How would you like to canoe with hippos or crocodiles? Believe it or not, some youth campers do that in Africa. Throughout the world, in at least 47 countries, Christian camps offer unique opportunities for young people. Most camping programs were originally “exported” from the United States to the world. The first wave went through YMCA camps, some as early as the turn of the twentieth century. Then, American missionaries carried Christian programs with them in the years following World War 2. The exception—Russia—where in the early twentieth century Lenin saw the scouting philosophy in England (minus religion) as a means to advance socialism. Russia then built more than 30,000 camps in their 11-time-zone nation, and communists used them to indoctrinate children for 70 years. In 1991, churches began Christian camping programs using some of the abandoned camps.
Today Christian camping associations exist in Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Latin America, Brazil, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Russia, Southern Africa, Ukraine, India, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Camping is successful with kids around the world. Often with no Christian background, they come to camp because it sounds like fun, is outdoors, and offers a non-threatening escape from their normal environment. International camping programs emphasize evangelism and become a wonderful spiritual tool for the evangelical church, especially when staff model Christ’s love.
Initially the program and activities imitate those from America, but the camps quickly make cultural adaptations—lion tracking in Africa, for example. Archery was a big hit in Russian camps where equipment was brought in from other countries. Americans took all day to teach the fundamentals of softball, an unknown sport at the time, but the familiar football (soccer) was the sport of first choice around the world. To be sure, the longer programs have been established in any country, the more they take on the cultural flavor of that country. And that is as it should be.
Campers might sleep in yurts in an inner-Mongolia camp, eat borsch for lunch in Russia, or spaghetti on toast for breakfast in Australia. At one China camp, young campers bring a pail and hangers to do their own laundry because they have only one or two outfits. In a Zimbabwe camp, campers bring their own cup, bowl, and spoon. Activities may vary, but presenting the call to follow God will be important in all of the camps.
Some international Christian camps have developed very interesting ministry niches. In Amman Jordan a camp became a center for Iraqi refugees, serving 5,000 meals daily and feeding more than one million people. A Salvation Army camp in Zimbabwe existed to serve AIDS-affected orphans. Handicapped orphans were the campers of choice in one Chinese camp. In St. Petersburg, Russia, one camp serves severely physically disabled children, while another brings street children and abandoned youth to camp.
Pray for these international camps; they have many ministry opportunities. And as you are able, support them financially.