By Eddie and Allyson Willis —
On a July morning in the mountains at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, young people and their leaders from youth ministries around the Southeast have just finished breakfast and are gathered outside the entrances of Shackford Hall in the cool, crisp morning air.
They are awaiting the top of the hour when college counselors will fling open the building doors, allowing them to rush in for the “best seats” on the floor or the coveted seats in the balcony.
“Three, two, one… open those doors!” resounds throughout the building. Students rush in expectant for the things that are to come in the worship session.
Why the energy and excitement? This is summer Christian youth camp! Many of these students have waited the school year to pack their bags, load up their church bus, and spend part of a week with M28Camps in the space of the Lake Junaluska Retreat and Conference Center in the mountains near Waynesville, North Carolina.
So, what is unique about this camp experience? Youth ministries that bring their groups come away from an M28 experience talking about the difference in this event. “M28Camps is camp ministry done great. They’re very intentional at making sure students and adults alike are fully engaged in discipleship, worship, and community,” said Bryant Fisher, youth pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. “It will be the best tradition you’ve ever started for your summer ministry plans.”
The M28Camp model is to focus not only on the students but also the adults as well. Students and adults alike participate in worship, teaching, discipleship groups, and seminars all designed to help participants grow in the likeness and image of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“The M28 leaders want to see the students fall in love with Jesus and fully live out his truth,” said Jason Anding, youth leader at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Madison, Mississippi. “M28 is unique in that it holds the authority of Scripture dear and unashamedly strives to teach the truth of the Gospel to every student and adult who comes. It is a fun, high energy camp that is discipleship-focused and worship-centered in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. M28Camps is a must for your students and church!”
Worship. A typical worship service at M28Camps not only holds the anticipation of grabbing a seat but that of singing worship songs, participating in stage games, watching counselor skits, drinking in the teaching from pastors and speakers from around the country, and enjoying being a part of what God is doing in their lives through camp. All of these elements are a recipe for student growth with their youth ministry, friends, and ultimately their Savior.
Discipleship. M28 follows the guidance of scriptural teaching in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples.” That is the heart and passion of this ministry. Discipleship for M28 starts when the college summer staff begins meeting prior to camp to sharpen their swords together and study spiritual disciplines they can begin to practice in deeper ways before camp starts. At camp, these college counselors serve as discipleship leaders for the students who come with their youth groups to attend camp. In these “D-Groups” they are able each day to take the biblical teaching of the speaker and worship leaders and go deeper into understanding not only what they mean but how to begin to apply it in their own lives.
“Our youth are bathed in prayer individually and as a group by M28 staff,” said Susan Wright, co-director of youth ministries at Holland’s Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We confidently place our trust in M28Camps year to year to provide a Spirit-filled, Jesus-seeking experience for our youth.”
Students aren’t the only ones who are given the space and time to grow deeper in their faith. Adults who come – whether they are the student ministers, parents, or volunteer chaperones – also participate in their own D-Group. They have the opportunity for time away to be ministered to and listen to God speak into their lives.
There is a very high return rate of adult volunteers which we think is attributed in part to Adult D-Groups. We bring in pastors/speakers to pour into our participating adults. We honestly believe the adults benefit just as much as the students. Many fruits grow from these D-Group times: new ideas bloom, burn-out “soul care” happens, and faith is challenged in ways that are life-giving.
College Staff. M28Camps believes in training college students in ministry. Each summer a college staff is given the opportunity to lead young people in workshops, devotions, music, stage skits and games, and programmatic opportunities that help the camp function. There is great value in the careful selection of young adults who want to share their faith as well as lead others in the same manner. The position of a college counselor not only begins with staff devotion every day, beginning as breakfast is shared together, but ends each night with debriefing and prayer to process how their faith is being challenged and renewed.
Free time. Renewal can also happen for all who participate by experiencing the incredible natural terrain that North Carolina brings. Groups are encouraged to take advantage of the activities available in the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround the retreat center. Time away from technology and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation has a powerful effect on the participants. The M28Camps schedule is designed for groups to have time to explore locations they might not normally experience. Groups enjoy such activities as white-water rafting, exploring the town of Waynesville, canoeing and paddle boarding at Lake Junaluska, as well as many of the offerings of free hiking, waterfalls, and swimming holes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The top group free-time destinations seem to be “Slide Rock” and “Deep Creek Tubing.” The cost is minimal for the amount of fun provided. Taking time to explore these beautiful God-given scenes helps students remove themselves from their regular world often filled with concerns. It opens up space for God to break through their fears as they can often hear him more clearly without all the distractions.
M28 seeks to follow the call to make disciples through creative youth camp experiences where students and adults can get away from their regular routine and begin to examine what it means to follow Christ in a deeper way. The goal is to take that learning and practice back home where they will use the knowledge in their lives and pass it on to others.
Eddie and Allyson Willis are the parents of four children and the co-founders of the M28Camps. Eddie is the Campus Minister at Ole Miss Wesley Foundation and the pastor of Taylor United Methodist Church. M28Camps is expecting around 1600 youth and adults this July. For more information, please go to www.m28camps.com.