I was a Camp Gilgal camper. Now I’m a Camp Gilgal director. And I have heard it said time and again that Children’s ministry takes so much patience. It can be that you invest for years and years before you see any fruit.” I have tried my best to take this to heart and to trust that God’s Spirit is working. As I gear up for this year’s summer camp, I can say that it’s been worth the wait.
Our last season of camp was our twentieth year. Twenty years is a milestone, and I’d like to share a few of the fruit-bearing stories from last year, hoping it will encourage you to pray for us this year.
Johannah was in her fifth and final year of Junior Camp. Two summers previously, she was questioning whether God was really good or not. She wasn’t sure if she really believed in Yeshua, or that He would or could forgive her sins. At the end of that session of camp, she recommitted her life to the Lord. I was unsure of what that decision meant to her at the time, but I had the opportunity to learn the rest of the story last year. Johannah asked if I remembered how she had struggled with her faith two years earlier. I did. She told me that since her recommitment at camp she’s seen how she has grown in her faith. She has been learning to trust God and is seeking Him for the direction her life should take. It was amazing to hear a twelve-year-old articulate her process of faith so clearly. It was also an encouragement and reminder to me to see that the decisions the kids make at camp shape the direction of their lives.
One of our long-time campers, Josh, began attending camp as an 8-year-old. At 17, he was in his last year as a camper and hoping to stay involved as an assistant tribe leader (camp counselor). He described the position as a combination of a big brother and someone who could provide spiritual guidance. When interviewed for the position he said the idea of being an assistant tribe leader was exciting to him because “it represents a real transition from being a camper to making camp about other people, to give back to the program that was instrumental to my faith. I am excited to be able to inherit the charge and be part of the cycle of camp.” What Josh said about giving back to the program, and making camp about other people is evidence of the spiritual growth that has taken place in his life.
At Adventure Camp, I had a series of conversations with a camper named Josiah. He has also been a camper since he was 8 years old, and a few years ago I had the opportunity to disciple and train him for his Bar Mitzvah. Though he is from a believing family, Josiah’s faith hadn’t yet flourished. He’d attended our Adventure Camp the previous year, and seemed pretty unplugged from the spiritual aspects of the program. He wasn’t going to come back the following year, but changed his mind. One day, he and I were canoe buddies and talked the whole day as we paddled through the Adirondacks. Over the rest of camp, we got into all sorts of spiritual conversations, and usually other campers were around and part of the discussion too. One of the other guys, David, was telling us about the process he went through when he was 12 to 13 to understand his faith for himself, and not just because it’s what his parents believe. David had read a lot of apologetics books and came out on the other side with a firm foundation for his faith. The next conversation I had with Josiah ended with him asking if I would resume meeting with him after camp so we could read through different apologetics books together, which we’ve been doing. He’s been eager to understand more about faith in Jesus and why he believes what he believes and seems closer to wanting to please God.
Through the ministry of Camp Gilgal, many young Jewish people have found their identity as Jewish people encouraged and affirmed, and they have found a place for their faith in Yeshua to be challenged for growth. We have had more than 20 years to invest in future generations of Jewish believers in Messiah (myself included!) and I’m looking forward to seeing more and more fruit from these first 20 years, and what’s to come from the next 20 years!
Elisheva R. is part of our New York branch. She not only grew up in Camp Gilgal, but she also grew up as an “MK:” her parents, Marcia and Baruch, helped to found the ministry of Jews for Jesus.