I vividly remember the first day of that camp.
I was a shy and insecure 12-year-old, on a ferry filled with people I had never met, leaving home overnight for the first time, and headed toward a camp where I knew practically no one.
Would I make friends? What would this “church” camp be like? Nervousness filled me as someone pointed out the dock of the camp where we were headed.
As we approached, I saw a group of almighty “high schoolers” enthusiastically performing a song and dance about fruit (I wasn’t sure what to make of that …), but who also sincerely cheered when we arrived, making me think that the week wouldn’t be so bad after all. I had no idea the impact it would have on my life.
The camp is called Searching in the Spirit, a week-long post-Confirmation retreat for young people 12-13. The youth participate in a combination of outdoor events like hiking, kayaking, and sports, and programming that includes hearing personal testimonies, praise and worship music, and small group discussions and activities. The camp is run by the Ministries and Outreach Office of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which recruits a team of 12-14 high school students and young adults to plan and execute the program.
When I went to Searching in the Spirit, I did have faith in God – I grew up with a devout family, had had a good Catholic education, and knew that God loved me. However, until that point most of my experience with faith had been with “old people,” and my idea of holiness was solemn prayer, serious conversation, and that I had to view myself as very unimportant.
What shocked me at this camp was to see teenagers and young adults, people just a few years older than me, who both sincerely loved God, and brought joy into prayer, laughed, and had strong relationships with their fellow team members. They treated me with a kindness and respect that made me recognize that I was indeed important, in both their eyes and in God’s.
This experience set me on a journey of growing in a deeper
relationship with God, and participating more and more in youth ministry, even
after camp. I began to volunteer at PREP (Parish Religious Education Program),
lead Confirmation retreats, and participated in an archdiocesan week-long
leadership training camp (YouthLeader). As I continued to find joy and
fulfillment in my relationship with God, my love for serving others and helping
them know God grew – so I applied to be a leader on the Searching in the Spirit
When I was accepted onto the team (which I served on for three summer camps), I went through six months of ministry training and faith formation. We were taught how to lead effective small groups, prepare a personal testimony, and create engaging, age-appropriate sessions for the youth.
While the training process was extremely helpful for my leadership abilities, the week of Searching in the Spirit as a leader was the most impactful part of the experience. I was able to show the same love of Christ to the youth as my leaders showed me, see the youth forming connections from all over the Archdiocese with each other, and have genuine encounters with Christ.
I remember coming off the ferry from the summer camp after my week as a leader had ended, a confident girl who knew that the Church was youthful and filled with joy – a large contrast from the insecure 12-year-old who had first boarded the ferry several years previously.
As I passed a person walking down the dock, my first instinct was to smile and wave, as I had been at the youth camp all week. I started, then realized that I wasn’t at camp anymore and didn’t know the person. I laughed a little at myself and greeted them anyway.
My journey as a young Catholic showing others the love of God didn’t end with Searching in the Spirit, it began there.