On camps and converts

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I'm on camp this week, speaking every morning from Daniel, and a couple of seminars on Revelation. It's slightly different as a camp because all the kids are from one church; St Nicholas' Sevenoaks. It's hardly a gathering of the working class but it's good for them to occasionally get someone in from the ethnic minorities to come and speak. In all honesty it's  remarkable that one church has enough young people to run their own houseparty. There are 120 of us here and St Nick's has been a factory churning out church leaders for decades.
 
I was converted on camp 19 years ago; at least I think I was. It's still pretty vivid in my memory. Allan Rees gave his testimony. Allan had played first class club rugby in Wales in the 1970s and had been converted some time in early 90s. At that time he was the schools worker and did a remarkable job. He was like a firebrand going round the schools, absolutely fearless. There's a whole generation of us who were discipled by Allan and his brutal talks. In all honesty I used to dread him coming into my school to speak at the Christian Union. For one thing it meant I had to be there and I found myself coming under deep conviction each time he spoke.
 
On the camp in question all I remember is that he gave his testimony and half way through I thought this is bonkers! Some of it was quite frankly bizarre but he closed with the words: 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all' I remember him saying 'he's not asking you, he's demanding you'. It was Thursday night of camp so by then it's pretty emotional and hormones are flying absolutely everywhere. I was aware that I needed to repent but I vividly remember my friend saying as we left the room, 'Don't worry Levy, this always happens on a Thursday night'. I went back to my dorm and Jonny Dyer who, as well as being one of the current darlings of the FIEC works now at All Souls Church as the Student Worker, was my dorm leader. Jonny had lead a Bible study on the Beatitudes earlier on in the evening. I asked him what you would say to someone who showed only a couple of the Beatitudes. Jonny answered wisely, 'Levy, you don't have any of them'. I had a restless night and then in the morning by Bala Lake found that I'd come to saving faith. I knew something of the joy of the Lord and peace.  I'd put my trust in Christ. With hindsight I was a disaster zone for the next few years and, although it was something of a crisis experience, I look back now to see that it was in a chain of lifetime of events. It wasn't half as dramatic as I've probably portrayed it.
 
My issue is this, although the details change this is basically the story of nearly everyone who grew up with me in Wales and lots of the people I interview for church membership. They grow up in Christian home and are covenant children (not that they would describe themselves as that), they are in gospel preaching churches and yet they go on camp and are 'converted'. The famous line that infuriates all ministers is 'It was like I'd never heard the gospel till I was on camp!'
 
What's the problem you might ask? The issue is, what on earth happened before there were camps? How were young  people 'converted' before they were taken away for a week, away from home and local church? I think if we were willing to think theologically most Covenant Children are regenerate before they go to camp, they then go through 'the experience of conversion'. (I'm not totally comfortable with the language of conversion for covenant children) I don't want to denigrate those experiences but I do think as camp leaders it's imperative that we understand better what the Shorter Catechism calls the application of redemption, effectual calling, the new birth, repentance and faith. Camps are often used as training grounds for training leaders and, though that is right, great damage can be done by young leaders who don't really know what they're going on about counselling for decisions on camps.
 
I have spoken at this camp 6 times now. On three of those occasions the same guy has professed faith. There was another guy growing up with me who was 'converted' countless times on camp, each time, to put it in the terms of the parable of the sower, he received the word with joy, faith sprang up but the weeds of life choked it. It's a great privilege to bring the Word this week on this houseparty and I'm so grateful for that camp 19 years ago. For young people in small churches where there aren't many young people around camps are a lifeline. I want our young people to get the benefit and make the same kind of friendships my wife and I made. However, I want camp leaders to recognise that the real work is done week by week by parents,  Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, elders and what camp does is really pick the ripe fruit off the tree. Oh for more fruit picking this week and during the summer. Don't overestimate what camps do - we're fruit pickers. Be nervous of saying this person or that person was 'converted'
Posted August 20, 2013 @ 10:49 AM by Paul Levy
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