Go beyond the borders of Echo Ranch Bible Camp, and you'll find the rest of the world. It is a place growing increasing hostile toward youth and their development as human beings. If they don't learn to adapt and to survive, they will be consumed by it.
As much as Echo Ranch seeks to provide an escape, I have seen youth come to camp and be totally confused by simple concepts as boundaries and basic levels of morality. Read the paper and watch the news, and you'll be bombarded with statistics that make a person wonder if there is any hope at all.
But do I hold the ministry of Echo Ranch so highly that I think a Bible camp can save our youth? Certainly not. Outside of the summer camp experience there is only so much we can accomplish. But we do care about the youth of Southeast, and we want to help create a better life for them.
Echo Ranch is increasingly looking at ways that we might get involved beyond the borders of camp. How can we help continue to minister to kids who are hurting and need guidance? One way is by suggesting that campers attend local church youth groups.
The youth pastors and leaders work hard week after week to provide an environment that caters to young people. Youth groups typically offer snacks, games, special events and God-focused messages that encourage positive decision making. Contact any church in town and see what they have available or where they recommend youth should go.
I read an article recently by the Serving In Mission organization on how effective hanging out with youth can be. Structure is nice but simply giving young people a place to gather and develop friendships with youth leaders has increasing benefits. That is one function of a youth group - simply to give young people a place to hang out.
The counselors at Echo Ranch learn the more time they spend with their campers the better. We don't always have to be doing something, just being there is enough. There is a group forming in Juneau that is known as Hang Out. It is a diverse collection of local pastors and church youth leaders that want to provide youth of all backgrounds with a place to hang out. The goal of Hang Out is to rent a gym or facility once a month on either a Friday or Saturday night where youth can go and participate in a fun activity. Several staff from Echo Ranch are a part of Hang Out and believe in its vision.
In an endeavor to see where else youth can hang out, I made my way downtown and landed at the Zach Gordon Youth Center. The staff was very friendly and have a genuine interest in the lives of the youth who spend time there. The center has a gym, racquetball court which doubles as a basketball court, climbing wall, pool tables, ping-pong, a TV for Wii and DVDs, and a computer with Internet access.
Food is always available, and meals are often prepared for special events. There are board games and magazines and couches where youth can hang out. So far I have spent a total of a week of afternoons visiting the center. The more frequently I visited, I got to know kids names and increased my skills at the board game Sorry. My billiards game still needs a little work.
Across Southeast Alaska, the staff of Echo Ranch is involved in the youth community outside of camp. Several of our staff substitute teach in their local school districts. Many volunteer with youth programs at church and hold youth gatherings in their homes.
We know that building friendships over time is an effective method to impacting the life of a young person. Three months of camp is never enough. This world may be a dark place at times but working together we can give the next generation a voice of hope.
I'd like to thank the parents and guardians who drive their kids to youth group, Hang Out events, raise money for camp, volunteer and desire to see youth live better. If you'd like to know more about Hang Out or Echo Ranch please contact me at the email address below.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.