The Disconnect of the “Camp High” After Short-Term Trips
As we sat around the circle on our last night in Haiti, this was the question presented to our small group of high school students. As is true of any good short-term trip, we spent our final evening reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness that week. In that moment, my heart rejoiced over the Lord’s work in Haiti, as well as in the lives of our students; but truthfully, my heart also ached.
As the students filled the space with ideas for new service projects, practical ways to share the gospel with friends at home, and concepts for inviting people to church, all I could think was, “How long? How long will the ‘camp high’ last this time?”
Few phrases cut deeper in a youth leader than the subtly-named reality of the “camp high.” The camp high is that span of time, immediately following a camp/retreat, when a student’s passion for the Lord is high and they want nothing more than to faithfully walk with Him. It is that moment when amazing stories are told and joy is full.
Then comes the crash.
Anywhere from a few days to a few months later, that same student who passionately committed to follow the Lord is right back at ground zero – chasing after the longings and desires of the world over their call to Christ; it is almost as if camp never even happened.
This is the camp high.
The same can be said of short-term evangelistic trips as well. Our students often have life-altering experiences on these trips and return home more passionate and changed than ever. For some, this change is a permanent one. Yet for many, it is just another “camp high.” The intentions are good and the lessons learned are real. However, as soon as the anxieties and desires of the world return, the enthusiasm fades.
Many ministries are currently coming off of Spring Break season, filled with short-term trips or retreats. Because of this, many of our students are in the midst of their latest camp high moment. And while we are excited to see the Lord working in these students’ lives, it is hard not to remember the reality that we have seen this before. These students will soon try to start “doing” as much as possible. They will apply what they have learned, attempt to be bolder in action and, inevitably, will fail at some point. Then, suddenly, they will lose the drive to continue trying.
So, as I sat in the circle of my students that final night in Haiti – each one poised to hit the ground running when they returned home – I could not help but think that I might be asking the wrong question in leaving them with “What now?”
I often believe that if I can just get my students “doing” more once they return, then I can keep their camp high going. So in the weeks following a trip, I tend to ask them what they are doing, how they are sharing, and even place high expectations on their accomplishments. What I repeatedly forget is the reason they experienced their camp high in the first place. It was not the activities or projects, but it was their daily, intentional encounter with God that ignited their passion.
That is the disconnect.
As my heart ached for my students that night, the Lord brought me to Luke 10:38-42 and the story of Mary and Martha. I was reminded that in directing my students to “what now?” I was neglecting to encourage them in the better portion. While I do desire to see my students’ faith lived out in their service to the Lord, I must remember that their passion for service does not come from serving itself. Instead, their passion is only maintained and motivated as they choose the better portion of sitting at Christ’s feet for themselves.
So, how can we make the most of the “camp high” as we seek to follow up with our students in the post-Spring Break time? First, I believe we must shift our question from “what are you doing?” to “how are you doing?” We must desire to see our students’ passion grow as they go deeper into their knowledge of the author of their work, the one who created them for good works. May we seek for them to know the creator above even His creation.
We must change our mindset from “what more can they do,” to “what more can they learn.” Now, I am not saying our students should continue to be poured into, while never being expected to pour out. No. They are not called to be puddles, but rather pipelines for God’s message. What I mean to say is that we must remember the better portion for our students, even above serving.
One of my favorite readings after evangelistic trips is a prayer from Valley of Vision titled, “True Religion.” One line in this prayer says, “help me … never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition.”
May this be true of our students, and of us. May we see our students ignited in their passions and service, but may that ignition come not from a momentary event, but from a constant and prevailing disposition of seeking after the Lord. May we help them to sit faithfully at the feet of Christ that they would loudly proclaim with Peter and John, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)