For them it’s seven days of chasing, climbing and crawling—not minding the scraped knees, bruised arms and bumped heads. For me it’s rousting sleepy kids early in the morning and trying to keep up with them until it’s time to corral them into bed in the evening. This is summer camp! And in Israel, it’s no different.
Every summer for the past 30 years, one of the local congregations has sponsored a camp for the children of Israeli believers in Jesus. As a relatively new believer, I was a counselor at that camp. When I came back some twenty years later with my family to live in Israel, it was only fitting that I should return to camp—at least for a week. This time, two of the campers were my sons, and my wife also came to help run the kitchen.
What a group of children we had—they were eager, enthusiastic and filled with boundless energy. Their names read like a list of the prophets of the Bible: Yoel, Nahum, Daniel, Nehemiah, and so on. Most of their parents are believers, and just about all of the children had a story of what Yeshua (Jesus) means to them.
This is the next generation of believers and leaders in the messianic community in Israel. Many believers feel that there will be some type of revival in Israel in the next decade or so. To these future young men and women could fall the responsibility of bringing in the harvest and caring for the increased flock of God.
Most Israelis are growing up without faith in God, without hope or ideals. The present generation of young believers will find it challenging to be beacons of light in a nation shrouded with darkness. It will be difficult to be firm in their faith in a totally secular society, to hold fast to the message of hope when those around them are lost and in despair. Yet if the Lord should tarry, it will fall to them to be a clear voice of story for the Messiah Yeshua. It will be up to them to demonstrate to their peers that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior.
It is these custodians of the hope” that we counselors and teachers chased, climbed, and crawled after for a week. These children were not aware of the burden they will one day shoulder. They were concerned only with wrestling each other, taunting one another and racing around the large compound deep in the heart of Jerusalem. They worked on their craft projects with the concentration of a lab full of research scientists. When it was time to eat, they emptied the bowls of food set before them moments after the “amen” for table grace.
These same children sang the camp theme song with such gusto that we adults were swept along with their enthusiasm. During an outdoor “sit around,” one of the counselors shared his story. He described growing up as a believer. He recalled how he was often alone. Many days he came home from school in tears because the other children had ridiculed him for his faith. His convictions and commitment to the Lord prevented him from joining in with some of his classmates’ less honorable activities. Through it all, his parents supported him. But these annual summer camps gave him the encouragement that enabled him to endure and to grow into an adult who loved and served the Lord.
The children sat enthralled, hanging on his every word. His story was more than interesting words—it encapsulated their own experience. Every child could identify with this young soldier as he described his struggles growing up. He was providing them with hope, with evidence that they could survive in their faith if they just trusted the Lord. The session lasted almost 30 minutes longer than expected. When it was time for questions, the children really opened up. Afterward, we had a time of prayer inviting the children to renew their commitment to the Lord and to pray for boldness in their witness. About 18 of the 42 children came forward for prayer. Most wanted prayer to be a bolder witness to their friends in school.
At the end of the week, we counselors were exhausted. The kids were dirtier than when they arrived, but they left happy—some with a new commitment to the Lord and others with the satisfaction of knowing that they were not alone. Seven days, 42 children and the love of Yeshua—that is what it was all about.