 days in the school holidays for kids from years 8-12 with about 50 kids in total attending.
Now, the first day was overwhelming, I’m not going to lie. We have the religious worship in the morning, and the sermon (basically where you sit in the church and listen to someone talk passionately about faith) was about Jesus being able to heal humanity, with several bible stories being quoted. The preacher introduced three key types of healing, emotional, spiritual, or physical. I was kind of okay with this (although the physical one was pushing it a little) until the preacher asked people who needed healing to come forward, so he could bless them and heal them with his God-given power. This got a little too much for me, and I remember thinking to myself ‘I think this is pushing it a little, this is where I’ll jump to medical science.’ That may not be politically correct or whatever, but it’s honestly what I thought.
Thankfully though, there was no pressure to participate or to go up and receive a blessing, and this remained the same for the duration of the camp.
We had a sermon every morning, and it definitely got better, with the key themes and ideas (or at least what I can remember) being:
* Treating others equally as God does
* Understanding that God is always there for us regardless of what happens, and that each of our relationships with Him are unique, and that He is always ready to forgive.
* Following in Jesus footsteps with his values, and making it our mission to be loving in everything that we do
After the sermon, we had a ‘small group’ discussion with about 5-6 people, to unpack the ideas that the preacher presented. I appreciated this, as I like to ask questions and talk about faith, and hear everyone else’s opinions as well.
This was actually the only religious part of the day, lasting for about 1 and 1/2 hours total. For the rest of the day, apart from meals, we got to do our elective classes, consisting of 5 choices:
- A crafting class, where we got to do string art (like the one below, similar to what I did), hama beads and a crafting challenge in teams. No one did a cross or any type of religious symbol either.
- A cooking class, where people got to learn essential recipes and how to cook a 3 course meal
- An active class where the more energetic kids played all kinds of sports like dodge ball, football, volleyball, basketball etc.
- An acting class where they played drama games and did little skits
- A problem solving class where they did crosswords, Sudoku, played board games and went on tons of ‘Pokemon walks’ (basically walks around the block to get to a gym and poke-stops)
We also got a considerable amount of free time to just chill with everyone.
One night, the entire group walked down to the cinema to catch a movie, and we also went to this indoor trampolining place on the last day. 10/10 for the activities lol.
What I Thought
Honestly, 'Jesus Camp' was nothing like I expected. There was no one shoving their religious beliefs down anyone’s throats, or any pressure to act or participate a certain way, and there most certainly were no ‘cult rituals’ as some of my anti-religious friends like to joke about.
The camp was a wonderful mixture of kids from different schools, and there was not one person at the youth camp who didn’t want to be there. This completely transformed the atmosphere into something warm, fun and easy-going at the same time too; nothing like the miserable high school environment I'm used to.
The week wasn’t some miraculous conversion or transformation, but it was a really positive experience in which I learnt a lot about myself and my values, and I’d do it again any day. I am honestly so glad that I came out with a more open mind and that it exceeded my expectations so much.
Thanks so much for reading :)
**Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and perspectives and I respect that, so I ask that you do the same of me**