Saturday, July 26, 2014

INVASION: Summer Camp 2014

Summer Camp 2014

Q: What's summer 
without camp?

Simply put, I possess a passion for ministry and a heart for young people. And for the last three summers I've been blessed to be able to combine those passions by serving as an "adult" leader on various church youth camp excursions. This year, I once again joined the crew from East Coast Christian Center in Merritt Island, Florida as we converged on Gainesville's Camp Kulaqua for another weeklong "invasion."

Prepping to embark on another untamed
summer youth invasion with lighting
director, D.J. Cusmano - July 2014.
As I've written previously, we take youth camp very seriously at ECCC. In fact, it's a full-blown production. Hence, we don't merely throw a few sleeping bags, a couple of cans of bug spray and a load of grub into a minivan and go. We PACK a rented 40-foot U-Haul truck from front to back with arena-caliber sound and lighting equipment, computer and camera gear, couches, game tables, bicycles — even our own monster-sized fridge. In short, we literally move in for the week at Kulaqua. It's just how we roll.

Audio director Neil Migala also took this
year's camp experience very seriously.
ECCC Youth Pastor, Bryan Moore, was right on the money last spring when he first announced that this year's summer outing would be called, INVASION. In 2012, we took a busload of about 50 teens on a camp adventure to Daytona. In 2013, a bigger group of young people (approx. 75) traveled to Kulaqua. In 2014, we returned to Gainesville with even more — two busloads of peeps (100 teens and two dozen adults). An "invasion," indeed!

Our camp productions require nearly 24 hours to set up. As a result, like last year, I found myself headed to Kulaqua a day early — accompanying ECCC's go-to guru, Scott Noy in the cab of the fully-loaded U-Haul as we traveled in the advance crew's caravan along Florida's Turnpike on Sunday afternoon. Our ETA — 7PM. And immediately upon our arrival, we began literally transforming the small, rather drab-looking on-sight chapel built in the '50s into a modern-day concert hall — a state-of-the-art venue that would be home to powerful Praise and Worship services throughout the week.

NOBODY packs a U-Haul like Scott Noy!
(Anybody wanna buy a bike?)
But by the time our campers would arrive at Kulaqua on Monday afternoon, I'd be gone. Yes, sadly, I wouldn't be able to participate in this year's entire five-day experience. I'd spend Sunday and Monday helping to set up the production, but then I had to head home — writing deadlines don't wait. However, I would get to return to camp and hang out with my kids on Wednesday and Thursday — just in time to host the BLOB competition.

INVASION offered a week's worth of swimming, rock climbing, miniature golf, obstacle courses and more — as well as plenty of late-night dodgeball action in the Kulaqua gymnasium.

The INVASION sight and sound spectacle
 included a truckload of rolling equipment
cases and seemingly endless miles of cables.
Despite the undeniable appeal of non-stop fun and games, be sure that THE primary focus of this outing was, always, Jesus and ECCC's unique brand of hardcore Praise and Worship. Youth worship leader, singer and songwriter, Keith Alderman brought his "A" Game — once again joining forces with an impeccable group of young musicians and a cast of inspirational nightly guest speakers. And all was well, all week — that is until I showed back up.

I don't know what it is, but teenagers with cans of shaving cream and Silly String just always seem to gravitate to me. And embracing fully the distinction of being recognized as ECCC's oldest "kid," I'm often guilty of enabling my mischievous compadres.

I spotted this baby while browsing for assault rifles with Scott Noy
 in Gainesville on our long journey home from Kulaqua on Monday.
(A guy can dream, right?)
In 2014, our group had graduated from Kulaqua's ancient-looking cinderblock cabins to its luxurious, brand spanking new, hotel-style accommodations. And Bryan Moore had apprised all adult leaders (and me) of the zero tolerance policy regarding any camp-related shenanigans that might compromise the buildings' "new car smell" or tarnish ECCC's distinguished reputation. 

Kulaqua's infamous obstacle course
teaches kids the value of teamwork.
But when I came across a group of "restless" young people gathered in the lobby of one of the luxury buildings on Thursday morning, armed with aerosol cans ready to open fire, I became immediately torn between my roles as "responsible" adult leader and "elder" teen camper. I needed to protect both my kids, and Bryan from experiencing the repercussions of any said "shenanigans." Hence, upon seeking the guidance of three other adult leaders, I opted to go rogue and allow these kids to get it all out of their systems — to scream their brains out and empty their cans during a supervised daylight "invasion" of ONE rival room. The raid lasted all of eight seconds, yet I spent the next 15 minutes on my hands and knees, personally cleaning up the debris. News of the good-natured attack spread immediately like wildfire throughout Kulaqua. But while the effort established an alliance between certain campers and myself, others were less than enthusiastic. "You better sleep with one eye open tonight," one teenage gal warned me during lunch in the cafeteria that afternoon. YIKES! Little did she know that I'd be gone — headed home long before her crew would have an opportunity to retaliate. Man, I love camp!

"Hot fun in the summertime!"
Kulaqua's "Leap of Faith"

And not only do I love camp, I love these kids — every one of them. I particularly love their honest and pure passion for Jesus. And if they take just a piece of their Kulaqua experience and share it with others in their post-camp lives, the world certainly will experience a mighty "invasion" of biblical proportion.

-Christopher Long
(July 2014)

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