What if all the world were like summer camp?
It’s Sunday afternoon and there is an almost palatable energy that hovers over the meadow, fills the dining hall, and flows through the cabins. A parade of cars snakes its way down the gravel road to the heart of camp. Campers tumble out of vans and cars and SUVs, nervous, excited, and very uncertain about the adventure they’re embarking on. They position themselves a little behind their parents, daring to only briefly make eye contact with the counselor who comes up to say hello. “Are you excited?” the counselor asks, and the camper nods their head, but doesn’t dare to speak. They aren’t quite sure about this place, about the trees lofting overhead and the cabins speckling the horizon, about the uniform t-shirts that everyone is wearing, about the buzzing cicadas that sing backup during every conversation.
As they move their sleeping bag, suitcase, and pillow into their cabin, they are met by a counselor and other campers, all wearing the same camp t-shirt, all sharing the same space for the next week. Without even realizing it, they have found their “tribe.” These people come from different cities, homes, families, and cultures. They have never met each other before, but within a few short minutes, they form a family bond that will outlast some of the fastest friendships. Instantly, they are playing games, sharing jokes, calling each other by name, and joining together for worship with arms on each other’s shoulders. It doesn’t matter who they were before they came to camp. This is where they belong.
It is amazing to see the formation of a community each Sunday at summer camp. People who have never met before gather together in this space called Camp Wyoming and become a new community, a group of people who look out for each other, who cheer each other on, and who, at least for this one week, are the most important part of each other’s lives. When one camper gets homesick, they have plenty of friends to offer hugs and encouragement. When one camper falls during a game, there is always a hand to help them back up. These close bonds form organically and without notice, and they often last long after the week of camp has ended.
What if all the world were like summer camp? Imagine a world where, no matter who you are or what color your skin or where you come from, there is a bunk for you in the cabin and a place at the table in the dining hall. Imagine a world where, instead of focusing on our differences, we build community based on what we share—a love of adventure, a fascination with frogs, or a sense of how small you truly are when you gaze at the stars above. Imagine a world where the star athlete and the quiet loner work together to cross the islands in the challenge course, where the oldest take the hands of the youngest as they compete together during color wars, and where conversation flows freely and honestly between the wealthy and the impoverished as they roast marshmallows around the campfire. Imagine a world with no labels, no expectations of who you have to be, no boundaries or limits to define you.
Summer camp takes kids out of their routines and their social circles and allows them to experience authentic, genuine community with people they might never meet otherwise. It broadens their horizons and opens their minds as they encounter new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new challenges. Summer camp is designed to break down barriers, push kids out of their comfort zones, and open up all kinds of possibilities. During a time where the political climate is becoming more tense and hostile, where people are openly voicing ideas of oppression and violence, and where the news focuses on the divisions and differences of the people that surround us, summer camp sends a different message. Summer camp teaches kids that everyone has value and everyone belongs.
What if all the world were like summer camp? How can we take the community and the things we learn at camp and help to heal the division and hurt and anger that surrounds us? How can we reach across the table, take the hand of a stranger, and start a conversation? It starts first with being willing to go where we are not comfortable or where we have never been, much like a camper climbing out of their parents’ car on the first day of summer camp. It moves forward with a smile, with a friendly offer of welcome, much like the counselor shaking the camper’s hand and asking, “Are you excited?” From there, it takes shape as we recognize the value and worth of each person around us, as we join together through shared feelings, passions, and dreams.
All the world is not summer camp, but it does not mean that we cannot take what we know and share it with others. It does not mean that we cannot build community with those who are “different” or “other” or “new.” It does not mean that we cannot love unconditionally our neighbor and work together to build a better world. We can take the mission and message of summer camp and share it within our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools, and in doing so, we just might light up the world.