LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–Gasping for breath after finishing a series of relay games to gather clues, 10-year-old Jena Gray tucked a loose strand of red hair behind her ear. She and her friends peered intently at a pile of index cards strewn together on the grass in the field. They quickly figured out the password and ran up a steep hill to an auditorium door. Knocking, they excitedly called out the word for access inside: “God!”
But the door stayed shut. After an emergency huddle with their group, they tried another word: “Soccer!” This time, the group was allowed entrance.
“Were you surprised when you couldn’t use God as the password to get in?” a camp counselor asked from a brightly lit stage as more than 200 kids found their seats. “There are a lot of countries in the world today that won’t let people in just to talk about God. But they will let people in to play sports. Christians can share the love of God and share Jesus by playing and teaching sports in these countries.”
The kids were then introduced to Infinity Sports, one of the ministries supported by love offerings from this year’s Centri-KID camps –- weeklong camps designed for 8- to 12-year-olds created by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Doors” was this year’s theme: “Enter My Door,” making the Bible personal; “Enter The Door,” discovering a relationship with Jesus; and “Enter the Revolving Doors,” discovering how the Bible applies on a daily basis and telling others about Jesus.
A total of 13,000 campers attended during the nine weeks of camps held this summer — 3,000 more than last year, according to LifeWay’s student events area. Almost $53,000 was raised for missions through love offerings. The camps offer a combination of Bible studies, recreation, games and track times covering a wide variety of interests from “Weird Science” to “Christian Music Video” to “Babysitting 101.” Everything has a biblical tie-in.
Gray, who became a Christian at the age of 9, is a member of Winn’s Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Va. She brought four friends with her to camp and looks forward to going to school this year and telling other friends about Christ.
“[Camp has] got me on fire for God,” she said, sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch. “Even in sports this week, we read Bible verses that relate. That’s cool.”
Jeff Brauer is senior pastor of Winn’s Baptist and enjoys attending camp with his elementary-age students. They brought 18 kids.
“This camp is a great tool that helps us in our battle to center the culture,” Brauer said, a day after helping supervise an overnight camping trip involving some of his students. “These kids are heading into teen years that will be filled with temptation and difficult choices. We have to prepare them now [before they get to that point].”
One feature that makes Centri-KID camps unique is the staff. Mostly college students in their early 20s, staff counselors are required to spend time with the kids not only in Bible study but also in free time, creating important opportunities for discussion and bonding that might not happen otherwise.
Erin Burnett is a Cross Point and Centri-KID program specialist at LifeWay who spends her summers working at the camps. This is her seventh year.
“Kids this age just want to know they’re loved,” she said. “That’s why we emphasize hanging out and spending free time with them. We let them know we love them and God loves them too. We want them to know they’re the most important -– that the relationship is most important.”
More than 500 decisions were made during this year’s Centri-KID camps, ranging from salvation experiences to rededications. Eleven-year-old Jake Ingersoll, also from Winn’s Baptist, made a decision to spend less time playing video games.
“My mom’s always telling me not to play so much and I realized this week I wasn’t doing anything with God except when I was at church,” said Ingersoll, estimating he plays video games an average of four hours at a time. Now he wants to get a devotional book and start doing quiet times more. He added that his favorite part about camp was the track he did on making a Christian video. “I was the production assistant –- I got to help play the music and set up the camera.”
His mom, Robin, who attended the camp as a church sponsor, was pleasantly surprised to hear about her son’s decision to shorten his video game time.
“This week really brings the kids back into focus and encourages them to be bold about their faith,” she said. “As a parent, that’s neat to watch.”
For more information on camps for 2005, visit http://www.centrikidcamps.com.