Written by Jonathan
As many of you may know, this summer has been full of traveling for Samantha and I. From Florida to Birmingham, Alabama, back to Florida, to Gainesville, to Georgia, to Springville, Alabama, back to Florida, to Minnesota, back to Florida, then to South Carolina for the 2017 Solar Eclipse, and finally back to Florida again, and amidst vlogging, blogging, and emailing, building our website, moving out of our first apartment, moving into a spare room at my parents, and preparing to move to Budapest we have stayed pretty maxed out.
One of the busiest and most sleepless weeks amongst all of this was the week that Samantha and I drove to Springville, Alabama to film Church at the Mall's Student Camp (called Vertical). That week was an absolute blast! We'll link the videos that we made for each day of camp for you guys to check them out if you'd like! (at the bottom)
Something huge happened that week: a breakthrough in the life of our student ministry with the likes of which I haven't ever witnessed before. Many students got saved, many recommitted their lives to Christ, many even got baptized (which is incredible!), but this wasn’t just your typical student camp revival.
I (having grown up in church and gone to many student camps) was no stranger to the “camp high” (this overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit that causes kids to fall amazed at the feet of Christ while at the same time rise up with a fire for Him that seems unquenchable, however, most end up getting so caught up in the moment that when they return home they realize that camp is over and the “camp high” seems to have completely disappeared somewhere along the bus ride home). This usually will last into the following week (maybe two) for a few of the students but over time the majority of students have burnt themselves out spiritually with ambitions, commitments, and ideals lacking any sort of strategy or substance.
But this wasn’t just your typical student camp revival.
The speaker, Kasy Benson, spoke with a power and a relevant tone that met the students right where they were at in their lives, harping on the dangers of this “camp high” over and over, reminding the students that they will not be going home to the safety and comfort of a camp atmosphere. In a series of interviews we did with students three weeks after camp, Seth Rodocker (a student who got saved at camp) mentioned a statement that Kasy reminded the students of frequently. “Something that Kasy said was, ‘Either you're going into, you're already in, or you're coming out of a storm,’ and I guess I hadn't really ever looked at life like that before until he pointed that out,” Seth said.
He goes on to explain the change that was made in his heart. “Well, my mindset (going into camp) was that ‘yellow team is going to win again' and 'I can't wait to have fun’. That's what I was thinking. And then afterwards, I wasn't even thinking about the games. I was just thinking ‘What am I going to do when I get home and how am I going to live my life now?’". Seth knew that he would be going home to an environment that would challenge the decisions he made at camp and so, instead of getting caught up in the emotions and the distracting high that camps typically offer, he used his camp experience to prepare himself for those challenges and strategize long-term change.
He knew the dangers of a camp high. “You think that your camp high will last all the way until the next camp so you think that you’re on a camp high when really you're just back to where you started before camp.” Even three weeks after camp he was able to state with confidence, “After camp, I've been reading it (the Bible) every day and I've been more proactive and on fire for God!”
Another student, Dylan Macklin, explained the environment that was so evident throughout the whole week, “For me, it was truly just the unity and that real kind of feeling at home with my small group. We had no problems, even the first night, opening up to each other. It made everyone want to be vulnerable to the Holy Spirit, which was really cool because there was never a dull moment. You always felt like you were comforted with, and in, that presence that, ‘This is real, this is something I want to be in contact with.’”
Kylie Bridges (another student we interviewed) echoed that there was just something different about this camp, “This year at camp it felt more practical. I wasn't necessarily hyped up on all the fun and games and just being around my friends, which is obviously a lot of fun and it's really great, but I wasn't hyped up on that. I was more focused on the practical, learning the Bible and all of the lessons, I was actually digging really deep into that. So the whole vibe from the week was more of, ‘What are we going to do when we get home?’, not necessarily focused on whats going on right in this moment.” She went on to explain the dangers of a “camp high”, “A camp high is when you're so excited about Jesus and it's all you think about and you're like a true on-fire Christian, but it doesn't always last that long. You come home and realize ‘Oh, camp isn't reality.’ And then you just kind of sink back into normal. It makes it seem like you were being fake, almost like it wasn't true, it wasn't genuine. So anything that you were saying about Jesus and telling your friends about Him makes them look and say, ‘Well, that's not how you are now. It was only just from camp.’”
Dylan agreed as he told us, “I think a camp high is a mask you want to wear. It's a ‘I’m around a bunch of people that act a certain way so let me be somebody that blends in. This week I’m a chameleon, next week I’m a lizard. I don't care to expose my true personality in this environment because I feel great and I’m happy because everyone else is happy.’ Its very misleading. For a lot of people it's just like, ‘Let me get out of reality for a week but as soon as its over let me jump back into whatever I was into when I get home.’”
With this "camp high" epidemic fully addressed at the beginning of the week, the students went into camp ready to make sustainable life changes and to begin a process of long term spiritual growth. “This year left a mark,” Dylan told us. “Even in my small group everybody says, ‘Since camp, I've read the bible every day!’, ‘Since camp, my prayer life has improved!’, ‘Since camp, I'm talking about Jesus!’. Last year, I felt like camp was a party for four days and everyone was like, ‘Yeah! We're at camp!’, but it didn't feel like camp except at 7pm for chapel. This year there wasn't a dull moment... It was a constant affirmation, constant assurance, that the Spirit was walking with us.”
Each of these awesome students explained to us the ways that this year left a mark on them by encouraging other students with their goals for long-term sustainable growth. Seth’s advice was “Set a part of your day to where you can be one on one with God and get rid of any distractions that could cause you to stumble or not focus on what really matters.”
Dylan expanded, explaining, “To avoid a camp high, take advantage of each opportunity, every private devotion time, every worship time before breakfast. Don't stay in confinement of your small group, branch out, open up to people, get to know them, be outgoing, open yourself up to all of the testimonies in the place. Don't walk around and feel like everything is about you because, #1 it's gonna cut you off from hearing from God and #2, you'll miss out on what the devotion is saying that morning or what Nick (the worship leader) is singing about or what Kasy is saying because it's more than just lyrics and words, like, its more than just jokes. There is a purpose behind each song they play and each sermon Kasy prepares. Take advantage of the opportunities to be encapsulated by that.”
And Kylie toped it all off with this simple yet extremely powerful word of encouragement, "Just have the mindset of, ‘How can I take what I'm learning right now and use it for a long period of time and make it practical for every day?’ Not just, ‘Let me sink in these really good things that I'm hearing from the speaker and just be really excited about it right now,’ but actually think about how you can use it in the future.”
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From hearing stories of students being made fun of for passing out tracks at the mall, to stories of testimonies given that evoke long conversations with unbelievers, to the random acts of kindness these students have been doing in the community since camp, it is so evident that this year left a mark that is forever changing the way many of these students interact, the way they serve, and even the way they live in their schools, in their homes, and in their own spiritual relationships with Jesus. We are so proud of our student ministry and so humbled by the opportunity to witness what real change looks like in a large group of students, and to witness the rippling effects that it is having on the rest of the church body and in the community as a whole. I look forward to the changes that God has in store for the City of Lakeland under the leadership of these students as they grow up into powerful influencers for the Kingdom.
To get to know each of these three students a little bit more personally, we gave them each a list of random questions and had them choose one to answer. Below you will see their photos along with the questions they answered.
Thanks for reading! Church at the Mall, thank you for allowing Samantha and I to be a part of this! And students thank you for stepping up!
What was your most traumatic experience in elementary school?
"I was in first grade and I hated public bathrooms. It's the end of the day and I refused to go #2 anywhere but my house. I probably showed up at school that day at 8:00 and had to use the restroom at 8:01. I held it until 2pm and finally decided to go to the restroom but I discovered I had already used the restroom! It was absolutely awful, and I'm trying to explain this to my teacher and she doesn't understand my desperation at that moment so I think I ended up just, like, rolling with it because I just couldn't do much about it in the situation. I didn't have a Publix bag, I didn't have a diaper, I didn't have any wash cloths. So I just walked around with stank butt for the rest of the day until I got picked up at day care."
Have you ever changed your favorite color and why?
"Yes I have! My favorite color was blue and now it's gold. The reason why I changed it is because gold goes better with different colors. You can do better color combinations with gold than you can with blue."
Red Lobster biscuits: yes or no?
"Yes! Because you can just eat so many of them and you don't even know what's happening, like, they just go. And all of the sudden you're like, 'Oh, we need more biscuits!' ...Its just good!"