Now that it is the middle of February, we are officially done with winter camp season here in Hillside Student Ministries! We were able to take a group of about 50 high school students to Hume Lake back in January, and 35 junior high students to Camp Pondo earlier this month.

If you have had kids in our youth group, hopefully you have experienced for yourself the impact that a church camp can have on their lives. I’ve been serving in student ministries for roughly nine years now (that doesn’t include the seven years I was a student myself!), and I’ve always known how important camps were to our ministry and to the lives of our students.

Our students experience uniquely powerful worship and teaching moments like only camps can provide; they experience intimate fellowship with their friends like only a weekend away from the distractions and responsibilities of daily life can allow; they make countless memories and participate in some of the most fun and exciting activities that only camps can pull off; most will experience a rejuvenation of their faith that only an encounter with the living God can bring.

This is why we do camps! 

We want all of those things and more to happen in the lives of our students and we’ve found that camps are one of the best opportunities, if not the best, to try to get all of those things at once.

We’ve always known that camps matter a great deal to our ministry. However, after almost two years without a normal winter camp, these most recent trips were like water in a parched land. 

To say our students have been put through the ringer for the past two years would be a massive understatement. Countless opportunities and experiences have been taken away from them. Losses that we never expected to be the norm for a teenager even just one week before the pandemic started became ongoing, and “normal life” was completely flipped on its head.

So, when we heard that Hume Lake and Camp Pondo were pressing forward and putting on their beloved winter camps this year after a long stretch of cancellations, we were elated, to say the least. We knew that this was not only exactly what our students needed to re-instill some hope and enthusiasm into their lives and walks with Jesus, but it was also exactly what our leadership teams needed as well, to remind us of the reason we do what we do each week. We get front row seats to witness the powerful ways God can move amongst this generation.

And boy, did He move!

We were able to see one high school student stand in the sea of hundreds of her peers and profess her newfound faith in Jesus. I could stop right there and that would be enough evidence of God’s movement at these camps. We were able to welcome a new soul into the family of God and celebrate the grace of Jesus that redeemed her and secured her eternity with Him. Praise God. Eternity was changed on January 16, 2022.

There’s so much more, though!

  • We got to hear another high school student declare a desire to rededicate his life to Jesus and commit to living for Him.
  • We watched junior high and high school students scream out praise to God, even though for the past two years they may have only wanted to scream out in anger or disappointment.
  • We saw high school students learn about the triumphant grace and mercy of God through the story of Jonah.
  • We got to see junior high students learn about the ways God interrupts our timelines and uses those interruptions to write us a better story.
  • We were able to sit and listen to cabins full of junior high and high school students confess their struggles with one another, pray for healing for each other, offer love and support for each other in the hard seasons, and commit to pursuing Jesus together after they got back down the mountain.

(And in case you think the junior high boys might have been the exception to that last one, they’re not. I was able to sit in a cabin of junior high boys and hear all of those things firsthand. Yes, even our preciously awkward junior high boys were stirred in their hearts at camp!)

  • We saw students from broken homes and traumatic backgrounds get to feel free to be themselves and experience the embrace of a good Father at camp.
  • We watched students get out of their comfort zones and try new things – like flying down a tube run in a giant whale-shaped box only to have it flip on its side and crash hard off the jump. (They all walked away unscathed, don’t worry.)
  • We witnessed our lower-classmen girls win the Broom Hockey championships in their very first year at Hume Lake. (And if you don’t know why that is such a big deal, just ask one of them – it’s a BIG deal!)
  • We got to see junior high students conquer their fears on the likes of a zip-line, a giant swing, and sky-high trees they climbed up like a rock wall.

All of this and more is why we do camps. The list would be endless if I gathered every story from every student who had a powerful encounter with Jesus at camp, a meaningful conversation with a peer or leader that stuck with them, a memory made that will likely last a lifetime, or a commitment that was made to pursue Jesus more whole-heartedly when they got back into their normal lives. Unfortunately, I don’t have room for all of that.

But I promise you, God showed up big time and we could not be more grateful that we were able to take our students to camp this winter. 

I know so many of you donated money to help send students to camp who may not have been able to afford to do so otherwise. God used your gifts. We were able to give out so many scholarships to families in need. Thank you so much for your generosity and support.

I know so many of you prayed for camps to happen this year and God answered those prayers – winter camps happened.

I know so many of you prayed that despite the restrictions/limitations caused by COVID surges, we would still be able to take a ton of students and God answered those prayers. We took one of the biggest groups to winter camps ever.

I know so many of you prayed that God would move in powerful ways in both of our groups and God answered those prayers in abundance. Joy was experienced by all and lives were changed.

I know so many of you prayed that God would draw those who didn’t know Him into His saving grace, and He answered those prayers. We know of at least one student (and who knows what seeds were planted or hidden work was done in others) who crossed over from death to life at winter camp this year.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your prayers. God heard them and He answered them.

We look forward to seeing what ripple effect is caused by these camps in the weeks and months ahead. I’ve already heard of students meeting on their own time to study God’s Word together because of convictions they felt at camp.

And just this past Tuesday at Youth Group, our students sat in a circle and participated in a time of affirmation, where we give them space to offer kind, encouraging words to one another. I was blown away at how meaningful and heartfelt some of their words were. Yes, teenagers, offering kind and encouraging words to one another – if that’s not testament to the fact that God is at work in our group, then I don’t know what is.

Thank you again for all your prayers and support for our ministry, and especially for our winter camps this year. I am so excited to see the ways God’s Spirit continues to move amongst our youth this year. If it’s anything like what He has done already, we are in for quite the treat.

In Him,

Ryan Berkman
Student Ministries Pastor


P.S. To see a recap video of all the excitement from Hume Lake, check out this video a couple of our leaders put together:
P.S.S. And to see some pictures that capture the joy of Camp Pondo, check out this album on our Facebook page:

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