By Julia Gervais
Every year the teens at Croydon SDA form the backbone of our Vacation Bible School (VBS) team, which is geared towards nurturing the young children from our church and local community. This is a voluntary commitment to the spiritual development of the young minds. Year after year they give, expecting nothing in return. It seemed like out of nowhere, an idea was born. Why not have a VBS for our teens? The idea was shared with the teens to see if they would buy into it. They did. However, there was one unanimous concern…the name. VBS seemed too juvenile for our adults in training, or wannabe adults, aka our teens. They were given the task of suggesting the name and after much deliberation, and a ballot they settled on the name, Croydon Teens’ Camp.
Our theme for the week was ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper.’ The theme was born out of the realisation that whilst the teenage years are the most exciting, they also represent the most volatile time of development. Sadly, for many teens, it is also the time that decisions are made to walk away from their faith.
Typically, teens spend more time with their peers than with adults. The aim of the week-long camp was to help teens to embrace the responsibility of looking out for each other’s emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Our plan was to provide interactive discussions and teambuilding activities in a safe, non-judgemental manner. More importantly to strengthen and build new friendships with fellow believers. Relationship evangelism is particularly critical for teenagers.
The day finally came. Our teens turned up. Quiet. Subdued. Uncertain of what fate would hand them. But they came anyway. Curiosity perhaps. Registration completed…the day began.
CROYDON TEENS’ CAMP ITINERARY
A typical day started with an icebreaker and a spiritual focus session, both linked to the day’s theme. Our teens got the opportunity to explore the theme further in separate sessions for males and females. We felt this was necessary as some challenges show up in a different way for males and females. Plus our teens generally find it easier to express their feelings with peers of the same gender. The well-deserved lunch break afforded the opportunity for social interaction, which led seamlessly to team-team-building activities.
Pastor Jesse and Elder Si-Annarah explored what it means to be my brother’s keeper. The teens unanimously reported that they found the sessions engaging and beneficial. They were given tools, including passages of scripture, to handle the challenges they face on a day to day basis. The afternoon session saw half of the group head to the Frylands Wood Scout Outdoor Centre, whilst the other half stayed onsite to enjoy badminton, Jenga, andcommunity games. At Frylands, teens engaged in teambuilding activities and archery. Teens realised the value of effective communication as they helped their teammates to succeed at various challenges. Both groups learned to encourage each other and appreciate camaraderie as an important to being their brother’s keeper.
For the icebreaker, teens and staff were placed in groups and given 6 minutes to build the tallest freestanding shoe tower. Yes, you guessed right, they had to remove their shoes. It proved an entertaining activity that exposed the competitive nature, particularly of our male team members. Teens were able to identify key ingredients for building the tower: a firm foundation, and effective communication to agree the best strategy. Lessons learned included the importance of feeling safe, embracing vulnerability to share your troubles, developing a solid foundation of trust with friends, and working together for the best outcome. The same dynamic duo, Pastor Jesse and Elder Si-Annarah, became a trio as Max Burton teamed up with them to present a session entitled, ‘Social Media Are You An Influencer, Or Are You Being Influenced?’ The session answered questions about how to protect yourself from online influences, and how to be your brother’s keeper online. The afternoon saw diversity at its best. Boys, girls, younger teens, older teens, adults, beginners and confident players alike, playing badminton and tennis.
Marcia Lewis had prepared an excellent orienteering challenge at Box Hill. Two teams were given a digital map and a list of landmarks, which had to be identified and evidenced with team photos at each location. They were given different starting points and had to work together to navigate the route. The adults walked a short distance behind each group for safeguarding purposes. It was a race to the finish line for ice-cream cone. Teens showed resilience and excellent team spirit as they encouraged each other along the way. This 6.8Km hike was voted as the best activity of the week, offering the chance to experience God’s creation.
Paulette Bradnock and Leslie Douglas teamed up to deliver pertinent sessions on mental health. They were very well received and provided a safe space to gain and share skills to support each other. In the girls’ session the focus was on self-esteem, possible causes, how to build it, and discussing true friendships. The girls learned that a good friend will have difficult conversations, point out errors of judgement, and encourage good decisions. In the boys’ session, we debunked myths about men’s mental health, such as only weak men share their emotions,and mental health issues always require medication. Words of affirmation were used to boost self-esteem and Bible passages that addressed areas of low self-worth. The afternoon session saw half of the group scoring ‘birdies and eagles’ at mini golf, while the other half collaboratively replicated a piece of artwork. Each of the 12 teens painted a section, which combined to make a masterpiece.
On Sabbath morning, Ben Dantzie, who has a background in working with young offenders, was able to share the benefits of being my brother’s keeper, and the pitfalls that can be avoided when young people have a ‘keeper.’ In the afternoon, teens had an interactive session, which led to teens committing to being their brother’s keeper, facilitated by Paulette Bradnock and Julia Gervais.
Teens had very healthy and tasty meals each day, had fun, made friends, grew emotionally, and learned to work together. We had one regular non-Adventist who made friends, attended our service on two consecutive Sabbaths after camp, and joined us for another social activity. This pilot project has highlighted the need for more teens’ events. By God’s grace, the Teens’ Ministry Team is committed to improving and growing the model to include more teens and offering it as an effective outreach opportunity. Our teens are already looking forward to our Teens’ Camp 2024.