Lifeway Christian Resources’ summer camps are in full swing across the nation, investing in kids, students and their churches for a week but making an impact that lasts both for a lifetime and for eternity.
Yellow T-shirts stood out among the sea of humans on Union University’s campus for FUGE Camps. Big, bold letters across the front of the shirts read, “Best week ever.” And it truly looked like the best week ever. Student pastors and adult volunteers were tired just looking at the packed schedule of events. But they had shown up because they knew this could be the best week ever in the lives of their students.
“There are meaningful moments at our camps that have an eternal shelf life,” said Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “Whether it’s the day a kid becomes a Christian, a student releases a burden they’ve been carrying or a camper or staffer gets clarity on a call to ministry, critical things happen in the lives of people at camp that last far beyond that week.”
Lifeway camps include FUGE Camps (Centrifuge and MFuge), Student Life Camp, CentriKid Camp and Student Life Kids Camp. These four distinct kids and student camps are designed to take students out of their normal routine and place them into an environment focused on life-change through a relationship with Jesus Christ. This summer, Lifeway is hosting over 100,000 students at camps across 57 locations for a total of nearly 200 weeks of camp.
After COVID-19 brought camps to a halt in 2020, Lifeway was excited to bring camps back last year and to continue to grow on that foundation this summer.
“[Lifeway camps are] very consistent in that their heart, their soul, their desire is to put on an excellent camp that would honor and glorify the Lord and reach students with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Tait Windham, student pastor at Crosspoint Church in Trussville, whose group was attending FUGE at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “[My students] always look forward to hearing from the speaker because they’ve built a trust in [Lifeway] to have quality speakers and quality bands here.”
And reaching kids and students with the gospel is what Lifeway camps are all about.
Brad Barnett, senior manager of events for Lifeway Students, says he loves hearing stories of life change every year. “God continues to be faithful to show Himself to campers when they take a week of their lives to focus on their relationships with Him,” Barnett said.
Change of volume
There are a lot of things that make Lifeway camps the “best week ever.” From worship, to games, to crafts, to Bible study time, to meeting new friends, to growing alongside students and leaders in your church group — there’s something for everyone.
“Who wants Kluck,” yelled the recreation leader from the small stage in the middle of a field as she held up a rubber chicken. Students crowded around, jumping and screaming. It was the last day — the last chance to win the rubber chicken. In a world of chaos and confusion, anxiety and depression, these students had found a little corner of the world where they could leave behind some of their worries and focus their attention on a rubber chicken for a few silly minutes.
“There are few moments in today’s world where a teenager can be distanced from the noise of their world and placed in an environment designed to turn up the volume of God’s voice in their life at every turn,” said Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at Lifeway. “This change of volume that happens in a camp environment is why I believe we see so many teenagers make spiritually significant decisions.”
Lifeway camps are made up of intentional moments that make camp the best week ever. And any moment can be an intentional moment — even a competition to win a rubber chicken.
Best week ever
When you have the best week ever, you can’t help but keep coming back for more. Maddi Miller, Bible study leader at Centrifuge at Union University, came to FUGE Camps for the first time when she was in seventh grade. From her first day at camp, Miller knew she wanted to be a FUGE Camps staffer. She came to FUGE Camps every summer, and in 2018, Miller spent a few weeks as a student leader apprentice (SLA) at camp. Not only did this solidify her desire to be a staffer, but it also served as a marker of spiritual growth in her life.
“That was really the one moment in my faith where I was truly challenged and encouraged,” Miller said. “It was like, hey, take this step beyond. Your faith is not just going to youth group and doing all the things, saying all the things. It’s actually a way of life. You’re supposed to truly live for Christ.”
This summer, Miller returned for her second year as a staffer, because she still believes FUGE Camps are the “best week ever.” As a student, Miller loved the Bible study and worship times, but she also loved that Jesus was a part of every aspect of camp. And now Miller gets to be a part of making every moment of camp an intentional moment.
Already this summer, students have told Miller their time at camp has helped them see God in ways they’ve never seen Him before.
“God just used me as a vessel. There’s nothing I can do,” Miller said. “I don’t even have a voice. I’m so tired. I’m so weak. But God has still been using me in incredible ways.”
Experiencing life change
This kind of life change is what makes Lifeway camps the best week ever. When kids and students take a step of faith, grow in their walk with the Lord or put their faith in Jesus Christ, camp goes from simply being a fun week to a week that changes the trajectory of their lives. Lifeway gets to pour into kids and students for one week while they’re at camp, but their partnership with local churches multiplies the impact.
“When my own kids have gone to camp, they not only grew closer to God, but they came home closer to the other students. This enriched their local church experience,” Mandrell said. “It’s our hope every local church that sends kids, students and adult chaperones to our camps will see how it benefits their people and their ministries year-round.”
With six weeks left in camp season, Barnett says he prays students will lay aside distractions and experience Christ in meaningful ways at camp, they will come from death to life and campers and staff would stay safe and healthy.
“I pray students will see enormous growth as they focus on learning about God, engaging in worship and spending time in Christian community,” Barnett said.
“I expect all of the students to have fun, because camp is so fun,” Miller said, “but seeing them truly experience God in a new way makes it the best week ever.”