Young people live in a virtual reality; their lives are filled with texts, tweets, “likes”, friends, fantasy football, and Star Wars. There is even no need to attend church because they are able to download podcasts and listen in-between other sound bites that attract their attention.
Young people are addicted to the dopamine rush they get from the instant virtual interaction with a faceless friend. Electronics have become the drug of the 21st century, one that is numbing and dumbing down an entire generation who are actually looking for meaning and real relationships but are settling for less.
And then there is camp.
At camp, summer staff completely unplug from the virtual lifestyle and live in reality. There are no texts. Human interaction is face to face, shoulder to shoulder. It is bunk beds crammed into a cabin, it is a table loaded down with laughing and talkative campers, and it is a late night “opening up of the heart” around the campfire. At camp, staff and campers realize and receive the constant flow of serotonin and oxytocin, the social chemicals that our body produces when all is well – when we feel safe and productive, loved and trusted.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek writes, “We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, e-mail addresses, and expenses to be tracked. The human being really has gone virtual. Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us. The problem is, abstraction can be more than bad for our economy . . . it can be quite deadly.”
As I reflect on how our life and culture in our world has changed over the 30+ years I have been in camping, I shudder. I shudder at what has become acceptable. I shudder at what is no longer held in high esteem. I shudder at how technology has made us dumber instead of smarter. I shudder at the lack of communication skills. I shudder at the lack of Biblical literacy of the next generation.
However, as I reflect back on my years at Hidden Acres, summer camp and retreats have not changed much. Kids arrive on Sunday and leave on Friday; parents are just as excited as their kids, as they turn over their camper over to us. We hire the counselors the same way we did 30+ years ago: we look for the best college and high school students our churches and families have developed and trained. Food is served the same. Fun is served up the same. Water continues to be wet and fun. Camp fires are still just as hot and s’more’s still taste just as good.
The changes here at camp have been minuscule. Instead of one guitar we now have a band. Instead of overhead projectors we have 60” TVs being used as screens. We register online. We market differently and more efficiently. We have accepted technology, but our camp culture has gone relatively unchanged. It is still a real world of face to face interaction between a counselor and camper. It is still group games that build unity and teamwork within a cabin. It is still the preaching of the life changing Gospel that tells us “we are sinners in need of a Savior.”
The camper responds. The counselor grows in his/her faith because of the personal involvement with real live campers. Hidden Acres becomes their “favorite place” according to their Facebook postings. Why does camp produce results and create memories and friendships for lifetime? We provide a place and an opportunity for real people to become real “friends,” and we cover it all with Biblical teaching that changes hearts, minds, and lives.
As we begin a new summer season, my prayer is that you too will remain faithful, vigilant, and available to serve.