Forest Home — My Experience With Jesus Camp

(I thought I’d start off with a story from my past, instead of a more current one to give a little bit of background; this doesn’t touch at all about why I am in the closet.)

When I was younger, about middle school aged, I was fairly active within my church in that I attended events and liked to have fun. I was still pretty shy, but I always had fun going to the different activities. The biggest summer activity was a Christian Camp called Forest Home. The Youth Ministry hawked this to pre-teens and parents alike months before, and I signed up; it seemed like a lot of fun. And it was.

Looking back, I can realize that the fun activities was just a Trojan horse for the indoctrination. Our time was strictly divided up: church group discussions, breakfast, worship service, fun event, lunch, event, cross-church group discussions, dinner, worship service. That’s 4 explicitly Christian events every day for a whole week, in addition to frequent references to God, Bible and Jesus, and so on in day-to-day speak. There was even a little gift shop where you could buy things to remind you of Jesus in case you forgot from a few hours ago. We impressionable pre-teenaged kids were nearly constantly indoctrinated.

In addition to being constantly pounded with the rosier message of Christ, the place was in the middle of nowhere. This place was entirely cut off from society – I am sure cell phones didn’t even work and public phones to call home were monitored and were only available for use at certain times. This compound had all the makings of a temporary cult. I am grateful that I was only there for a week; if I had been there for an extended period of time I am not sure what would have happened to me. I look back with a combination of sadness and horror at the camp counselors who have opted to live and work in this environment for such an extended period. I shudder at what must their thought processes must be to have immersed themselves so deeply in this cultish life experience. To be constantly studying, listening, touting, discussing, and indoctrinating a religion into the young.

I don’t remember very many specific events; most of the events were fun but not memorable, and most of the religious services were boring and repetitive. I do remember that the services included a lot of singing (fun) and built up to a huge saved ceremony at the end. I can’t remember if I went up and got saved or if I stayed back.

I think the silliest thing that happened at the camp was when my cabin was going to sleep. We were all up telling ghost stories, and we got cut off by our counselor. “I think that ghosts goes against what God had told us”. That’s right; she cut off the good clean scary fun stories because the idea of ghosts – souls trapped on the earth – is an abomination against the Heaven/ Hell (Purgatory?) mandated by God. I feel bad because this means that the counselor believed in the danger of something as innocent as talking about ghosts that she’d ruin the story by interrupting. Where is the harm in telling a good fiction? Did this counselor think that us believing in a ghost story would anger God? Or did she think that ghost stories were a gateway belief into the occult? I can imagine this woman was in the forefronts fighting the heresy of Harry Potter.

The most significant event for me, however, was during one of the cross-church discussions. These were led by a counselor and involved around 6 or 7 kids from various churches. We were talking about Creation, and I argued for the Big Bang. Not knowing it was a common apologetic, I brought up the notion that before the creation of Light, billions and billions of years could have passed, because there was no Day or Night to measure one Day with. I was trying to align my religion with science, and for my age I think it was a fair shot. The leading counselor agreed with me by pointing out that the original Jewish word for “day” meant “a period of time” – evidence that supported my apologetic. As I felt that my theory had been confirmed, another girl piped up.

I swear, I will never forget her words.

“Well it says day so I think it means day”.

I was so shocked, I had no response. This girl was just blindly endorsing a view that was not only an ambiguous translation, but scientifically indeterminable. How could a lightless universe have a day? How could she argue with the original meaning of the Jewish word that the leader brought up? My mind reeled from her ability to blindly and absolutely embrace her Anglo-Saxoned Bible while dismissing appeals to logic, science and even authority. While I don’t believe in giving appeals authority leaders a blank check; I realize that they probably know what they hell they’re talking about in their area of expertise. (For example, I trust physicists when they tell me time is a 4th dimension without seeing the mathematical proof.) I can only imagine what kind of life she is leading now. Perhaps she is enlightened, but somehow I think not.
There was one fellow who I am sure is now a fellow atheist. He went to my church, and while I hadn’t known him well before I started hanging out with him quite a lot at the camp during free time. We got along really well and I’ll admit I started falling a bit for him, at least because he acted as my island of sanity in the sea of Christ. He seemed to share the same lackluster attitude towards the services as I did, and after the church I saw him attend infrequently. There was just something about him, that made me realize he didn’t buy into it. I wonder about him. Whether he was actually atheistic then and was pretending to go along with what his parents wanted. Or if he was going along because his parents knew and were trying to coerce Christianity into him. Of course, it’s more probable that I caught him somewhere along his journey to reason.

Now and again, I think of him. I wonder where he is now with his life. I hope he is doing well, and I wonder what he looks like now. I have no way to contact him because I only remember his first name, and I’m almost certain that he’s no longer associated with my old church, just like me. Even if the church had his records, they’d be old and getting them would involve talking to the church – something I do not want to invite upon myself.

I bought a poster from there – one with a kitten sleeping on a Bible next to a fish in a glass with the caption “He will quiet you with His love”. I picked it for the kitten, and it’s still a cute poster. I like it as well because it’s a reminder of my stay at this Forest Home Jesus Camp, and how the disease of ignorance infects others. Thank God I didn’t get stuck into that mess.

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