Youth enthusiastically gathered at the Hays Wood Retreat Centre for the 18–24s summer camp this past week (22–26 August), many to experience the site for the first time. As there hadn't been a camp like this before, we were all excited to be part of the experience, organized by Pastor Anthony Fuller and Albert Gardiner, area coordinator.
Our main speakers for the week were Pastor Eddie Hypolite and Clarence Jackson, familiar to many for their youth work throughout the SEC and further afield. Pastor Eddie led the evening worships while Clarence delivered the morning messages. Stephen George hosted for the week and encouraged everyone to get to know each other with icebreaker games.
Pastor Eddie highlighted how we need to make Scripture personal by inserting our names into it. "What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for ME, who can be against ME?" (Romans 8:31—continuing on to verse 39). He also said it's in our 20s—the invincible years, out on your own—that we need to nail down what we want to do and who we want to be. We should always ask, "Who am I? How am I? How do I? and why?" in response to cultural identity and legacy. "There is a story in each one of us, written daily on the pages of our lives, in the ink of experience; each new day brings a new chapter, each turning point in our 24 hours, new sentences" (Hypolite, Living From Here).
Clarence's first morning thought was that we are wired with great potential, but Satan is doing everything he can to trap us, mentally and spiritually. The world needs us at our best, but Satan wants us at our worst. We are called to great things. Another of his sessions highlighted how we are God's children, and He has a calling in mind for all of us (see Jeremiah 29:11–13). "The worst movie you could ever see is one called 'What You Could Have Been' by Jesus Christ."
Tuesday's activities were all on-site, and trainers were invited to lead out in sporting activities. The group was broken up into four teams, whose goal was to gain points throughout the day, and extra points were given for good sportsmanship and team playing. Two teams joined Des and Beth from Strong Soul Fitness, who took them through a few boxing moves. This was a huge hit, and they were soon enthusiastically training one on one with Des, as well as with one another in pairs. Meanwhile, the other two teams competed in team games with Latoya and Steven leading out. These included noughts and crosses (two teams running against each other to get three in a row) and wriggling a hula-hoop through a chain of people, among others.
After lunch, the fun continued as the rounders bat and dodge balls came out. Des provided further boxing tuition for those who had the energy to continue.
In the evening, everyone reflected on the day and how much they enjoyed the messages shared and the sporting events. Although it was only day one, we could feel and see how everyone had bonded in such a short time.
On Wednesday, after the morning devotion, everyone had free time until after lunch, when we all piled on to the coach for a trip to Great Yarmouth. Once there, we had an hour at the beach before heading to the amusement park known as the Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach. There was something for everyone, with the most daring going on the Pendulum, Sky-Drop, and the famous wooden roller coaster. Before we left to head back to the site, we saw a fireworks display on the beach.
On the third and final full day, the group was joined by Andrew Fuller, Kristina Carridice, and Rachel Burrell, who, along with Clarence, shared their personal testimonies, including their trials and difficulties in and outside the church. When asked, “If you had only one thing to share, what would it be?” Kristina responded, "It's okay to not be okay; we have grace to not be okay—to work things out."
Rachel's advice was to "build a tribe with people you don't have to hide from."
Andrew commented, "The sooner you are honest with yourself, the sooner you will see growth in your life."
And Clarence said, "Don't rely on others to label you; get to know you for you, and others will do the same."
The group then separated by gender into two groups to discuss sensitive topics such as sex, LGBTQ+, losing a child, saying “no” (protecting yourself), and dress and jewelry. The open session gave everyone a chance to ask questions and share experiences. Anything from dating to marriage relations were discussed. This then led into one-on-one check-in sessions, and the specialized team gave their time to every attendee.
In the downtime, blank tote bags were available to personalize and design. This activity gave attendees time to reflect on their favorite Bible verse, quote, or image while they decorated their tote bags.
One of the most valuable parts of the program was the prayer room. The Upper Room was decorated with lights, candles, and foliage for a calming atmosphere. Available offerings included verses from promise jars, a prayer request box, and a prayer wall where people could put their prayer requests, triggered by the reminder of the acronym PRAY: praise, repent, ask, yield. There was also a quiet space for people to pick up a devotional. Not only this, but Clarence and Emma, both trained in mental health, counseling, and mentoring, manned the room every morning between 8 and 9 o’clock and often had queues of people waiting to talk to them and receive prayer. What a blessing their ministry was and continues to be!
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the week and its activities. We could all feel the group had bonded and formed relationships quickly. When it came to group activities, praise sessions, and devotionals, everyone got involved, and no one was left out or behind. All the staff commented how it was a pleasure serving these young people and felt blessed by being involved in the program.