My first Fuge camp was in 2003. I was thirteen-going-on-drama-queen. We went to Mission Fuge in St. Louis. I’d never experienced anything like it before. It changed me. As did the next five summers of M-Fuges, each in different cities, each in different ways.

The next two summers, before my junior and senior years of college, I took hold of a dream I’d had all those years of camp. I became part of the elite group of young adults known as “staffers” for CentriKid, the 3rd-6th grade version of Fuge. Those were the two best summers of my life. I can’t even begin to describe how I grew, what I learned, and how much the teams I worked with and the kids we served meant to me.

Last week, I was able to attend X-Fuge on Mission with the youth group from my home church in Kentucky, as an adult chaperone. It was awesome. And it reminded me of so many of the reasons I always loved attending camp and so many of the ways my life has changed because of it.

Camp taught me to express myself in worship. Before M-Fuge in Jacksonville in 2005, I had no idea worship could be so much fun. I learned it was ok to jump up and down in worship to songs like “No One Like You” and that I was capable of raising my hands as we were introduced to “My Savior My God.”

I don’t come from a very charismatic church background– at all. Worshipping with my home church was great, but while I was growing up, everyone stood still and kept their hands by their sides or on their hymnals. I don’t know when I found out raising your hands was actually a thing, but there was no way I was doing it in a bright-light, stiff-standing atmosphere. I don’t even think I ever wanted to.

But at Fuge, with its high energy, high volume music and dark auditoriums, there was always a silent code that it was ok to let loose, to do what you wanted to express how the music was moving you to worship God. You didn’t have to, but you could. And many did.  Fuge paved the way for me to be able to express my heart to God how the Spirit moves me to, not just how the atmosphere demands. As I saw virtually the entire youth group raise their hands high and pour their hearts out in sincere and vibrant worship last week, I couldn’t help but smile, couldn’t help but thank God for breaking the chains of fear of judgement in both my life and theirs.

Camp showed me how to serve and motivated me to do things I never thought I could do. Though there are types of church camps, and even different types of Fuge, where you don’t do missions, I think M-Fuge and X-Fuge on Mission are amazing ways to get youth involved in service. They’re camp and a mission trip rolled into one! Not only do you learn about outreach, it bonds you closer as a group if you’re focused on serving every day, even if different members of the group are out doing different things. It might sound crazy, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Through my experiences with Fuge and CentriKid, I learned how to engage with many different kinds of people (yes, even as an introverted teenager!), from nursing home residents to inner city kids to homeless people. I learned how serving behind the scenes could be just as important as serving in front of people. I learned how to share my faith– even how to approach total strangers to talk about Jesus (personally I prefer building sincere relationships first, but sharing the truth about Jesus is never a bad thing, especially when the Spirit leads you to). I learned that ministering to fellow believers is just as important as ministering to those who don’t know Jesus. I learned how to speak in front of groups of people… er, at least groups of kids. I learned to love cities and the people in them (I honestly think Fuge had a big role in me coming to Atlanta).

Camp gave me a beautiful picture of what the church looks like when it’s focused on Christ. After experiencing yet another time of unity, passion, motivation, boldness, adoration, love, and confession among our group this year at Fuge, I was talking with one of my friends about why it seems like God works so much at camps like this– why we feel the presence of the Lord so strongly in these situations. We decided that perhaps it has something to do with the lack of distractions and the laser focus on following and connecting with Christ.

I always come away from camp with a deep desire to carry this intensity into my daily life. But it’s difficult. That’s why some people might refer to these experiences as a “camp high.” I have no doubt that sometimes our emotions get stirred up and cause us to have “spiritual experiences” that may not be completely genuine, but I also believe that God isn’t trying to trick us with our emotions. Our hearts are deceptive, but God isn’t. He can use even our emotions to draw us closer to Him.

When we are truly focused on worshipping and serving Christ together, God works among us. This is the Church at its best. This is the gospel at work. Serving others, worshipping God, and loving one another all go hand-in-hand. Camp is one of the few places where I’ve seen all three of these things at play for any extended period of time. And it shows. It makes me pray for this kind of focus in our local churches, our small groups and youth groups, in our daily lives. I long for days when we can sing together, “the cross before me/ the world behind me,” and have it be true.

Camp has shown me the faithfulness of God. This might sound prideful. Maybe it is. I know my home church and its youth group aren’t especially special in the scheme of the global Church, but they feel special to me. I’ve seen a lot of groups at camp have awesome, life-changing experiences. But I’ve also seen a lot of groups at camp just screw around or just have a decent, normal, ineffectual experience.

It amazes me that I can look back to my first years at Fuge, when I was one of the youngest kids in the group, to now, as an adult chaperone, and see God at work throughout all these years. Some years of camp were better than others, but I can’t think of one where our group was not deeply impacted and didn’t grow closer to each other and to God. The students have moved through school and graduated. The youth ministers have changed over the years. The venues have been different. The Fuge staff and programs aren’t the same. Yet, God has been so faithful to this rotating, fluctuating group of teenagers from our church through all these years. I don’t understand it, but it so beautiful to me to see how many lives have been transformed through this camp and through this youth group. I’m so grateful that mine is one of those lives.