New Life’s Eve: A Summer Camp Holiday
By Nathaniel Miller
At New Life Camp, we greatly desire for campers to make decisions to follow Jesus. For some, that means repenting of their sin and trusting the good news that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can give them new hearts and lives. For others, it means responding to the teaching of the Bible and the Holy Spirit with a renewed commitment to their first love. Each week of summer camp is building toward Thursday, a day we call New Life’s Eve, a day where decisions like these can be made.
It begins with an explanation at breakfast about what this day means and why it is important. The more popular holiday of New Year’s Eve comes and goes once a year, bringing with it New Year’s resolutions. Some are kept and some are shelved to be tried again once January 1st rolls around. We challenge our campers with New Life’s Resolutions: decisions that come in response to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s prompting. The day is dedicated to responding to Jesus, both individually and collectively as cabins.
As we approach the evening, our cabins engage in a traditional contest known as The Best Game. It’s simply a group of short challenges where every cabin sends out one or two contestants to compete against the rest of the cabins. The contests can require sports skills such as basketball dribbling, football throwing, or soccer juggling. They may be races such as hop on one foot, blowing a ping pong ball across the court, or human wheelbarrow. It’s not so much the competition that makes this game great as it is the way the game brings the cabins together as they cheer on and celebrate their members. The seeds for community and unity are planted.
Following the games, we engage in a tradition nearly as old as New Life Camp itself – the campfire service. Out by our lake under the trees and strings of light, we sing songs of worship to thank God for the gift of His Son and the week He has given. The campers are invited to share with one another the story of how Jesus rescued them from sin, the lessons learned from God’s Word during the week, and perhaps even some of the New Life’s Resolutions they are making in response to Jesus. The service is a sweet reminder, again, that we are not alone when we choose to follow Him.
Our campers are dismissed to their cabins for a time called Review and Respond, which is held each evening. They open up to one another what they have learned throughout the day, whether it be from our guest speaker, their Bible study, or even from a brief devotion held after a game on the ball field. But Thursday’s Review and Respond will be the final one they experience together for the week. It is usually the strongest as the counselors stir their campers’ hearts with the truths they have been learning, the decisions they have been making, and the love for one another they have been growing. At the end they gather together, arms around each other, for a final word of prayer as a cabin. Jesus prayed before His death that His followers would be one, and this time captures that truth. They are sent to the Word of God for some personal time in quiet reflection and a chance to respond by writing down any New Life’s Resolutions for their lives at home.
This used to be the end of Thursday for us. Now, it is just getting started! The cabins come to a special event in the Dining Hall known simply as Cookies and Milk. I like to think of it as a Christmas/New Year’s Eve kind of family tradition mixed up into a summer camp delight. There are, of course, cookies and milk to enjoy. We sing songs together at the top of our lungs, laugh together, play games together, recite Bible verses together – the joy and energy we share as a camp is palpable.
We are now approaching midnight. We leave the Dining Hall and come to Johnson Gym for the event we call New Life’s Celebration. Aaron Miller, our Director of Camps, invites a few of our leaders-in-training and counselors to the court with him to lead us in prayer. We quiet our hearts. We spend time praying for God to take the New Life’s Resolutions that have been made and use them as a display of His love and glory. We pray that the Spirit will convict us when we sin, that we will turn to Jesus for grace, forgiveness, and the desire to follow Him again. We pray specifically for what we’ve learned from God’s Word this week, that it will not only transform our hearts but the hearts of those in our homes, schools, and churches. We ask God for a New Life’s Day, full of His new mercies and faithfulness, calling us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The clock on the wall ticks down to midnight. The campers start the countdown: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” The lights go out, smoke rises, strobes flash, and songs of celebration pour out through the speakers as we celebrate this morning of New Life together. Gradually, the music winds down and a photo slideshow takes its place to the tune of “Home” by Phillip Phillips. As each cabin gathers together and cheers on photos of their week, they sing the words, “Just know you’re not alone; I’m gonna make this place your home.” They’re dismissed to bed with the reminder that they’re not alone, that they’re deeply loved, that they have a place where they belong (and that they don’t have to wake up as early the next morning).
The complaint about the experience of a summer camp week is that it is so easy for campers to get on emotional highs, only to come back home and be back to their old ways in a couple of weeks. They will either think or be told that all that spiritual Jesus stuff they just experienced was fake. I think that is one of the destructive lies of the enemy. As Todd Agnew once wrote of summer camp,
“How can time spent in communion with our Savior, distractions placed aside, chasing after Him morning, noon, and night, how can that be fake? How can the week I prayed as much as the other 51 weeks of the year put together, how can that be the fraudulent week? How can the week I spent in the Word, in community, in service, be the week that is not real? This was reality. We weren’t going back to the real world. We were going back to the lie.”
As such, I like to think of New Life’s Eve and its celebration as an act of war. We’re declaring to the enemy the truth of the entire story of the Bible and our week of camp – our Jesus makes all things new. We truly believe our week of camp is a taste of the eternal kingdom Jesus will one day establish on this earth. Jesus Himself said, in John 10:10, that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He came to bring life and life abundant. Our celebration isn’t a way to end the week with a lot of great feelings. It’s a call to persevere in Christ when the music, games, and emotions fade. It’s a call to walk the incredibly difficult and incredibly beautiful way of Jesus. It’s a call to take the Gospel-centered community these campers have found here and grow it in their homes, schools, and churches. Their time in the garden of New Life Camp will end, but they can take the Gospel and garden everywhere they go.
That’s why New Life’s Eve is a holiday worth celebrating.
Written by Nathaniel Miller, serving as Director of LEARN Home School and IT at
New Life Camp. To learn more about New Life Camp’s LEARN or Summer Camp Programs click https://www.newlifecamp.com