Just the words “summer camp” will bring smiles to many of our faces. To me, it was a time to get away from my mom, dad, and two brothers and make some new friends and just have fun. The church camp I went to was about fifty miles from home, and that was a long way from home. It was a peaceful oasis on the edge of a city. You would drive back the narrow winding road through a wooded setting. It was a place you could be at peace with nature. To me, the trails would open your imagination of what was around the next corner. The inclines were not that steep, and the ravines were not that deep, but it still echoes through my mind “walk do not run.” Of course, being a boy, you already know what I did the most…. run! I always reached the destination too soon and enviably there was the highlight at the end. After your first year, you knew where ever path took you, this one went to the lake, and this one went to the outside chapel.
The lake always provided us with so much fun, but my fondest memories were at the outside chapel. Evening vespers by the campfire on the shore of the lake watching the sunset over the lake; those visions are embedded in my mind.
As I write this article, I have seven youth and chaperones in the Miami airport to be boarding a flight to Cuba for summer camp! This is my favorite trip of the year, but it also causes me the most anxiety. The youth have no idea what lies ahead of them and honestly, as much as we prepare them for what they are about to encounter we do not touch the tip of the iceberg. It’s Cuba; in most cases, no one in their family has any experience with traveling to this county “so close but a world away.” Mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa all watch the news and nothing good comes out of Cuba.
The Southwest District Mission Program, Inc. sent their first youth trip to Cuba in 2012. Since that first trip, we have sent 43 youth to Camp Canaan in Santa Carla, Cuba. These students have come from Pensacola, Tallahassee, Hollywood, Miami, Charlotte and Sarasota County, and on this trip youth from Pennsylvania and Texas.
I can tell you the student that returns from eight days of worship and fellowship in Cuba is not the same student you sent to Cuba. I have watched students in front of congregations choking up, with tears in their eyes talking about what they saw and felt during worship services at camp. We have one student that left for camp a “pre-med “ major and came back and spoke with his pastor and changed his major to theology and is now a student pastor. His long-term goal is to do missionary work in underprivileged countries.
On their return, all students are required to write me a one-page report on their experience. Here are just a few snippets from reports students that have written about Summer Camp Memories of Cuba:
- This trip to Cuba has changed me in many ways. It has bought me closer to God but also has made me realize how materialistic we can be here in America. -- Alexandra McKenize
- Being able to go and see small, underprivileged churches overflowing with the love of God changes your perspective. It helps you realize the meaning of all of this. -- Conor Peters
- One week in Cuba changed my perspective on living out my faith and taught me to trust God in new ways. He used our team to bless the people of Cuba and also blessed our team through the people we met. God is doing amazing things in Cuba, and I believe that He will use the people there to glorify His name more and more until the whole nation hears his name. -- Elizabeth Haley
Does your church have a youth that would be interested in going to Cuba next summer? It is not too soon to start thinking about getting one of your youth on the list of travelers. This is a life-changing trip!