At 7:03am of the day that we were scheduled to leave for youth camp our bus had not arrived. We weren’t leaving for another 40 minutes or so, but I had a bad feeling so I called the driver. He was at home in bed – 3 hours away! He had misread the instructions and thought we were leaving the next day.
Later that day our camp pastor called me and said, “This is not a joke. The government won’t let me fly today because I am on a no fly list for terrorist like behavior.” His ministry had spent money overseas and he was traveling to certain countries and those activities made the government have some questions.
How many youth pastors have their camp speaker being detained by the government and have their bus driver be 3 hours late on the same day? Over the next few days I had students get diagnosed with serious medical issues, had to make uncomfortable calls to parents, filed a report with the police over something a student confessed, and our camp pastor got food poisoning on the last day!
Most churches invest thousands of dollars, lots of prayer, and many hours into their youth camp and mission trips. How did we give students a great youth camp experience while dealing with many obstacles during the week? Here are a few things that have helped me lead events during difficult times:
1. Be positive: Teenagers are looking to you and your adults during difficult times at camp. If you are negative, they are going to be even worse. However, if you act like it’s not big deal and remain positive about the trip, teens will follow your lead.
2. Take care of yourself: Youth pastors taking care of everything and everyone else need to remember that they need to take care of themselves as well. Make time to pray and be alone and quiet with journal or Bible or whatever helps your soul. Get the rest you need to handle the stress that will appear. Drink water and eat as healthy as you can at camp. You want to be healthy and thinking clearly when bad things happen.
3. Trained adults: We do our own mission camp and that means that every adult has a role at camp. Those adults picked up the slack from me being disconnected due to the (above) issues. These young adults and parents carried on the ministry of our camp this year.
4. Organization: I take with me a binder that has every email, contract, phone number, medical release forms, etc. that I could possibly need. Have the first aid kit well stocked and easily accessible. Have multiple copies of medical release forms, just in case. Many times your contact person has not talked to the front desk to let them know of your arrangements. You arrive and find out the cost is higher or that the time of your event has changed and you’ll want those emails and contact information of the person you’ve spoken with.
5. Plan B: Our schedule was packed and was never planned to be flexible. That changed quickly because we didn’t have a speaker and our new arrival time was 10pm. We had a shorter worship time, did some impromptu small groups, prayer time, and it ended up being great. It takes a few minutes to come up with another plan, but they students never knew it wasn’t our original plan.
At the end of our youth mission camp, we saw 97 kids accept Jesus and 4 of our students decide to serve the Lord in full-time ministry! With all of the crazy stuff happening, one of my goals was that students remember the relationships, kids trusting Jesus, and powerful worship. It is tough dealing with many things that other adults can’t comprehend, but its worth it to see how God uses camp in the lives of our students.
Joey Rolen is the Pastor of Student Ministries at Swift Creek Baptist Church in Midlothian, Va. He can be reached at Twitter: joeyrolenlive.