By Anne Marie Gerhardt
More than 90 Chicago area youth from the city and suburbs ventured more than a hundred miles from home this past August to experience a three-day overnight camp and many firsts.
This was the first time away from home and their families for many of the youth, first time sleeping overnight somewhere besides the comfort of their own bed, and first time camping in a rural setting.
This was also the first ever Chicago Southern District youth camp held Aug. 13-16 at the Northern Illinois Conference’s Camp Reynoldswood in Dixon, Ill., which is situated on 170 acres of woods and meadows on the banks of the Rock River.
Seventeen-year-old Chloe from Faith United Methodist Church in Chicago said this was her first overnight stay alone and said it will prepare her for college next year.
“I like the experience I got from the camp,” said Chloe. “I was able to meet new people and learn more about my Lord and Savior Jesus.”
It was also the first time horseback riding, learning archery, canoeing, star gazing and making s’mores.
“We had 12 baptisms on that Sunday morning and then we got on a bus and headed here to Camp Reynoldswood,” said Reid who stayed and helped chaperone. “It’s been a really great experience for each of the campers and I think it’s helped solidify relationships with the Safe Haven families.”
The Rev. Timothy Biel, Jr. from St. Andrew UMC in Homewood also brought several novice campers and said it was a great setting for the youth to bond, have fun, meet new friends, and hear faith stories.
“I believe at this age the commitments these youth make are going to guide and direct the rest of their lives,” said Biel. “I think it’s important for them to hear the staff and counselors’ testimonies and to see where they fit into the body of Christ.”
Chicago Southern District Superintendent Rev. Jacques Conway championed for the District-wide camp for youth grades 4-12 in hopes of offering a new experience and opportunity to meet new friends from different backgrounds and cultures.
“It was really interesting to see the bonding among people from different sides of the city and suburbs,” said Conway. “The youth came together right after they got off the school buses and started mingling with people they just met.”
Nivon, a 12-year-old from Faith UMC in Chicago, said he never had a “real” camping experience and despite the pesky mosquitoes he said he had a great time.
“My favorite thing was canoeing,” said Nivon. “I learned not to lean in the canoe or you will tip over!”
Churches and individuals helped raise money to provide scholarships for many of the youth to attend.
“Thanks to the many contributions we were able to buy t-shirts and make sure that any child who wanted to would be able to go,” said Conway.
Bishop Sally Dyck who stopped by the camp to greet the youth and volunteers said the Conference’s camps and programs offer so many wonderful opportunities for not only our churches but the whole area. Eighteen churches from the Chicago Southern District sent youth to the camp, but not all were members of a congregation.
“This particular camp is really exciting,” said Bishop Dyck. “It gave many of these youth, some who never have been out in the country, a place to just feel free to safely be themselves, learn about Jesus, and learn that other kids go to church and have a good time.”
For more information on NIC Camps visit www.niccamp.org.