HILLSDALE, Mich. — For the past 16 years, Youth for Christ (YFC) has conducted summer camps for youth all across the country. The idea for YFC summer camps are the brainchild of Molly Ramseyer of Grand Rapids, Mich., a former Campus Life leader. At the time, all she wanted to do was send local YFC kids from Grand Rapids to summer camp to experience God in the great outdoors.
What Ramseyer calls a “God-given idea,” soon became a national vision, with Ramseyer elevated to the position of YFC national camping director.
The first national YFC summer camps took place in 2004 and lasted just one week. Today, the ministry has grown to 12 weeks that include close to 4,000 participants (youth and staff). Ramseyer, now YFC senior national camping director, visited YFC national camp at Michindoh Conference Center near Hillsdale, Mich., this past week, where she shared that national camps have added more venues and reached more youth with the gospel than ever before.
“This camp (at Michindoh Conference Center) is the largest middle school youth camp we have,” said Ramseyer about checking on more than 515 youth who were in attendance there June 29-July 3. “Overall, we have five new locations for camp this year in Minnesota, Michigan, Florida, California and Washington, and personally, I will attend four camps this year between June 6-Aug. 11.
“Because of the growth, the national camp team has grown as well,” continued Ramseyer. “Due to the sheer volume of people needed to run camps, we’ve added a director of operations and operational help, and we’ve hired a director of business development who takes care of our contracts and negotiations. Those hires have really allowed me to focus on the development of camp, which is really in my wheelhouse.”
Ramseyer shared she never gets tired of attending camps.
“What I love about camp is seeing the transformation in people ... not just youth, but leaders as well,” said Ramseyer. “It started out about campers, I want the youth to come to know Jesus, but after time, it’s turned into more than that. It’s been amazing to also see our leaders mature and grow, and to see so many people have these life transforming moments ... both coming to know God (campers) and carrying out Christ’s work (leaders).”
Seth Baker, vice president of ministry leadership at YFC, served as camp director this year at Michindoh Conference Center. A resident of Delaware, Baker shared that putting on camp takes an extraordinary amount of preparation.
“We spend up to a year in advance preparing for this one week here. Out of my office we prepare the programming, line up the speakers, games, events ... it’s a lot of work,” said Baker, who has served as a camp director for more than 10 years. “My role this week is seeing it all come together and to serve an amazing group of leaders, who are doing amazing work with our youth.
“The thing that can be so heartbreaking is that kids, even in middle school, can have so much pain in their lives,” continued Baker, who celebrated 20 years working for YFC on Monday. “By coming to this camp, they have the opportunity to talk about it, to experience hope and love, and many find redemption to parts of their stories they didn’t think could be redeemed. When that happens, their eyes light up with hope, and that’s what’s most rewarding.”
Baker explained that everything that happens at camp, happens for a reason.
“Every day at camp has a theme, and everything we do that day, matches that theme,” Baker said. “Yesterday (Sunday) for example, was Mess Day, where everything is about the mess we have in our lives ... the brokenness and the consequence of sin. We have a “Crud War” where kids essentially have a food fight with chocolate syrup, eggs, flour ... as a way to demonstrate the mess.
“One of the things we do is have all our meals as family-style meals, because many kids don’t get to sit down in a family-type setting and ask, ‘Can you pass the biscuits,’” continued Baker. “We want kids to experience a family environment while they’re here. Everything is done with a high degree of intentionality, like when kids arrive. We celebrate them, we have people who high-five and cheer them, and say, ‘Welcome to camp!’ We want them to feel special.”
The camp director shared that it was his wish that more people could see what takes place at YFC national camp.
“I just wish people could see the adults who are unselfishly serving by scrubbing floors, setting up tables, serving food or losing sleep because they’re staying up late talking to a kid who needs somebody to talk to about how they felt when their dad left, because nobody had ever asked them that before,” said an emotional Baker. “To see the church (the people) come together out of love for people ... I really do wish more people could come and see this.”