I LOVE CAMP! Yes, I can say that with bold letters and in all caps. But, why do I feel that way? Let me tell you about my love story with camp.
I fell in love with Jesus at camp
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I was an 12 years old, an only child and my dad had recently passed away. Because my dad had passed my mom and I moved to Florida to take care of my grandfather, my dad’s dad.
Around the corner from where I now lived was a family who had two kids who happen to go to a camp west of town, called Life For Youth Camp (Life For Youth Ranch, back in the day), for weekend retreat. They invited me to camp, but this city kid was was way out of his element. You see, this weekend was horsemanship camp weekend.
This city kid learned to ride horses, do barrel runs and groom horses, but that wasn’t the only way I was out of my league, they had church services at night. Now I was in deep waters.
I grew up a nominal catholic in a nominal catholic family. I knew how to be good, take communion and walk six blocks every Wednesday to CCD class. I didn’t know Jesus in a personal way, but that all changed at one of these weekend camp services.
I had grown up with the idea that the only reason, at least in New York, why people raised their hands was because they were getting mugged. So, when I saw people raising their hands during church, I got nervous and started looking around.
This was not church as I was used to. The camp director Dick Stevens, affectionately called Uncle Dick, gave the message that night. Uncle Dick spoke from a wheel chair that he had been in all his life due to polio. He spoke of Jesus as if he had known him all his life, like they were pals.
This intrigued me, but when it was time to “go up and receive Jesus” I didn’t go. I was too nervous and unsure of myself. But this did not stop me from going to camp again.
The following year the camp had whacky wheels weekend, all about riding go-carts and decorating them for a beauty contest. It was this weekend that a college student named Chuck Winters was volunteering for the weekend and he gave the message that night. I had met a good friend, John, and we both sat and heard the message that night, I felt it in my gut, but I didn’t respond because I feel peer pressure from John not to go.
After the service, I talked with Chuck in the game room. We talked about Jesus and I wept over my cowardice of not responding to the message but it quickly turned to joy as I received Christ for the first time.
When I opened my eyes, the whole world felt brand new, as if the world had been re-created while my eyes were closed. I was born again and my life had been changed forever.
I fell in love with camp ministry
I was encouraged to come to CIT meetings on Wednesdays, led by full time staff members Bill and Laurel Dunklee. They were my first youth pastors and taught me a ton about how to love and build relationships.
They used to pick me, and a bunch of other kids, up at the middles school in an old, blue, extended station wagon we called The Limo. We’d play games, learned about Jesus and went swimming. They were great building blocks.
Upon graduation from High School I took my first job at camp as a dish washer. I wanted to be at camp so bad, I would have done anything. I was not a counselor but I did get to work with campers in the dish room. This was youth ministry, but I don’t think I recognized it at the time. All the cool counselors had cabins of kids and did activities, but I stuck with it.
I worked five more summers as an activity counselor and worked several horsemanship and whacky wheels weekends before the next big life change would happen.
I fell in love with my wife
I sat at the lunch table laughing with a bunch of guys about how our dating lives were going. We had dated girls every summer but they were only summer loves. This day, the last summer love I would ever have, walked through the door.
My wife Kim was a student at Evangel Christian College and was recruited to work for the summer. I had recently joined the He-Man Woman Haters Club and vowed not to date that summer along with a few other guys. That all went out the window when Kim walked in.
She loved Jesus, she loved camp, and she eventually loved me. We’ve been married now for almost 29 years and we spent four years of our journey together working at the camp full time where I served as Day Camp Director, Bible Director and Camp Pastor. Besides Jesus, this was the greatest gift the camp had given me.
I fell in love with the campers
I was in awe of camp speakers. They were funny, they were bold about Christ and I wanted to be like them. In 2001, having been a youth pastor for 10 years, and serving in Alabama, the camp asked me if I would like to come back to speak. I couldn’t get the word YES! out of my mouth quick enough.
I wasn’t a perfect camp speaker. I made plenty of mistakes and learned over the year how to be a better communicator and camp minister.
Every year I have tried to bring the WOW of Jesus to camp. I done everything from building a jail cell in the chapel to driving a car through the front doors. I am passionate about camp and the power of the gospel in a campers life as one who has experience it himself.
I created a graduation service for campers that is still done to this day. These campers, former and current, will always have a special place in my heart.
I have married several counselors over the years, many who had been former campers. What an honor. I am a blessed man.
I have spoken every summer, sometimes several weeks a summer, for the past nine-teen years and next year, the Lord willing, I will celebrate my 20th year as a camp speaker. My pitch to campers to come my week will be, “There will be cake!”
If I can help or serve your youth ministry or camp by speaking, head over to www.paulturnerspeaks.com to see more testimonies and grab my