As the editor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazine, I had the opportunity to visit Pella, Iowa and watch a multi-sport FCA Camp in action this past summer. Here's a personal story from a fun experience!
Background on FCA Camp
- There are 6 different types of FCA Camps: sports, leadership, coaches, power, team and partnership,
- FCA Camps began in 1956 at Estes Park, Colorado.
- Today, there are more than 770 total FCA Camps in the U.S. and around the world.
- Up to 15,000 tweens and teens either commit their lives to Christ or rededicate their commitment to God each summer at Camp.
- This past July, I experienced FCA Camp for the first time. (As a writer, not an athlete.)
My First FCA Camp Experience
I sat down on the track with a group of athletes who were icing their legs, the sun was already beating down and heating up the black asphalt. The July day was only half-way over.
“Would you be willing to share your FCA Camp experience with me?” I oddly asked.
Holding only a pen and notebook in my hand, it was clear I’d not come to run the track alongside them. I expected hesitant hellos and polite grins - not big, toothy smiles followed by a resounding “sure!” and an invitation to sit down. I soon found myself experiencing something many of the campers would, almost unanimously, attest to - FCA Camp is a place to be myself and belong.
I had a great conversation with Ray, a senior who’d just graduated high school and plans to run track at the University of Iowa next year. He gave me an initial peek into the power of FCA Camp in his life.
“I love being here. It’s like family,” he said. “This is a great experience - it helps me build bonds with others and get closer to Christ and build a relationship with Him. If I want to express my feelings, people will listen. Camp helps me mentally, physically and spiritually.”
After Ray finished talking, I got up to leave but Arianna ran over, bashfully, before I made it off the track.
“Did you want another reason why we like FCA Camp?”
Arianna anxiously waited for me to flip to a blank page in my notebook, her blonde ponytail waved in the wind and her braces sparkled in the sun. When she saw I was ready, she shocked me with her answer.
“It’s easy to be me at Camp - a place where I feel free and not judged,” she said.
Surprised at the depth of response coming from a 14-year-old camper, I asked a little more.
“What do you mean by that - how can you be vulnerable here?
“Well - I mean I can try new things like if I want to try high jump but I haven’t before - I can try it here and not worry if I’m not good at it. And things with faith - I can go all in here and not worry what people might say or do.”
A small group of her friends formed around her as she talked and agreed. They would soon be the first of many who echoed the same feelings about Camp’s “safe” environment for teens wanting to explore their Christian faith.
“I love Camp because I get to meet people from all over who I don’t see regularly,” said Huddle leader Liz Walters. "At a lot of other camps, it’s usually the same people in a new location but at this camp, it’s all new people. I love hearing new voices and opinions. It’s easy to be more vulnerable here. When you’re with people at home, you’ve got to be careful about what you say.”
I wondered if everyone felt like Liz and had a good experience meeting new people. I asked 19-year-old Que-Lyn, a first-time Camper, to tell me his honest opinion.
“I like it here. I assumed it would be snobby people, but they’re actually joyful and very friendly.”
I asked around some more and found that even amongst a diverse mix of campers who come from different home lives, cities, ages, sports and ethnicities - they continually said the same thing. FCA Camp is a happy place where you can 100% focus on a relationship with God and get better at your sport.
The Word of God at FCA camp
“What you need at the core of your soul is the Word of God.”
This was just one piece of encouragement Pastor Chris Brauns taught the campers during an evening service that followed a day full of practices and pick-up games. He didn’t hold back addressing what so many of teens in Generation Z face today.
Anxiety. Depression. Suicidal thoughts. Constant comparison due to a socially-connected world.
“My goal is that you will get into the Word when you’re feeling dead inside,” he boldly told them. “This is how you say “Let’s Go” - make a decision to put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
By the sounds of turning pages of Camp Bibles all throughout the auditorium, it was clear the message was sinking in.
A sports-based mission field
I spent two days walking in and out of practices for several sports involved in the “all-sports” camp. It was amazing to see what makes an FCA Camp come to life. FCA staffers who see “coaches and athletes as their ministry field,” to quote Area Rep Dave Applegate, come together to host a life-changing week year after year. Coaches, many of them college athletes, face the heat and run onto the field alongside their athletes on volunteered time for one reason - sharing the love of God.
What struck me most as I wove myself in and out of the many areas of Camp were the stories of incredible impact.
Decisions to follow Christ
“I officially committed my life to Christ for the first time at this Camp,” high school junior Riley told me. She’s pumped to go back to school this fall and lead a Huddle for 30 kids on her campus.
Jackson, now a college student who served at Pella's Camp as a Huddle Leader this year, said the same thing. “I credit the beginning of my walk with Jesus to this Camp. It’s done a lot for me. It’s made me who I am.”
“I come back each year for relationships,” said adult volunteer Randi. “I’ve lived in Arkansas my whole life, but some of my closest friends are in Iowa because of Camp.”
Huddle Leader Griffin spoke about a similar passion for people and relationships.
“I love people. I love God. I want to spread the Gospel and grow in my own faith,” he said. While some of his teammates spent the summer saving money or getting ahead in classes, he chose to spend it leading high school wrestlers and other campus visitors.
Being at FCA Camp fuels his faith, he told me. As he starts back to classes this fall, he plans to stay involved in his Huddle and try to help all of the sports teams on his campus at Central College, the location of Pella's FCA Camp, to study the Bible.
Another side of camp
While working on the magazine, FCA Camp has often been described to me as a time of “inspiration and perspiration.” And I certainly saw that - from students doing their early morning quiet times while sitting on the lawn to the sweat-soaked t-shirts after spending hours in the sun.
But I also saw a side of FCA Camp that’s not often talked about. I saw what happens when leaders devote themselves to pre-camp prayer emails and talented coaches pour into the next generation of athletes. I saw the creation of a safe place for today's youth who love sports and want to learn about God without fear of being judged.
It was the same place that I, a writer whose not an athlete, could walk into and feel welcomed, appreciated and loved.