Thursday I arrived back from almost a week at a summer camp with our youth. Every summer for the past 7 or 8 years we have taken our kids to the same place: Lake Forest Ranch. Many churches around the area take their students to Centrifuge camps or other conference type locations. Lake Forest Ranch is a Christian summer camp that focuses on one-on-one ministry. Also they minister to the leaders at the same time. Lake Forest Ranch is located in between Louisville, MS and Macon, MS. Lake Forest Ranch or LFR has been ministering to youth for over 50 years.
During the summer I work for the non-profit that is housed inside of my home church. The church is Calvary Baptist in Jackson, MS and the non-profit is His Heart, Inc. We have been sharing the love of Jesus the inner-city Jackson for over 15 years. I started volunteering 16 years ago with His Heart, I worked as an intern through my college career, and now this is my summer gig when I am not teaching. His Heart has been such a blessing in my life to work for and every summer for the past 7 or 8 years I have been traveling with our youth to LFR. The weeks at LFR are filled with some of my most cherished memories as a His Heart worker, but this year was incredibly special.
This year my sister, Becca, and myself were the adult leaders that accompanied our 13 youth to LFR. Traveling to camp is already a miracle as it cost us over $5000 to pay for everyone’s way. Through generous grants and help from local churches our kids were completely paid for. The cool thing about our kids over the past few years is that we are not all inner-city. We have a very diverse youth group, but what has been so neat is watching these kids from different backgrounds come together and love each other as if they were family.
Lake Forest Ranch is a non-demoninational camp and every camper is assigned to a cabin with students from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and churches. Every day is full of activities that include: three meals, two worship services (called Pow-Wows), team competition events, afternoon recreation activities, and a special nighttime program that changes every day. I really could write a book about all the experiences we had and new friends I made, but I will stick to some of the key moments in our trip.
The Ropes Course
The highlight most years at LFR has been watching students conquer their fear of heights on the zip line or climbing wall. This year LFR has built a brand new ropes course with many new elements to try out. Most of our students tried at least one element and many of those did more than one. It might surprise you that on one of our guys, Cameron actually did any of the ropes. Our other boys did not attempt a single one. Here is a picture of the main platform with the zip line, climbing wall, and flying squrriel all in one.
The top of the climbing wall had bells to ring to signal that you were at the top.
But easily the most terrifying element at the ropes course is the Leap of Faith. This is where you climb up a pole about 30 feet off the ground and then jump off to hit a ball dangling in mid air. Then you free fall until your harness is caught by the belay worker on the ground. You truly have to have faith in the equipment and the people running the equipment in order to jump.
Watching our students climb and experience these elements was amazing. Some of our kids come from very poor conditions. They would normally never get to experience anything like this. Some were terrified at the top and it took half an hour to get them to jump. And yet some went in with reckless abandon, climbing and jumping with more strength and joy than I could have mustered. I will never forget the look of joy on one of our girls faces as she flew down the zip line. I don’t think I have seen so much joy out of her in the entire 15 years we have known her. I will always remember her elation of finishing the rock wall and being the first to ring the bell that day. Joys like that are not easily repeatable, but they are always memorable.
Pow Wow and “East to West”
Pow Wow is Lake Forest Ranch worship. The Recharge Worship band out of Sulfer, LA led the music and our camp speaker was Jason Curry. Our kids loved the band and the speaker, in fact, they were the same as last years camp. Our students said they did not want anyone else but Jason as the camp speaker. Jason is truly one of the greatest speakers for ministry I have ever encountered. He brings truth from the Bible in a completely accessible way. Students and adults are constantly encouraged by his words. Jason also used my favorite passage of scripture from 1 Samuel in a message on one of the last nights. One main point that Jason hit home over and over is the fact that nobody changes tomorrow. Anyone can make excuses and wait to “clean up their act” before they accept Christ, but the fact is that change has to happen immediately, not tomorrow. Tomorrow shows results, change happens now.
East to West was the special worship service we had late at night on the second to last night at camp. Students were led out to the lake side apitheater by torch light. On the way there every student picked up a dark rock from a table. The dark rock signified their sin. The whole bible study throughout the week was called, Write It on a Rock, and the verse was Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” You could see hundreds of stars above the lake as every camper took their rock and cast it out into the lake. On the way back they picked up a white rock to signify purity and starting a new life with Christ. Couselors and adults were there ready to receive students who wanted to pray or just talk about the experience. One student sat with me afterwards and told me it was time to make a change and that God was calling to him asking him to give it all for God’s glory. Powerful testimony. East to West was named after the verse from psalms that states, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (103:12).
Church Group Time
The best time of our week had to be church group time, which is about an hour every day of just our church being together. This time has been filled with some great moments through the years, but this year held the greatest moment that I have experienced as a worker with His Heart. Cameron is our lone senior camper this year. He has a great heart and giving spirit about him. During the last night of our church group time, I asked Cameron to sit in the middle of the room and everyone laid hands on him. It was at this point that I told the group that we would be praying for Cameron as he entered into the next phase of life. Before we even started praying Cameron was in tears and soon almost every single one of our youth was verbally lifting up Cameron in prayer. The true miracle of camp is more than just getting away from it all for a week. The true miracle this week was seeing students whom I have known for years and yet have never heard pray out loud, lift up this young man to their Creator. It was the most impactful and amazing moment of my time at His Heart. After the prayer time, we all gave Cameron a group hug and really it was a hug for everyone. This week we have grown so much. We have grown spiritually, individually, and as a group. I can’t wait to see what is in store.
Lake Forest Ranch Website
Jason Curry’s Website