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Without a Doubt, the Most Unusual Theology Camp I’ve Ever Hosted

March 15, 2015

Nobody could have ever predicted what would happen during this Theology Camp. It is 6 o’clock on Thursday morning at the Victory Lodge at the Wa-Floy Mountain retreat.  Riley is fast asleep on the sofa in the front living room; he had encountered a bout of nausea and felt it best to sleep out near a quicker access to the bathroom.  I’m in a corner of the main room typing and I look over and see that he is sleeping soundly; the sickness seems to have passed, thank the Lord.

Nick is outside, sleeping on a hammock string up between two trees.  He quietly requested that he might spend overnight under the stars and I agreed.  He is slumbering happily while rocking gently.1e

I am quietly wheezing and blowing my nose, shaking off the last of a raging flu I encountered just before camp started.  My sinuses have been packed since last Friday and my head feels like a cork.  When I breathe I sound like a seventy-year-old pack-a-day smoker.

Someone down the hall is snoring furiously.  I believe it is either Conner or JT but I’m not sure.  No matter – everyone has been getting a refreshing night’s sleep.  Both the guys’ side and the girl’s side are in deep slumber.  This has been an active Theology Camp.

And quite frankly, the most unusual camp I’ve run in a decade.

We’ve been here since Monday, all sixteen of us packed away in one of the many lodges offered at the Wa-Floy Mountain Retreat, situated just a stone’s throw from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  The week-long Theology Camp is comprised of twelve students and four chaperones, all brought together for one big monstrous enjoyable reason: to get into the Bible.  This is not a high-minded cliché I’m throwing out here; we really get into some serious digging.

Pure and simple.

After a foundational study in First, Second and Third John, I let go of the reins and guided the students into a broader area of adventuring through the Scriptures.  It gets creative.  It gets intense.  It gets unpredictable.

Let’s talk about the unusual aspect of the camp.  After twelve years of conducting Bible retreats like this, I decided to add a few strange twists.  For one, we didn’t use Greek name for the teams.  Instead of the usual Phi Beta, Omega Rho and such, we decided that this week would pit those aggressive national nemeses Finland, Norway and Sweden.  World powers all, I know.  The battles were intense.  We adult leaders comprised the United Nations.

Unusual games?  Sure.  We organized a three-teams-playing-at-once multi-ball soccer game on the camp’s enclosed basketball court.  Teams kicked balls of all kinds towards an oversized goal – footballs, Nerf balls, volleyballs, basketballs, and soccer balls.  Wade successfully blocked a volleyball but turned and didn’t react fast enough to the next kick.  A basketball hit him flush on the side of the face.  He staggered to the side on the court, his sinuses draining freely while he tried to adjust his eyesight back to the real world.  I am happy to report that as of this writing he is doing fine; no bruises or scars.

Border War Capture the Flag was an intense, rowdy game as well.  Football lineman Matthew was barreling toward a Safety Zone while undersized Nick darted across the field to tag him.  Matt realized that he couldn’t outrun the speedy Nick and so he made the only move he knew might give him a chance; he dove and rolled as Nick was about to tag him.

He dove, all right, but he rolled right into Nick, somersaulting the poor guy into a corner of the end zone like a rag doll.  Much to my amazement and a credit to his flexibility, Nick emerged sore and shaken but otherwise unhurt.

Please don’t get the wrong idea, not every game was fraught with danger. We had the International Egg Toss – messy, but safe.  We also had Find the Spy, Global Basketball and National Manhunt, all unique and fast-paced.

But Wednesday… well, now, Wednesday’s activity set this camp apart from any other camp I’ve ever organized.  In fact, I feel that it’s safe to say that this is probably one of the most unusual Bible camps of all time.

Why?  Because of an invitation we received.

A wonderful friend of mine is a leader in the region’s food services business.  Kim regularly helps me out with food donations in order to keep the camp costs down.  This year, our camp happened to fall upon a food convention she was overseeing, so she gave me a gracious invitation to all of my campers for a day’s free admittance to the event.  We were given tickets to attend a food buyer’s convention at the beautiful  LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge.  Imagine this – I was taking a busload of perpetually-hungry students to an all-day all-you-can-eat food convention.

Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, we joined the crowd and moved into the convention hall at exactly ten in the morning on Wednesday.  Our gaze took in over a hundred booths of high-quality entrees, and oh, it was a rapturous view.  We commenced to sample down each booth, and the food exceeded my greatest expectations.  The list was staggering.

Steak that would melt in your mouth.  Shrimp stuffed with crab meat.  Ice cream that was so good you had to sit down.  Gumbo that tasted like it came straight from New Orleans. Muffins bigger than softballs. Gyros dripping with sour cream. Buffalo-seasoned french fries. Meatballs with just the right hint of garlic.   Spicy fried chicken.  Dozens of flavored potato chips.  You get the idea.  And it was all free.

Kate blinked rapidly as she strolled by me with a giant macadamia nut cookie in her hand.  “Dr. Zockoll, I think that this is giving us all a realistic view of what Heaven is going to be like.”  I nodded and watched her head toward the linguini booth.

I had feasted on potato skins, salsa, T-bone steak, sushi, and a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie.  “Matthew,” I urped, “we must pace ourselves or we’re going to get full too early in the convention.  We have until three o’clock.  I’m getting stuffed, so it might be a good idea to take a break.  Is it past noon?”

Matt looked at his watch.  “Doc, it’s only ten twenty-five.”

10:25 a.m. We’d only been here for twenty-five minutes.

We finally staggered out at 3 p.m. with bags and boxes filled with exotic breads, cakes, chicken wings, beverages, and Texas Pete hot sauce.  Dozens and dozens of those little funny bottles of Texas Pete.  We’ll be dousing Texas Pete on foods for the next decade.

But the excitement didn’t stop there.  Getting back to camp kicked things into high gear.

I arranged for two of the adult leaders – Andrew and Bethany – to play the part of atheists in a debate against the rest of the camp.  They took on the dozen students in a spirited debate, and for the first part, they stunned the campers with serious arguments and accusations.  The students recovered, though, and in the second half of the afternoon debate they showed their mettle.  They had their Bible references ready.  They were able to respond in a serious, even-tempered and reasonable way.  The debates continued through the rest of the week at various times.  I could see Wade in a corner, looking up Scripture references.  I saw Emory and Amy discussing the proper apologetic approach.  Ryan had his notes ready; he was prepared for the next session. It was hard-hitting, and it was a profitable Bible learning experience.

After an intense day, we settled back for a bit of early-evening relaxation.

I shared a living room game where the students were challenged to choose between offering their scariest memory, their funniest memory, or their most embarrassing memory, and we were not disappointed in the tales that we heard.  Kate told a childhood story of singing a church service song before fainting dead away.  Emory shared a second-grade memory about getting nauseated and – well, you can guess where the story went. Nick told of being chased by a bear.  Wade related a childhood memory of getting his head duct-taped.  Each narrative was greatly entertaining.

But the deepest impact was, according to the campers themselves, in the Q & A Sessions.  I had been teaching various apologetic workshops and we even dealt with numerous studies on Heaven, but I discovered that the question-and-answer time became more intense as we went through the week, so I changed course and allowed for more and more of these sessions.  Whether oral or anonymously written, we dealt with a small avalanche of questions that teens had been yearning to ask.

What kind of things will we be doing in Heaven?

What is it exactly that Jesus wants me to do, now that I’m a Christian?

What is predestination?  Don’t we have a free will?

If a Christian commits suicide, does he go to Hell?

When babies die, do they automatically go to Heaven? What does the Bible say?

What does it mean in Matthew “to deny myself?”

How do you get rid of guilt from a sexual sin, even after you’ve asked forgiveness from the Lord?

I hear about Calvinism – what is it?

Can you explain the first chapter of Ezekiel?

How do I witness to an atheist if they don’t want to hear anything from the Bible?

What types of angels are there? 

On and on the questions went, well into the evening.  It was wonderful.  I might even say exhilarating, without fear of exaggeration.  So often I run into indifferent Christians who act as if the Jesus faith is a social label or a spiritual loophole to avoid Hell.  They have little or no desire for the deeply spiritual wonders of the faith.  This week, however, I am greatly encouraged by what we are experiencing.  We feasted quality foodstuffs at the convention; we are feasting on the Eternal Word at the camp.  All around, it’s great.

What a great, great week.  As camp director I am quite happy, even despite the nagging cold in my head.

Was the food convention fantastic?  Absolutely.

Were the manhunt and basketball challenges fun?  Sure.

Was the egg toss hilarious?  Yes.

But the joy – the real joy – is that we’ve been walking, running and trailblazing through the Scripture.

3 John 1:4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

And now I’m going to go and douse some scrambled eggs in Texas Pete.  They say it can really clear my sinuses.


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