Helping Young People Build Relationships at Camp
Camp is often the highlight of the summer for many children. It’s an opportunity to learn and make new friends when class is not in session. But at Camp Wabanna in Edgewater, Maryland, organizers aren’t just trying to keep kids busy while their parents are at work. They’re bringing together children from different social backgrounds and transforming their lives with the love of Christ.
“We have children who are churched and unchurched, wealthy and poor,” says Neal Luebbers, acting executive director of Camp Wabanna. “Here, none of that matters. They often become best friends, where in any other setting, it would be very difficult for them to become friends.”
The camp’s programs are designed to keep students’ minds on the gospel, regardless of what they’re doing at the moment. For example, if a camper is riding on a sailboat, counselors use that experience as an opportunity to present a biblical message.
“That framework helps us to break down barriers. At the beginning of the week, some of the children are very guarded,” Luebbers says. “By the end of the week, there’s a difference in the way they’re singing and worshiping at chapel. Watching that transformation process and watching kids build relationships with the Lord is phenomenal.”
A Life Transformed
Aaron started attending Camp Wabanna at age 7. His parents wrestled with addiction and often neglected Aaron, who spoke only when spoken to. A neighbor who knew about Aaron’s home life made sure that he was able to go to camp every year. One day during Aaron’s fourth summer at the camp, he was talking excitedly with a group of boys near the pool. The aquatics director noticed the commotion and walked over to investigate. Once she determined the cause, she radioed Luebbers and asked him to speak with Aaron.
“Ms. Jen was telling me what happened at the pool,” Luebbers began. “Do you want to tell me?”
“Mr. Neal, I prayed to receive Christ last night,” Aaron said.
“Why didn’t you tell your camp counselors?” Luebbers asked.
“Mr. Neal,” he replied, “They already know Christ. We need to tell these other kids about him.”
Luebbers was floored by Aaron’s response. Not only had Aaron gotten the message, but he also wanted to share the gospel with other campers, just as the staff had done for him.
Continuing a Tradition
Luebbers and his staff want to make sure the non-denominational camp stays true to its mission of reaching all kids, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s a practice that dates back to the camp’s founding in 1941.
“We truly can say that we have never turned a child away for lack of financial resources,” Luebbers says.
In 2013, the camp provided scholarships to 250 of its 1,500 campers, thanks to its network of ministry partners. It seeks to be self-sustaining, so it can weather any economic conditions. Since Luebbers joined the staff in 2000, he’s seen Camp Wabanna transform from a summer camp to a year-round facility that works to support the local church and its youth ministries.
Learn more about Camp Wabanna.
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