Like most boys at my school, around the age of nine my parents decided I was old enough to attend a weeklong summer camp in Texas, and they used a neighbor’s recommendation to pick one. “It’s not Christian, necessarily,” our neighbor told my mother, “but the owners all believe in God.” It sounded nice and safe enough, so they packed me linens, a flashlight, and seven outfits all sealed in plastic bags and dropped me off at a lake an hour away.
Since getting older, I’ve never been a huge advocate of Christian isolationism—reserving all social interactions for a small group of fellow believers—but even now, decades later, I still wish I had a different experience that summer. The camp had all the amenities I expected: crafts, swimming, cheesy songs. But my fellow campers were nothing short of a torment. It was my first week away from home, which has to come at some point; it just shouldn’t have to come with bullying and tears.
Almost none of the other boys in my cabin came from Christian homes, and I got mocked by one for believing in God, and pushed around by three other guys for refusing to cuss. The counselors were too ambivalent to intervene, and I thought at the time they empathized more with the bullies, since even they couldn’t believe I didn’t swear. Looking back, the provocations for crying into my pillow at night were silly, but for a homesick, nine year old boy, they were devastating. The two friends I went with abandoned me, and I returned home at the end of the week just hurt, not exhilarated. I know not every secular camp will provide that experience, but having been to multiple Christian ones since, I know the emphasis on faith and Christ amends much of the pain I felt. For parents who want their son or daughter to have a fulfilled summer experience, spiritually and emotionally, I would only recommend a Christian camp, as that’s where I plan to send my own kids someday.