Developing Youth Camping Programs in Colombia

Developing Youth Camping Programs in Colombia

Developing Youth Camping Programs in Colombia

I have had the privilege of working with youth my entire professional life, primarily in the development of camping ministries with a focus on leadership development.

Although each project was different in culture, language, and resource availability, the educational model Jesus demonstrated as he used practicums to help teach his disciples to reflect on their ministry and learn is the model that we continue to depend on today for measurable growth. Jesus was the master of experiential education and it’s this approach, in the context of a supportive, trusting environment that is the foundation of the “why” and “how” we do camp. Of course, camp is just one of the tools we use for evangelism and discipleship, but when a tool is used according to its purpose, it’s incredibly effective. 

Camp IAWAH has developed its leadership programs to challenge our youth holistically through supportive experiences and an international experience takes that challenge one step further. IAWAH’s 4th-year leadership program, called Reach was created to provide an opportunity for that “next step” in discipleship. We recognized that our young people desperately need those extra tools such as resilience and emotional maturity to successfully navigate and thrive in a difficult culture of subjective truth. Camp leadership programs such as Reach are more needed now than ever. 

Here's what some of our former participants had to say about their experience. 

  • Friends don’t work out for me at home, and I spend a lot of time alone. Spending time with Christians who reassured me that I am important and that they loved me really helped with my self-esteem issues. I’m learning how to trust God and his plan for my life as well as letting other people in by sharing my testimony. I also felt close to God by spending time in his creation. Yeah. Loved the trip. 10/10. Would do it again!
  • It was a moving experience in learning about a new culture and the works of the Lord in another part of the world. The physical, spiritual, and emotional challenges are all effective in creating growth in our personal lives. 
  • Reach has turned my views on poverty alleviation and our roles in that as Christians upside down. It has offered me a fresh perspective on the way we attempt to help others and has given me tangible experiences to back up what I learned in the sessions. 

This is long-term impact. This is what purposeful youth leadership programs do. After five successful years of running this program out of Camp La Cumbre in Costa Rica, the pandemic offered an opportunity to reevaluate our goals and establish new outcomes. We realized we needed to expand. This program should not be just for Canadians because youth around the world face the same challenges. 

Judah and Jessie Rath are former IAWAH staff, now serving with LAM Canada in Barranquilla, Colombia, where a good part of their work is serving the displaced Venezuelan community – which is the largest refugee crisis in the world.

Understanding the power of Christian camping through personal experience, they developed “Campfire”, a program designed to reach the community with whom they work. By combining the two programs - Reach and Campfire - we have developed a multicultural, multilingual leadership course where each participant, in the context of an international Christian community can learn from each other, working toward a common goal. 

For our first year, we accepted six Canadians and six Colombians, forming a single group of twelve young people. Despite a difference in backgrounds, we know that the culture of the Cross is what will unite this team as they collaboratively develop and run a camping program for Venezuelan youth. The team will spend time learning how to work together through several purposely designed challenges including a camping trip and a hike to one of the peaks in the region. With our Colombian participants representing different ministries in Barranquilla, a secondary goal is to educate each ministry as to what the others are doing so people resources can be shared. 

Finally, we pray for long-term sustainability for this essential program. Cross-cultural relationships work when done with purpose and putting God’s plans first. So many of us can say that camp was what cemented our relationship with Jesus. We want this program to provide that same life-saving opportunity for those in need in Colombia. 

   By Ken Vissers