CENTRAL — A group of high school-age youth from as far away as South Dakota spent 10 days exploring what it means to be called by God into ministry.
The Called Summer Camp at Southern Wesleyan University presented opportunities and challenges intended to help them fine-tune that calling.
For many, the camp represented a major milestone along a journey already begun at a church youth group or under the guidance of a caring mentor. It was a chance to reflect on God’s leading in an environment where ministry was the focus.
“Our overall camp design was based on an experiential model of equipping, engagement in a peak experience, and reflection/debriefing,” said Dr. Roger McKenzie, a Southern Wesleyan religion professor and leader of the camp. “Our track leaders in Adventure, Missional Outreach, and Worship created exceptional learning experiences for the campers who were in their tracks.”
Participants in the Adventure Ministry Track backpacked on the nearby Foothills Trail. One camper in the Adventure Ministry track reported that even though he got lost while leading the group in one of their wilderness activities, he learned that in ministry leadership you have to bounce back and learn from your wrong turns. Another place where teamwork was evident was on Southern Wesleyan’s high ropes course, where while being suspended high off the ground, camp participants learned to put their trust in others.
Those involved in the Worship Track participated in three different styles of worship on the Sunday during their peak experience, ranging from planning a service at the Nicholson-Mitchell Christian Ministry Center on Southern Wesleyan’s campus to participating in the services of a nearby megachurch.
Justin Huffman traveled to the camp from St. Louis, Mo., a calling into ministry strongly on his heart.
“I grew up in church; I just never really got it. I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ until I moved churches,” Huffman said. “I grew with my youth pastor and have a personal relationship with Christ now.” (The youth minister) brought me to camp the first year I started going to that church and it just broke my heart. He told me that I was going to be the foundation to helping this youth group grow. It really opened my eyes and God just called me into ministry.”
Other students were part of a camp track that traveled to Atlanta and interacted with homeless people on its streets. One student in the group marveled at an expensive car someone had, then realized that its owner was living in it because that was all they had.
“It was incredible to see students open their hearts to the current issues of our world and work to take a scriptural perspective on the issues,” said Casey Shearin, one of a group of Southern Wesleyan students leading the camp. “We spent time on the refugee crisis, human trafficking, unreached people groups, and racial reconciliation. It was so amazing to see the students lining up their passions with ways to serve others in living a missional lifestyle.”
“The help from counselors and professors helped clarify students’ call to ministry,” said Grant Wood, another SWU student leading the camp. Wood added that the camp experiences helped students understand the nature of their calling.
Camp leaders included Rev. Stephen Tolan, youth pastor at Kernersville Wesleyan Church, Kernersville, N.C.; Rev. Dave Tolan (Stephen’s father), missions mobilizer with Global Partners and Missionary in Residence at Southern Wesleyan; Dr. Mari Gonlag, chair of Southern Wesleyan’s Division of Religion; Dr. Bob Black, Southern Wesleyan religion professor; Rev. Bob Kerstetter, Southern Wesleyan director of worship and discipleship; and Rev. Gail Kerstetter, Southern Wesleyan’s director of music ministry and outreach. Dr. Roger McKenzie, director of the camp, is a professor of religion at Southern Wesleyan.
Guest speakers were Derrick Marrs of Miami, sharing his experience in ministry to youth and children. Also speaking was Derik Idol, high school pastor at 12Stone Church, a quickly growing multi-site church north of Atlanta; John Adams; and Rev. Ken Dill, Southern Wesleyan University’s associate vice president for spiritual life and chaplain.
Freedom’s Hill Church, a 19th – Century Wesleyan church moved to the Central campus from North Carolina, was the site of a moving ceremony where camp participants modeled humble service by washing each other’s feet.
“This is to be a launching pad for you,” McKenzie said to the campers before they departed from Central. “Go home, find your altar; find that place where you can be with God and encounter Him and continue to grow.”
Details about the camp are available at www.swu.edu/thecalled and plans are being made for another camp during summer 2017. For details, contact Dr. Roger McKenzie at (864) 644-5685 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donors are also needed to sponsor future camp participants. For details on sponsorships, please contact Dr. Lisa McWherter at Southern Wesleyan’s Office of Advancement at (864) 644-5013 or email email@example.com.
The Called Summer Camp is made possible through a grant from the Lilly Foundation, part of its commitment to identify and cultivate a cadre of theologically minded youth who will become leaders in church and society.
This story provided by Southern Wesleyan University.