Ziplines, Volleyball, & Sand: 5 Reflections From Summer Camp

For the past 4 years, my family has attended Family Camp at Village Creek Bible Camp in Lansing Iowa. It’s the highlight of our summers. We tried it out after several friends recommended it to us. Now you have to understand, my family is not “campy” if you know what I mean. Our version of a vacation typically involves hotels and restaurants, not bunk beds and cafeterias. I honestly didn’t think it would be for us, but Village Creek (VCBC as we call it) has a way of hooking you.

Nestled in a valley in the Northeasternmost part of Iowa, VCBC has been in operation for the past 50 years, hosting Christian summer camps for almost every age group, including families. The accommodations are quaint and unassuming, and if you drive too quickly down Drake road, you’ll pass it without knowing. But God really works through Village Creek.

Here are 5 things I reflected on from my time at VCBC this year.

1. It’s Good to Get Away…Sort Of

Southwest Airlines used to create commercials with the phrase “Wanna Get Away” as their primary tag line. In these commercials, a clearly suffering and detatched individual would be slogging away at his or her job with no hope of reprieve. Then, out of nowhere, the thought of vacation would transport them into a heavenly bliss beyond anything they’d known up to that point. Clearly, vacation was long overdue. If you “wanna get away”, Southwest will help you do it.

It’s good to get away sometimes. In fact, I think it’s necessary to do so. Life was created by God to have certain rhythms to it. For example, we spend time both awake and asleep, usually in some type of rhythm. We breathe in and we exhale. The list goes on. The same rhythmic nature exisits with regard to work and rest. We are made to have time to work hard, but that should also be complemented with time to rest. God himself modeled this principle for us when he created everything in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:2-3).

But what do we mean when we say rest? Does that mean to do whatever we want, lose ourself in our devices, check all the fun things off the bucket list, or simply be lazy? No. While these things aren’t inherently “wrong”, they aren’t the essence of what rest is all about. Rest is about reconnecting with God and with others primarily. It’s about remembering and recognizing our source of life and re-grounding ourselves in his love. It’s about reminding those around us that we are committed to them by our actions, particularly our families. When we get away, we need to seek “strategic rest”, time when we aren’t only wasting away but when we are being renewed in our devotion to God and other people.

2. Real Life is Lived Away from Screens

I was given my first cell phone when I was a freshman in college. My grandmother had purchased it at my request and it was a silver flip phone with almost no features on it. Ever since that time, I’ve had a cell phone on me almost constantly. While at camp I tried something I’d never done before. I completely turned my phone off for the first 48 hours of camp. And you want to know what is crazy about that? I don’t think I’ve had my cell phone off for that long since I’ve had a cell phone. That’s 19 years of uninterrupted connectedness to the outside world. I was shocked when I realized how long it’s been.

One of the greatest blessings about camp is the difficulty of being connected. Village Creek is located in a rural area of Iowa, nestled in a valley surrounded by bluffs and small hills. It’s gorgeous to look at, but cell phone reception is nearly impossible in the area. If you absolutely must be connected, the camp does offer vouchers for strikingly slow wifi, but honestly it’s not even worth it. If you need to be connected, your best bet is to hop in the car and drive the 20 minutes to Lansing to try and find a decent cell phone tower.

Jesus didn’t give us explicit instructions on cell phones and other devices. The New Testament doesn’t come with a table for appropriate screen time based on age of your children. However, I believe passionately that there is an entertainment/social media/news idol that exists in our time that is ravaging our world. Even in Christian circles, there doesn’t seem to be a different lifestyle. Most people spend extreme amounts of time “plugged” in to their devices without a care in the world. This is simply not okay. Life is not lived staring at a piece of glass. At least real life is not. We need to put better boundaries around mindless technology consumption in our lives. That’s not to say that technology is bad. I love tech and I believe it can be an effective tool to grow and live a more devoted life to God; however, hours and hours a day of pointless use is not healthy.

3. Good Conversations are Worth the Sun Burn

One of my closest friends is a man named Jason. He’s the Lead Pastor of CrossWay Church in Germantown Wisconsin, the church I worked at prior to moving to Elk River. He and I text from time to time and once in a while chat on the phone, but that’s about the extent of our interactions these days. Distance has made staying in touch more difficult. I had the chance to visit with him for a couple of hours at Village Creek this year. That time was incredibly life-giving, but they were spent in the sun and I roasted! It’s amazing how ineffective sunscreen is when you don’t wear it…

I think there’s a principle in there. Though it was not my preference to get sunburned, it was worth the time to connect with my friend. Oftentimes, rich and life-giving time with people is inconvenient. It’s hard on our schedules to make time for intentional connections; however, God made us for those connections. Jesus was arguably the busiest person in history, but even he found time to connect with the One closest to Him (God of course). We need to prioritize people in our lives, even when it’s inconvenient. It can be as simple as planning a space in your calendar before you even have someone to fill it. That way, you can regularly see the need to connect in your calendar. Maybe it’s found in coming to church early or staying late to connect with others. Perhaps serving with others. There’s lots of ways to do this.

4. Do More than Just Read the Bible

The programming at VCBC includes 2 chapels per day, which are comprised of singing, skits, a message, and bible memmory. The best part of it in my opinion is memorizing Bible verses. It always happens with big hand motions, excited camp staff, and loud recitations of the verses. It seems a little over the top, but it works! I can still remember the verse we worked on a couple weeks ago and that’s largely due to the over-the-top nature of the camp experience.

Reading the Bible can be dry sometimes. Even for me as a pastor, I often find it difficult to pick it up and just read it. In Deuteronomy 11:16, the Israelites are commanded to “fix these words on your minds and hearts”. In other words, do what it takes to think about them often. Let your soul be comforted with the promises of God. But in order for that to happen, we need to be in the Word of God, letting it change who we are. Try taking some time to memorize a few verses. Make up a song to sing it to or hand motions to remember it. Get your family involved! You’d be surprised how effective it can be!

5. Take Time to Stare

I love sitting by the fire in the spring and fall, staring at the flames as they dance around in the fire pit. It’s mesmerizing. Something about the smooth yet consuming nature of flames draws my eye to it.

At camp this year, the chapel sessions we experienced were held in an outdoor pavilion with a beautiful view of nature behind the stage. For those speaking at camp, they had no chance of holding my attention. Behind them horses would walk by regularly and leaves of thousands of trees would glisten in the wind. More than once, I found myself staring into nature, without paying much attention to my surroundings.

This world is special. It’s beautiful. And it was made by a God that desires it to be admired. He desires to be worshiped for the beauty he’s made; yet, I think we often are moving too fast to see what he’s done.

I’d encourage you to take time to stare. Take time to admire the beauty of creation and to thank God for what he’s made.

Camp is always a special time. May we always find time to experience God the way I did at VCBC.