Camp Gilgal, the Jews for Jesus summer camp, was started in 1991 to provide a way for Jewish children, (most of whom are from believing families), to grow together in their own faith and identities as Jewish believers in the Messiah. There are three Camp Gilgal locations in the U.S., (East, West and Midwest) and another in Germany. I grew up going to our East Coast camp, where I began as a camper in 1992.
Even though most of our campers come from believing families, none of us are born as believer in Jesus; each of us must reach a point when we believe and receive Him for ourselves. For me, that happened at camp when I was 15 years old. For the last seven years I’ve been part of the Camp Gilgal staff, wanting to share with other kids what I’d received.
I was excited when my wife and I moved from New York to California—in part because I was able to serve with Camp Gilgal West for the first time. This is where Jews for Jesus camp ministry really got up and running, under the leadership of Dave (Moose) Garrett.
After so many years of working with campers, I can often tell which are interested in a relationship with God and which are not—but I’ve also learned that God sometimes works in campers’ hearts in ways that take us by surprise. That was the case this summer with Aaron.
“That camper doesn’t have a spiritual bone in his body.” Those were the famous last words of one camp counselor regarding Aaron, and from the look of things, it seemed a pretty accurate statement. When Aaron showed up at our camp, for Jewish kids ages 13-15, he didn’t show much of an interest in spiritual things. He was excited to play capture the degel (Hebrew for flag) and go skateboarding, but whenever we turned to anything spiritual, Aaron soon had that glazed over, disinterested look that kids get in math class.
Thankfully, though, more was going on inside of Aaron than we could see on the surface. Every morning we would have tabernacle, a time of worship and studying the Bible. At first Aaron would ask me, “Is this going to be another boring Bible time?” But slowly, he started paying more attention and asking questions—and his questions were really good! Other staff members and I often found ourselves discussing his questions so as to help each other relay back the best possible answers to Aaron.
During the week of teen camp, we studied from Colossians how to set our minds on things above, rather than focusing on the world and what it has to offer. Near the end of camp, Dave Garrett gave an opportunity for anyone who wanted to surrender their lives to Jesus to do so. By that point none of us were too surprised when Aaron raised his hand and prayed to receive Jesus. From that point until the end of the camp we saw a big change in Aaron, in his humor, the way he interacted with other campers and staff, and in his interest in the Bible.
It’s one thing to have a spiritual experience at camp, but it’s never easy to come home and continue to trust God in the midst of ordinary life; the temptation is always to forget about what God did. Thankfully I was able to stay in contact with Aaron after we got back from camp, and it seemed like God was continuing the work He started in Aaron. I hope he will return to Camp Gilgal and who knows? Perhaps one day he will invest in younger kids the way that I’ve invested in him, and the way that others invested in me.