By Jake Rogers
Outdoor Outreach Camp has forever altered the course of my life, since the time it began 16 years ago. God has used this ministry/camp and the people in it in more ways than could ever be counted. I am thankful for those who founded the camp and continue to make it happen year after year. I can’t imagine where I would be today if it wasn’t for Outdoor Outreach, especially the amazing leaders and campers, who together create a life-changing impact.
With JJM at the forefront of my heart and passion to reach at-risk kids, I went into camp this year remembering all the ways God used Outdoor Outreach over time to shape and direct my life and relationship with Him. I love it when I get to see former campers return as camp leaders, more mature and all grownup-like.
For me, the most rewarding thing about camp is to see some of the “kids” I had the privilege of leading, return as adult leaders. Whenever I got the chance I stood in the back and watched as they interacted with campers, full of energy and pouring themselves out to make sure each camper was having the best week possible. They gave up valuable time and resources to show the love of Christ to the next generation because this is what others did for them. Just thinking about this brings a tear to my eyes, tears of joy as I know this is God working in them. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of their story; I am so proud of them.
At Youth for Christ, the goal of every interaction is to build a relationship and start conversation. Through those conversations, we earn the right to speak into the lives of students. So, I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking through what mentoring will look like at the JJM (Juvenile Justice Ministry) Aftercare Site. Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mentoring relationships that have impacted me the most.
It seemed like every interaction this year brought back memories of how someone made a life-changing impact on me over the years. It was never what they said. It wasn’t anything specific they set out to teach me. The impact came when I’d catch a glimpse of their heart and Godly character revealing itself through our relationship. I’ve come away from camp this year still learning from them. Although it is about the little details, what those details are doesn’t matter. It is about building that genuine relationship and coming alongside each other in real life.
I remember 2008. It was the end of the day on Thursday when I decided to get baptized before the camp week was over. This was a significant step forward in my commitment to follow Jesus. The only time left to do this was the next morning before the campers arrived. I did not like the idea of doing this in front of others. I only wanted it to be a couple of my closest friends. But, I knew baptism is meant to be a public confession of faith. How could I refuse the other leaders? At the time, I didn’t understand why it was so important to them, or why they would want to get up early for this. They were already exhausted from doing camp all week.
I remember the moment I got out of the pond and walked up onto the grass, looking for a towel (which none of us thought to bring). Then, out of nowhere Matt about knocks me over as he ran up to give me a hug and tell me how proud he was of me. I couldn’t have put it into words, but right then it became clear to me why it was so important for them to experience this with me. It’s all about the relationships. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to grow with them. Now that I’m older and have built these same genuine mentoring relationships with campers, I have an even greater understanding why it was so important for my mentors to be a part of these little life-impacting moments with me.
I am extremely thankful that God has placed such great people in my life to lead and mentor me, pointing me to Truth in love. I am privileged to have this opportunity with Youth for Christ now, to lead JJM here in Rockford, something only possible thanks to so many of my mentors at Outdoor Outreach. We work with a lot of kids who are lost and hurting, just like I was. They need healthy, positive adult mentors to come alongside them, too, building them up in God’s Truth and love. Would you consider how you could invest in the lives of high-risk youth through JJM?
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