Archive for June, 2007
My experiences with the Space Shuttle have been vivid, if not a bit distant. I have been hooked with fascination for decades. In fifth grade I did my science project on this new vehicle for space exploration. For years I have studied the details of each mission. Seconds after every launch I run out into my driveway to watch the billowing trail (or the tiny orange flame at night) off in the distance. I sat by the side of Bayshore Blvd. in my TR-6 and watched Challenger’s plumes of exhaust corkscrew into tragedy in 1983. From Enterprise to Endeavour, I have promised myself, “One day I’ll see one up close and in person.” But various scheduling conflicts, the threat of scrubbed launches, and several weaker excuses kept it from happening – until Friday.
In the afternoon Aaron and I drove to Titusville, ate Chinese food and walked a half-mile to the point where Cheney Highway dead ends at US Hwy 1. From that vantage you can look directly across the water to see the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building and both shuttle launch pads.
At 7:38 p.m. the Space Shuttle Atlantis left the earth right on time. With video rolling and the camera clicking, we cheered with thousands that stood along the shore. As my five-year-old and I witnessed our first launch together, I finally made good on a promise I made to myself a long time ago. Aaron turned to look up at me, smiled and said, “This is awesome, Dad.” He took the words right out of my mouth.
The teenagers are at camp so I have had some opportunities to spend one-on-one time with Aaron, our five year old son. I’m seeking little ways to give him undivided attention. Sunday night we stayed up late and ate fruit and yogurt parfaits. Monday we did a “geocache” adventure – searching for hidden treasure in Tampa. Tuesday after work I took him to the causeway to fish for a few hours. We picked up some live shrimp and hit an outgoing tide. I spent a lot of time casting his line and getting it unsnagged. Nothing remarkable happened. The results of our evening consisted of a huge catfish, a blue crab, and several “thumps” from a school of ladyfish.
However, another perspective would show a greater catch for this dad and his son! We followed the fiddler crabs as they scampered into the crevices of the rocks along the seawall. We marveled at the aerobatics of brown pelicans as they plummeted out of the sky to scoop up their catch just below the water’s surface. We discovered how much a large catfish has in common with a shark. We observed a pair of prehistoric-looking horseshoe crabs that we decided were playing tag. Finally, we ran out of names for all the colors in a sunset that would be considered spectacular in many parts of the world, but was rather common for the Suncoast.
During the ride home, out of the blue, he said, “Thanks, Dad.” These are the moments I clasp in the locket of my mind. Sharing the simple pleasures of the Mountain State Forest Festival with Maribeth. Camping and kayaking with Justin at Fort Desoto. Talking with Sarah as we drive to the east coast on the way to preach a Sunday evening service – and watching her sleep on the way home later that night. Trekking with the family through St. Augustine to discover secrets hidden for centuries (or just decades) in St. Augustine. Through the years I gaze at those pictures in my mind and smile a satisfied grin. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Years ago the choices for summer camp were fairly limited. There were lots of church camps and maybe a few secular or scout-type camps. However, almost everybody went somewhere for at least a week. Church camps were opportunities to remove worldly distractions and focus attention on the spiritual lives of children and teenagers, especially through good preaching. Plus campers had a great time and were exposed to the great outdoors. Ask enough people in the ministry (older than 35) and you’ll find many that either trusted Christ at camp or committed their lives to full-time service. Perhaps one of the reasons that fewer young people consider “vocational ministry” these days is a decreased emphasis on summer camps or a change in the focus of such camps.
Along those lines there is a noticeable trend regarding summer camps: Fewer Christian parents view Christian summer camps as absolutely important for their children. Fewer children and teens attend church camps. Churches (pastors & staff) become discouraged in their efforts to recruit campers. Some churches give up and quit promoting these types of camps altogether. Camp ministries fade as tools for spiritual growth of young people.
Why has this happened? It is not because of time or money considerations. Young people are attending camps in record numbers. Dozens of specialty camps are offered to our children every summer. They promise to make your child a better hitter, kicker, actor, wrestler, musician or free throw shooter. They are anything but inexpensive. Before you jump to any conclusions about my limited perspective, consider that my children attend sports camps every summer. My daughter will attend two weeks of music academy in July. But these will never replace the value of Christian camp in my book.
Missionaries around the world continue to use summer camp as a prime method for reaching young people and helping them grow into mature believers. This week we sent approximately fifty teens to North Carolina for an exciting week at an awesome camp. I have spent a lot of time praying for a spiritual impact in the lives of our teenagers. Church leaders and parents should reconsider the value of this time-tested tool.
One result of diminished emphasis on Christian camps will be that churches will suffer from a lack of dedicated and trained ministers. But we should have plenty of excellent hitters for our church softball teams.