There are 3 reasons why I’m writing this blog post:
1. Since we’re in the middle of the summer, we’re also in the middle of the Bible camp season, thus making this post seasonally appropriate.
3. My old friend from grade school, Mark, apparently is one of my readers, and requested that I write this post, and so I’d like to honor that. If anyone else has any specific requests, email me, facebook me, tweet me, or let me know in a comment. Although, if you constantly ask for blog posts about can’t hack it white shooting guards from your alma mater that at best will have a cup of coffee in the NBA, don’t bother. You know who you are. (I’m kidding Chris. I appreciate your feedback.)
If you’ve ever gone to Bible camp, hopefully you had a good time. I loved Bible camp as a kid, and I actually thought it got more fun as I got older. I’ve attended 5 Bible camps in 3 states from 2 different church denominations, so I’ve definitely experienced a nice variety of weeks as a camper. I remember being a camper and thinking that camp was so great for a week, so clearly a full summer at camp would be way better, and so I wanted to be a counselor when I grew up. I kind of forgot about those desires when I went through high school, but spring semester of my freshman year of college, I was in need of a summer job, and so I started to look into my old dream of working at a camp for the summer. I checked out Lake Beauty Covenant Bible Camp and Bluewater Covenant Bible Camp’s websites to see if I could work for either of them. Only a couple weeks later, my mom called me up and informed me that she had heard that Bluewater was still in need of male counselors for the upcoming summer, and so I applied and got the job. I went on to spend 4 awesome summers at BCBC (3 as a counselor, 1 as a volunteer handyman/groundskeeper) and I must say they were some of the best times of my life.
I think the best way for you to realize what life as a counselor is like, is for me to give you a breakdown of the average day was like for me when I worked at Bluewater. Here goes:
6:59 AM – My alarm goes off. I put on a shirt and slip on my flip flops and give myself just enough time to walk from my cabin to the chapel for 7 AM staff devotions. (One summer I committed to doing a plyometric leg workout routine to improve my vertical, and so my brother and I actually woke up at 5:30 at the earliest to get the workout in before the day began.) Staff devotions would last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and then I had a little time to myself to shower or get ready for the day in any other way, but also had to get back to my cabin and make sure my guys knew that breakfast would be happening soon and that they were starting to crawl out of bed.
8:00 AM – The bell rings for breakfast. I make sure all my guys make it on time for the morning prayer, and then we go through the line when it’s our turn, and enjoy the delicious breakfast. The food at camp varies from really good, to not so great, but I don’t think there was a single breakfast meal I didn’t like, and plus, there was always oatmeal as an alternative. We possibly could have KP after this meal, which is when the cabin has to take its turn cleaning the dining hall so it’s ready for the next meal. This is where I really get to put my delegation skills to use. Right after breakfast, it’s time for cabin cleanup, and I’m supposed to delegate again so our cabin got clean, but my plan was usually to rest my eyes in my bed while the guys decided how much they wanted to clean. I’m not sure, but I don’t think in the 3 summers I spent as a counselor did my cabin ever win cabin cleanup.
9:30 AM – Time for rotations. This is a good opportunity to interact with campers that aren’t in my cabin, since any camper could sign up for the activity that I was leading for the week. I’d say 9 times out of 10, I was leading a basketball rotation, but I also led sand castle building, boats, bikes, and nuke ’em (for those of you who don’t know, nuke ’em is Bluewater’s little kid version of volleyball where players catch the ball and throw it instead of volley it, and players are knocked out when the ball hits the ground. First team to lose all their players loses.) at some point.
10:30 AM – Time for chapel. Since I’m not so musically inclined, all I have to do is sit in and pay attention like the campers. Of course, I do my best to make the actions to the songs seem really fun so the guys will cut loose and join in, and make sure nobody is causing trouble while the speaker is speaking. I also may have to help put on a skit, if any that I’m in are on the schedule, and in the summer of 2007, I helped teach the campers verses to songs along with my fellow counselor AJ. We put Romans 10:9-10 to Thriller, 1 Corinthians 15:58 to Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, and Jeremiah 29:11 to California Dreamin’.
Roughly 11:40 AM – After chapel got out, the campers have about 20-30 minutes to just hang out until lunch, and us counselors have something called “Staff Support”. It’s supposed to be a relaxing time to escape for a short while and share prayer requests with each other and then pray. I, along with a few of the other male counselors, typically didn’t have a lot to say, and since I found the whole thing kind of pointless at times, I tried to see how little I could say when I was expected to share. And on some days, we would actually get some waterworks from some of the female counselors. I’m sorry if I seem cold and heartless, but I’m not the most emotional guy, and I wasn’t always down to hear all of the sob stories. However, in all seriousness, when we prayed for campers who had specifically hard times, I totally understood the purpose of staff support.
12:00 PM – Lunch time! Similar routine as breakfast, only with cabin cleanup results. Also, if my cabin has shower house duties, we get to eat 2nd (after whoever had KP at breakfast) and then we have to clean the guys’ side of the shower house (another opportunity to delegate).
1:00 PM – Afternoon game time. I put on my Hot Sauce-inspired game shirt and some running shoes with the mindset to dominate. I’m supposed to let the campers shine, but let’s face it, if the game is on the line, the job has got to get done. We had some good games but the best was Trench Ball, and the second best was Whip ‘n Strip.
2:00 PM – Free time for the campers until 6, and depending on the schedule, I’m either on duty from 2-4 and break from 4-6, or vice versa. We’ll pretend that today I’m on duty first, so I usually put on my trunks, lube up (put on sunblock), and hit the beach. Ideally it’s a gorgeous day out and the lake is a great way to cool off after working hard in the game. After chilling out on the floating dock for a while, I typically then knock out a couple of “1 on 1’s” with a couple of my campers. Part of my responsibility as counselor is to connect with each of my campers and have an intentional conversation with them at one point to see where they are at in their faith. I typically ended with saying a prayer for them and let them know that we didn’t have to make that a one time thing, although, none of my campers ever wanted to go through that again. I think they could tell it was a little forced. At 3, the bell would ring for canteen, and so I may or may not have that duty for the day, and also tubing began on the beach. If my campers were up for it, I loved to spend time with them in a fun way like tubing. And I was actually up for going tubing with whatever campers asked me to. They didn’t have to be in my cabin.
4:00 PM – Counselor break until dinner. No offense to my beloved campers, but break was my favorite time of day. Week after week at camp does wear on you, and the rest was needed and appreciated. I typically would take a shower and then settle in on the couch in the lounge of our staff housing with a book, my laptop, or just to take a nap. Or, if I had things to take care of, I might head up to the office and make a phone call or use the camp computer to check email. And then, before you know it, break is over.
6:00 PM – Dinner time. Same routine as breakfast and lunch, but this time with a mail call, where campers were forced to sing in front of camp to receive their mail. When our campers were done eating, a couple of my close friends on staff and I would usually keep eating long afterward with 2nds and 3rds and sit down to shoot the breeze in what we called “True Staff Support”. This was the most innocent form of what the directors called “clumping”, which was a phenomenon that occurred when staff members were hanging out with each other rather than dispersing among the campers to interact with them. Anyhow, we took this time to catch up on what had happened throughout the day, since the rest of the time was pretty devoted to hanging out with campers. I considered this version of clumping as okay, since we were actually still eating, and the campers liked having that extra time after dinner to just chill out until the next bell.
7:30 PM – Evening chapel. Same routine as morning chapel.
Roughly 8:30 PM – Evening canteen and time leading up to night game. Just kind of more hang out time, and potential to get more 1 on 1’s done for me. Also, I got changed into my night game gear if necessary.
Roughly 9:00 PM – Night game. The bell rings and we hear the directions, and then we play the game. Capture the Cone was pretty much our only good night game, and so most of these were lame. However, if it rained outside, we played Shuffle Your Buns in the chapel, and since it was played to music, it always turned into a big dance party, which was especially fun with the younger campers that weren’t self conscious about cutting loose.
Roughly 10:15 PM – Night game is over, and it’s time to start getting ready for bed. I usually instructed my campers to hit the shower house asap while I quickly showered in the staff housing, and then when everyone got back to the cabin, we had our cabin devotions, led by me, of course. Usually one night a week, I would lead devotions around the camp fire or out on the pontoon boat just to mix it up a little and give the campers some experiences they may not have had before. After devotions, it’s lights out around 11 PM, but sometimes this was unfortunately closer to 11:30 or midnight. Time to get some much needed sleep.
So that’s the typical day, but not everything about being a counselor can be summed up about the average day. On the weekends or during family camp, I had to work shifts in the kitchen, do work projects such as groundskeeping, splitting wood, painting cabins, etc., put on “Kid’s Camp” during chapels for the little kids in family camp, and possibly other roles that may be slipping my mind at the moment. And besides all of the work we did at camp, there were probably about 5 days of full free time plus each Sunday evening during the course of the summer to just hang out and do fun stuff as a staff. We could just hang out on the beach and go tubing or skiing, or go cliff jumping as a group, or head into town for some internet access, fast food, ice cream, Wal Mart run, or a movie. My first summer, we made it almost a tradition to play a round of mini golf in town each Sunday evening.
My summers at camp will always hold a special place in my memory. If you’re considering working as a camp counselor, my best advice would be to go for it, but be sure to bring an attitude to serve the campers and your fellow staff members, and a great work ethic, because you’ll need it. When you’re a camp counselor, you’re just “on” and you can never get too comfortable about the work being done, because there might be more coming. A camper may need you to take him on a canoe ride, or need a clean sleeping bag to use because he wet the bed. I’ve had homesick campers, campers get lost, campers that are afraid of the dark, a camper who had to go to the hospital because he had glass in his foot, a camper who had to go home because he had pink eye, and one time dealt with a cabin that had smoke alarms randomly go off at all hours and freak out all of my 3rd and 4th grade campers. One of my favorite campers of all time was a kid named Tyson, who didn’t know how to tie his shoes and could never remember my name. I’d ask him what my name was and he’d say “Brent” or “Brett” or “Brad” or any other name that started with B for some reason. He seemed so ill prepared to be away from his parents for the 3 days, that my friend Gabe started to refer to him as “Fragile Frankie Murmon”.
Our director always gave us the philosophy to follow as counselors that went as follows: make memories. He wanted kids to remember camp as a place that they loved because of all the great times they remembered, so we were supposed to be creative and go out of our way to make these memories. I certainly made my share of memories at that place, so in that spirit, I’d like to share two final stories with you before I go. My second summer on staff, I had a group of guys who wanted to pull a good prank, so at 1 in the morning, I had set an alarm for us to wake up, and then we canoed across the lake (I found out later that this was illegal since our boats weren’t lit) and then we sabotaged a couple of girls’ cabins that were camping across the lake by pulling out the poles from their tents so they would be collapsed on them in their sleep. The girls started to wake up, and the girl counselors actually were sleeping outside by the campfire, so we narrowly escaped, but the next morning, apparently I was identified, and so as punishment we had to get pranked back by the girls. My campers absolutely loved that one. Earlier that same summer, I had a week off from counseling since there were only 6 guy campers that week, so my buddy AJ and I were assigned to work projects. We were repainting the interior of the shower building with oil-based paint, and we didn’t ventilate the building too well. I was using this roller that was kind of spitting a lot of paint back on me, and I began to realize that there was a speckled pattern all over my arm. I stepped down from the ladder for a moment to stare at my arm, and I became absolutely fascinated by the look of my arm. After a little while, I realized I must have been staring at my arm for a while, and all of sudden I was like, “Holy crap! I think I’m high!” I went outside to get some fresh air, and when I came back in, I couldn’t believe how intense the fumes were that we had been breathing in. We finished the job, and I had to go sleep off my buzz. Who knew the first time I would ever get high would come at Bible camp?
Anyhow, I hope you have the idea of what it’s like to work at a Bible camp. I’m out.