The heat was brutal. The sun was blazing. The competition was intense. Major players were off-the-chain. It was a 24/7,full-throttle, non-stop engagement . . . WAIT! Is this legal?? It’s “Quest” Florida Teen Camp!
Each year, Florida teens pilgrimage to Camp Geneva in Fruitland Park for a variety of reasons. Some are cajoled by parents; others register only after their bestie signs up; but many veteran campers return, eager to make new friends and discover what a living faith means for them, at this time in their life.
“This camp jump starts interest in Jesus; it catapults friendships throughout the state. Kids are free to see what they believe about God apart from their parents,” observed camp activities director Jenelle Ferrer, a six year volunteer, who also happened to be six months pregnant! Jenelle and husband Lucas, who meticulously planned and executed all kinds of crazy activities, are members of the Orlando church.
Jenelle expressed what so many other volunteers witnessed: the cohesiveness of the camp leadership sets campers and volunteers up for success. “It is obvious that a lot of thought and prayer is the foundation. The volunteers are allowed to use their specific talents and strengths where they really shine. The campus kids receive so much leadership training. It’s a life-defining time: teens watch solid friendships grow between campus volunteers; some couples that meet while serving at camp get married. The counselors are really stretched to the limit,” said Jenelle. The devotionals, the small groups, the team competitions “flowed seamlessly,” an expression commonly used to describe teen camp.
Corina Espejo from the Jacksonville Church agreed. “The camp planners fight to put volunteers in positions that will play to their strengths – where they will thrive. This directly impacted the kids. This generation of teens are listening and firing on all cylinders.” Impressed that teens wanted to take their faith deeper, she commented, “They are fact checkers– they want apologetics!!” Corina is not a novice camp counselor, but this is her first time working with the Florida camp. “The kind of culture that has been built here is special. One unique aspect of the Florida camp is the competitive teams with their own colors and themes. It builds comradery.”
Building unity throughout the state was on camp director Jose Ferrer’s mind as he scouted and recruited new volunteers like Corina for specific roles at camp. Jose, an evangelist for the Orlando Church, started as a volunteer counselor at the Florida camp in 2003. That kind of dedication and longevity sends a clear message: one week at teen camp can change your life!
Matt Newburg, evangelist for the Southwest Florida Church of Christ, was tasked with coordinating daily devotional speakers who could reach the teens with meaningful messages. “The kids were hungry for it; they wanted to be taken deeper,” Matt said. Paying close attention and crafting a cohesive series of topics paid off: positive feedback from the teens themselves! Bible teaching caught kids’ attention and captured their imagination: How do I live this out in my life? “After each day’s lesson, the discussion groups helped kids take it to a deeper place,” Matt attested.
Since 1998, Florida Teen Camp has helped shape the spread of the gospel state wide. The vanguards for this annual effort are Mike and Cindy Morris, who have served at the camp since 2001. Mike, an elder for the Orlando church, and Cindy provided seasoned counsel in overseeing the “big picture” for the camp, but also communicated trust and flexibility in developing volunteers and training future leaders.
Unlike the slogan for Las Vegas, what happens at camp is not meant to stay at camp. The 2019 camp was intentionally scheduled earlier than previous years so that kids could have more time to process what they experienced and to build spiritual connections at their home church before school starts. Let the Quest begin!