Interview: Chinese Followers on Christian Camps
By Grace Zhi, August 29, 2018 11:08 AM
In the summer of 1861, Ken, a teacher from Connecticut, led a group of children through two weeks of outdoor activities to balance their physical and mental health. The activity, known as a "study tour" or summer camps, became popular and gradually swept the world.
According to the characteristics of participating groups and the objectives of the camps, Christian camps are generally divided several groups, namely children's camps, youth camps, gospel camps, couples' camps and many others. Each camp tackles a different topic: some are done close to nature, some hold activities to communicate with each other, and some invite scholars to give lectures.
What is the situation with regards to Christian camps across China? To what extent, do they help with the growth of believers? What difficulties and challenges do they face?
Five Christians who participated in church camps shared their views about the subject matter.
Sister Li, a camp co-worker from a church in Henan
"The children are still in tears, eager to join in next year."
Sister Li is a church worker in a town in Henan Province. Over the past five or six years, the church she serves has been holding summer camps for primary and secondary school students. The camps are open not just for children from Christian families but also for many left-behind children.
There are many left-behind children in the local area. On the one hand, these children stay at home with only their grandparent to take care of them. They are loved very much. On the other hand, however, they lack a parent's love because their parents are not around.
Eight-year-old Xiaojun (not his real name), for instance, lives with his grandparents. When he first ccame to the camp, he swears and steals from others. The camp teacher pays special attention to him, cares and encourages him and gives him hugs from time to time. When he felt loved, he changed completely. He started to help others, and finally helps the aunts wash the dishes.
When a teacher in the camp had to leave in advance, Xiaojun was reluctant to part with her. However, in the following summer camp, he brought his brother and sister with him.
During the first year of the church's camp, there were 85 young participants and it increased to 180 in the succeeding year. During these summer camps, Sister Li witnessed the changes in these children.
"They are really different in their understanding of their beliefs and in their behavior."
Some of the children that she first brought to the camp are now in their college years and are waiting for a camp reunion. She also often contacts them to talk about their beliefs and sends them to take care messages and greetings.
In the process of hosting the camp, Sister Li shared that she encountered many problems, such as the lack of co-workers, meeting places and so on. There are also security issues that they need to consider carefully.
Sister Qi, a camp co-worker from a town church in Heilongjiang
"We want to do more professionally, but many times we are willing but unable."
In March this year, Sister Qi signed up for a camp meeting in Jiangsu Province and spent 3,000 yuan (1,000 of which is the course fee) for a five day camp. This camp was sponsored by a host organization and it focused on the topic "facing the community". It was the first real meaning camp that Sister Qi participated in.
There are many experiential activities in the camp. In the camp, she found that the teachers of the camp not only teach the children, but they pay close attention to their hearts, and give them a lot of love and care.
Real experience can help the children learn a lot about the truth.
The church camp that Sister Qi joined in is mainly aimed at problem teenagers. Because the church is in the countryside, many children step into society without going to high school or university. At the same time, they often have resentment towards the church, God and their parents. For example, when they were young, their parents sometimes neglected their children and families because they wanted to go out to parties instead of taking care of them.
The Church - through its special seminars and camps - wants to give these children a platform to re-recognize God.
"When children change, parents are touched and begin to reflect on their beliefs and lives."
But the church camps are facing some problems now. The former camps are free. However, in the past two years, many residential buildings have been built near the church. If the Church holds a camp, the campers and the organizers will have to worry about not disturbing the neighbors. However, if they held the camp elsewhere, there will be a site fee, which the church may not be able to afford.
At present, church people, including the believers, still do not understand how the camp fees are computed. As a result, this year's church camp event did not push through.
Sister Qi found that the attitude of the church people to camps are mostly divided towards their professional work, but they want to serve in some way through the camp. In addition, there is also a misunderstanding amongst some old believers that "too much fun is not spiritual." In fact, the content of many camps in recent years consists of half activity and half lecture.
Some of the problems that have plagued Sister Qi since she began to work in the camp include the fact that there is little information about how to organize camps through the Internet, the high fees charged by some camps, and the fact that the church can't afford to let believers learn even though they have the desire to study.
Brother Dou, a camp co-worker from a town church in Jiangsu
"Camps can help you experience more."
Brother Dou is a fellow worker in a town church in Jiangsu. Last October, Brother Dou and several church fellow workers went to Hong Kong Chung Chi Theological Seminary for a seven-day Holy Camp.
At the camp, participants were divided into groups that echoed professional worshippers on the podium. They worshipped together and had a very good sense of participatory experience, which gave him a sense that a church's worship attitude should be like this. This camp was very memorable to Brother Dou. Compared with the usual church's single way of worship, the camp made him realize the richness of worship.
As a fellow church worker, this is the only camp that Brother Dou participated in. He also participated because some friends recommended him to join.
For believers, proper participation in some camps is good because camps tend to have different approaches to reach its goals. After all, at present, the activities in most churches only offer one type of activity. It's good to have more experience.
Brother Chen, a believer from a church in Fujian
"It is impossible to expect a big reversal by joining one or two camps."
At the end of last year, Brother Wang and his wife attended a couple's camps organized by two husbands and wives. The camps charged 2,000 yuan for three days and have 10 follow-up courses. The curriculum includes marriage, husband and wife communication, conflict resolution and so on.
In the camp, what benefited him the most was the real interaction between the participants. The real experiences shared by the couples and the commitment to the Ministry all touched him. In the camp, some unbelieving husbands (wives) wept and repented, which seemed very rare to him.
His understanding of camp experience was also rational, and it was impossible to expect a great reversal in the families who attended one or two camps. It may be difficult to change a life, or a family, if there is no pastor in the church, even if they have been following the scriptures for several years or more.
"The good thing about this camp is that there are 10 follow-ups after the end of the camp, and once a month, there is the camp curriculum practice to follow up."
However, he does add that the effects of the camp and the followups depends on the drive of the participant to change and the determination of each camp leader to ensure everyone adheres to the new habit. If the camp participant follows the curriculum diligently, a good habit can be developed within 10 months.
Brother Fan, a volunteer from a church in Anhui
"I am very grateful to both participate and serve in the camp."
From 2014, Brother Fan began to attend Christian camps, and he himself has participated in many camps. Most of the camps he attended were youth camps.
As a Sunday school teacher, he enjoys spending time with children. However, he agrees that it's not easy to organize a camp in the church.
"Before each camp, people who attend the camp need to start with a good prayer and restore their relationship with God."
Although there may be times when the foundations of the camp is not very good, Brother Fan still hopes that everyone who comes to attend the camps can get some updates regarding the church. In the process of serving, he shares that he also gained a lot.
Furthermore, Brother Fan also attended some spiritual camps to promote his beliefs.
Every quarter, the church where Brother Fan works for holds camps for fellow workers. What impressed him the most was a three-day spiritual growth camp that he attended last June. At that time, the camp invited a seminary teacher to teach systematic theology. The three-day course completely changed his original belief that theology was rigid and boring. For the first time, he felt that theology is actually lively and easy to understand.
"Up to now, I still look through some notes that left behind."
-Translated by Sun Xiaowen
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