We go every year. We just love it and never miss it,” says Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, mom, Christine Krawchuk.
The “it” Krawchuk is referring to is a summer phenomenon known to anyone who has knowledge of Adventist camps and retreat centers throughout the North American Division—family camp.
Whether or not you come from a long line of Adventists dating back to pioneer camp meeting days under white sheet tents, you are likely familiar with names such as MiVoden, Sunset Lake, Winnekeag, Pine Springs Ranch, Leoni Meadows, Indian Creek, Blue Ridge (just to name a few, and depending on your region of residence, of course).
Often thought of as the perfect place to send children for a week or two in the summer to spend idyllic days in nature canoeing, crafting, zip-lining, bouncing off inflatable WaterBlobs, go-karting, horseback riding, and hearing stories of God’s love under the stars around a roaring campfire, you may be surprised to learn that same fun is available to the 21-and-over (and way over) set as well.
That’s right, folks—summer camp isn’t just for kids.
The goal of a family vacation is to spend time with family—every member of the family. At family camps everyone is invited—moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—the whole gang, if you’d like. But it’s perfectly OK if you’d rather it be just the four, or five, or six of you. If you’ve got members of the family in different age groups—with different interests and physical limitations (for example, little brother, who at three feet five inches is not tall enough to ride Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, or grandma, who just hates roller coasters)—the group would have to split up to enjoy certain activities. So where’s the family togetherness in that?
Anthony Hilliard, a southern California physician, went to Idaho’s Camp MiVoden originally as a speaker during a medical/dental professional family camp session there. But what he found regarding actual family time spent left him pleasantly surprised. “From water activities to land activities, it was a wonderful way to spend the day with the family, as you signed up for activities together (at least that’s what we did),” he says. “If we were to go to Hawaii, for instance, some would play golf, others would shop, and others go to the beach, and then you meet for dinner—not much of a family vacation!”
Derek Wright, camp director at California’s Camp Wawona (which, I’d like to add, is located inside Yosemite National Park), concurs. “The bottom line is families today just don’t spend enough quality time together—especially quality time outdoors. Family camp is a perfect place to give your family an extra serving of quality family time and spiritual renewal.”
If you are familiar with the phrase “all-inclusive vacation” and like the sound of that, you now have a better understanding of one of the beauties of family camp. Seventh-day Adventist-run camps and retreat centers throughout the North American Division are located in some of the most beautiful parts of the continent you could imagine. And each of these centers (dependent on the individual camp, of course) offers family campers a variety of ways to enjoy their visit. Do you want a true pioneer experience? Pine Springs Ranch in southern California offers actual pioneer wagons to camp out in. Perhaps a more traditional cabin environment is more your speed—most family campsites will offer that. Have an RV you’re traveling in and would just like to stay there? You can do that. And if you just love nature in all its glory from the safety of a hotel/motel arrangement, there are several camps that offer that option as well.
Will you be foraging for nuts and berries and roasting marshmallows over a fire for your meals? Only if you want to. If you don’t, you can join other family campers for three delicious all-you can-eat vegetarian meals offered daily. Camps that offer hotel/motel environments may give you the option of certain meals in the dining hall and others on your own, if you’d rather.
Then there are all those activities. You can do pretty much anything you want as a family at any point of the day you wish. We are talking about all the things your children would do if they attended camp on their own—activities you might secretly wish to do as well. But if you are in severe need of rest and relaxation, mom and dad can still catch a wink in the cabin while the kids do a craft session, or swim in the pool, or go canoeing under the watchful eyes of camping staff—provided, of course, that all family members are keeping track of one another. After all, another great part of the family camp experience is the staff—committed Christians all eager to help you have a blast in a safe, Christ-centered, and fun environment. “Many of the families say their favorite part of the whole experience is getting to know the Christ-centered staff, and they often say this is the one place where they can count on all staff being great role models for their kids,” says Wright.
One could argue that an all-inclusive vacation filled with exciting activities and great food could be easily found on Expedia.com. But there is something at family camp you certainly won’t find at any world-class resort. At the start and end of each day is a component of the experience that makes all the difference in the world.
“Family camp is very spiritually focused,” adds Wright. “There are morning and evening worship programs that are geared for the whole family.” These sessions are optional, but have proved to be as huge a highlight of the program as are all the awesome activities available—surprising many camp guests along the way. “The spiritual renewal was something I didn’t expect to find,” says Hilliard. “I knew it would be there, but I didn’t realize what its impact would be on our family.” “Every night’s worship is just so spiritual, but so fun,” adds Krawchuk, a regular at Camp Indian Creek in Tennessee. “It’s not just listening to a sermon—it gets the kids involved.”
Northern California’s Leoni Meadows hosts a general family camp session that sees close to 700 guests attend. As part of the fun week, which includes a massive ice-cream feed on Friday evenings and a carnival night on Wednesday, the camp brings in a special speaker to conduct morning and evening worships, as well as the end-of-the-week Sabbath service.
With designated spiritual leaders on hand in an environment that is focused on a Christ-centered experience, there are many out-of-the-ordinary-for-a-vacation opportunities to really gain a spiritual boost. Informal Bible studies with other families or through a formal program at the camp can happen. If a family or family members are in need of counseling or guidance in an informal manner, most camp pastors are open to that, according to Jeremy Cruz, assistant director at Pine Springs Ranch Christian Youth Camp and Retreat Center in southern California. “It may not be intentionally scheduled, but it does happen,” he says.
There are, of course, families who don’t come from an Adventist background who find in these family camps a great cost-effective and wholesome vacation option. And even if they are not open to the optional worship experiences, seeds can be sown. “My non-Adventist friend came,” says Krawchuk. “She was adamant that she wasn’t going to go to worship, but by midweek she went and loved it so much. There is a great spiritual influence [at Camp Indian Creek] so that even if you are not Adventist, our beliefs are not shoved down your throat. It’s really awesome.”
The concept of family camps is not unique to Adventists, of course. A simple Google search will yield dozens of hits of camp and retreat centers across the country that specialize in an all-inclusive, cost-effective family vacation. There are many that belong to other Christian denominations, as well as those that are specialty-based—centered on interests such as the performing arts among others. But it is that spiritual component in nature making a powerful connection between the Creator and His creation that distinguishes the Adventist family camp experience. Factor that in with a vacation option that makes better financial sense* and the opportunity to truly unplug and connect with your loved ones, and you have something very special.
The John Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry at La Sierra University conducted research on Adventist-run family camps in 2010. Their findings pointed to the importance many families placed on the spiritual components of family camp as well as what the experience as a whole did for their own family dynamics. Of respondents, 50 percent said attending family camp was a spiritual experience for their family. When asked what the best thing about family camp was, 68 percent said it was family time, followed by 42 percent saying it was the worships. Craig Heinrich, executive director of Leoni Meadows camp, sums it up well. “What makes family camp a great vacation and blessing? The undistracted time a family has to re-create relationships with God and each other.”
If you thought your summer camp days were behind you, it may be time to rethink that. “Even if you aren’t coming to my camp, take your kids outdoors and go to one that is offered somewhere near you,” adds Cruz. Get outdoors for a couple of days this summer. Kids need to experience their Creator out in nature. It’s a big deal.”
* The cost of family camp varies from location to location dependent upon each camp’s individual policies and available amenities. To learn more, see the accompanying sidebar.