An unscheduled discussion with about 20 young people that went on for more than two hours. And we realized with overwhelming urgency that we needed to be doing more for our young people. So, we undertook to put together a youth camp, the first of its kind for UCG South Africa since 2017, with the specific intention of it being the start of something much bigger for our young people.
Time was short, but God can accomplish a tremendous amount when He has willing hearts and minds to work with. There was no doubt He was blessing our efforts—the favor we found, the things that fell into place, the people who became available to serve (most unexpectedly a young American woman visiting South Africa to gain work experience, who was able to serve as a counselor). We found an ideal venue barely an hour’s drive from the Cape Town airport, in the beautiful apple growing area of Elgin.
Despite being pressed for time, resources and manpower, the support, appreciation and enthusiasm from members was a great encouragement. We ended up holding camp from Dec. 26-Jan. 2, with 20 youngsters ranging from nine to 18 (six boys and 14 girls) and 12 staff, including two counselors. Steve Nutzman, U.S. director for the UYC teen program, was very helpful in providing extremely valuable information which we were able to use as a foundation, albeit for a much smaller camp.
We were also extremely fortunate to receive financial assistance from the United Church of God’s Good Works Program.
The camp we were hosted by offered activities that challenged campers both physically and mentally, each with lessons that dovetailed beautifully with our theme of “Being Anchored to God.”
Every day included a hymn sing-along before breakfast; a daily morning Compass Check class discussing our camp theme and an opportunity to reinforce daily lessons learned; Christian Living classes covering topics such as the words we use, self-worth and self-esteem and the value of a good name; and numerous team activities, including racing through various obstacle courses; teams of three navigating suspended cables, logs and hanging tires; building rafts; following 200 meters of rope alone through the forest in total darkness; searching for the Fruits of the Spirit on a night hike; a treasure hunt; and a craft session making sun catchers using old CDs. And finally at the end of each day we enjoyed “Milo Time,” an opportunity to sit around and go over the events of the day over a mug of hot chocolate and some cookies.
We also arranged to have a camp improvement activity, instilling the lesson of always making things better when and wherever you can. Two teams headed off in different directions picking up litter along the various trails around the camp.
On the Sabbath we enjoyed a Bible quiz and Sabbath services, with the sermon given by our regional pastor and a leisurely walk enjoying God’s beautiful creation.
The camp property’s facilitators really appreciated our youngster’s attitudes and enthusiasm, and purposefully came back after their last day for a second thank you and goodbye. They really saw something unique in our group!
As successful and enjoyable as our South African camp was, it was not unaffected by COVID-19. One of our youngsters tested positive and was isolated together with three others who subsequently started showing symptoms. We were fortunate that we had the space to isolate them and a nurse to keep an eye on them.
With COVID-19 stats and government protocols being what they were, everyone being in the habit of wearing masks and social distancing in public, and also having the privilege of lots of space, sunshine and fresh air, we believed the benefits of a less restricted camp outweighed the risks of a much less severe wave of infection.
And by God’s mercy, despite the infections, camp was able to continue. For the most part, symptoms were mild enough for our “quaranteam” to stay involved from a safe distance. And by the end of camp, everyone was well enough to travel home.
God truly blessed our camp, and we’re very excited about building on it for the future, perhaps even with international visitors. Feel free to contact us if you’re interested!