The final camp we visited this summer was Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, situated on the side of a mountain in aptly named Hillside, Colorado. Sarah and I both worked at Rainbow Trail five years ago, and this was our first time back since we left that summer. We were excited to be back in the mountains at camp, visiting a place that had made such a positive impact on us.
Adding to our excitement was that we happened to be on-site during a senior high week, with 115 or so high schoolers driving the energy of the week. These were all kids who wanted to be there, and had been coming to camp for many years. Rainbow Trail uses the village system, and each day of the week a village is invited to plan and coordinate the worships and activities. The counselors are there to support and encourage the campers as they do this planning. The campers and staff did an amazing job throughout the week planning and owning their week at camp. We shared communion under the mountain stars, got up at 5:30 for a sunrise service, hiked up the mountain, went rafting, and heard the staff witnesses of five of the staff in the morning, and messages from five congregational leaders in the evenings.
But what left me with the biggest impression of the week was the Bible Study theme: “Take it down the mountain.” How do we take the ‘mountain-top high’ of our faith lives at camp and live it out and experience faith back in our daily lives? For so many of these kids, camp is the ONLY place that they experience, wrestle with, and share their faiths. They come from so many different circumstances, some of which are extremely difficult, and they struggle to make their faith a part of their lives. For me, the Bible study focus at Rainbow Trail this summer emphasizes the importance of outdoor ministry in our church. Camp is a place to encourage and challenge ourselves and each other. Camp is a place in which we accept, love, and teach kids who need to be accepted, loved, and taught. Camp is a place of grace. And we hope and pray that they take what they experience at camp back down the mountain and live out their lives remembering the grace of God that surrounds them.
And this goes for the staff, too! During the staff meeting, I thanked the staff for the amazing week we had, but I also asked them what they felt this summer’s theme and Bible study was saying to them. How was God calling them? I invited and challenged the staff to take it down the mountains themselves, to find churches to be involved in and to be leaders in those churches. Maybe not as pastors (although quite a few were considering the possibility), but as leaders. There are kids and adults who are longing for people just like them to connect with at church, and God is calling them to be leaders in the Church.
At all four camps that Sarah and I visited this summer, we were struck by the number of young adults who showed such amazing leadership abilities at camp, while giving up their summer to do outdoor ministry. We thank God for such an amazing ministry of the ELCA, where faith lives are nurtured, and leaders are made.