Each summer high school students from all over the country come together in Lubbock, Texas, not for the beautiful scenery, but to encounter God on a completely unique and incredibly deep level.
Campers come from all walks of life. Some know God before coming to camp, others knew Him but decide to follow Him at camp, and for others, the whole “Jesus thing” is completely new to them. This year at Encounter, 12 campers decided to commit their lives to Christ and be baptized.
Some campers, like recent high school graduate, Sean Henderson, didn’t grow up in a Christian family. Sean had only been attending church for a year and for this new Christian, Encounter helped him build the foundations of his faith and practice making friendships with other believers.
“I had never been to a church camp before, so this was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Everything was ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and I love it. It’s been inspiring because I’m going off to the University of North Texas, and I’ve been worried about how I’m going to deal with not being a part of the same church,” Henderson explained. “It’s been good getting to know different people from other churches and getting used to being around other Christians. When I go off I’ll be able to make friends at a new church more easily and have a better relationship with God.”
Classes at Encounter have always been one of the best parts of camp. It was once teasingly said that Encounter is the only place kids lie, steal, and cheat to hear about Jesus. Among the array of classes this year, students learned what idols really look like in today’s world in a class titled “The First Church of Batman.”
Paul Hodnett from Greenlawn Church of Christ, along with his interns Matt Anderson and Haley Giboney, put on a mock worship service centered on their love for things like Batman, social media, and baseball. The mock service was complete with leading the Batman theme song, announcing to the congregation on celebrity status updates, and reading the inspiring words of Yogi Berra. Though the mock service was done in humor, the message in the end reflected how serious the problem is when we put such things before God.
“The First Church of Batman” really opened the eyes of camper Paris Corley, who admits she sometimes puts sports first.
“Sometimes I put sports first, so the class opened my eyes that I need to put God first and make time for Him. God should be my number one priority. God is always there for me,” confessed Corley.
High school senior, Teige Zeller, has been coming to Encounter for three years since her brother told her about the camp. Her favorite thing over the years has been the worship, but this year it was in the class “Beloved” that had the biggest impact on her.
“It was like He lifted this burden I had been carrying for a while and at the same time filled me. It was this overwhelming joy and I just laughed,” explained Zeller. “The main message I got for myself is that God sees me as beautiful and that I need to learn to love myself in order to let Him love me.”
“Beloved,” taught by LCU alums Matt Clark (’01) and Robbie James (’97), seemed to be a popular one among campers who were moved by God’s love through learning how to allow themselves to become the beloved. The duo began the class in a fashion only found at Encounter; an impressive strength acrobatic routine. By the time the teachers complete the great strength feat, the physical exhaustion could be heard in their voice. The tone of the room went from laughter and awe, to weightiness. Matt told the class how exhausted he was, how he’s been doing the routine over and over and he’s tired. This paralleled into how, as Christians, we put all of our strength into trying to earn God’s love and trying to love God and others the most we can through our own means.
“So often we try to love from our own resources or reserves and we are left burned out and dry. However, when we become love as a result of being loved we are simply giving away what has been so abundantly given to us,” expressed Robbie. “I can scarcely begin to imagine the impact this generation would have on the world if they experienced being the beloved and were then free to be love.”
Campers in this class were shown what it feels like to allow themselves to become the beloved through authentic worship and by receiving something from God that was specific to each camper as the teachers prayed over each one privately, letting them know God loved them. The process of praying over each camper moved many of them in powerfully spiritual ways.
Matt tells a story of a female camper who had many unspeakable things happen to her. She didn’t know if God could ever love her again, but while being prayed over she was able to feel and experience the love of God in a fresh and restorative way. Robbie had another camper with a very similar experience approach him at worship that evening and tell him that what he had prayed over her saved her life. Such stories, and the way teachers at Encounter let the Holy Spirit work through them, show what an impact this camp makes in the lives of the youth.
Robbie explained the importance of camp Encounter in this way, “The most life changing thing on earth is to encounter the love of God. When we encounter His love, we encounter Him, and when we encounter Him, we discover who we are. Encounter provides a place of encounter. That changes everything.”
The phrase, “this changes everything” was a significant theme throughout Encounter this year as the keynote speakers painted the whole story of the Bible and encouraged campers to realize that it is their story too. Each night hit the smaller stories of the greater story. Creation, Isreal’s escape from Egypt and exile into the desert, Hosea and Isreal’s unfaithfulness, the judges and more unfaithfulness, Jesus fulfilling God’s plan, and finally the empty pages left for us to write our chapter in this story. Weaved together, campers saw and experienced the greater story of God’s love for His bride, the church. A celebration broke out on the final night of worship in the McDonald Moody Auditorium with music and confetti, as campers realized God’s love for us led Him to give up His only son, changing everything. Campers celebrated this great love story being their story too and the opportunity they have to write the final chapters.
While experiencing God on new levels through the classes and keynotes is the reason campers love Encounter, campers also enjoy the opportunity it gives them to taste life at LCU.
Alec Girouard, who has been a camper at Encounter for five years now, says he originally wanted to come to the camp because his sister, Allison Girouard (’08), was once a counselor there. Alec is following the footsteps of many of his family members by attending LCU in the fall, but he says camp Encounter played a bigger role in that decision.
“Because of Encounter, I’ve been on the LCU campus and I know where everything is. When I’m here, I feel so happy. It’s my home away from home,” said Girouard when explaining why he decided to come to LCU.
Campers enjoying the experience of campus life isn’t a new thing at Encounter, in fact, even before it was called Encounter, campers have enjoyed the college experience.
Sharlan Proper (’11) was a camper when Encounter was still called Lectureship. She says back in the early 70’s the camp had Bible classes all day long and didn’t have all the free time or entertainment the camp has now. However, one thing remains the same, campers get to experience what life is like at LCU when they are at Encounter.
“I felt like I was really getting a taste of life at LCC (at the time),” says Proper. “In the dorm, we stayed up way too late, but it was part of the adventure.”
LCC began hosting its famous “music camps” and a youth lectureship for high school students in the summer of 1958. For two weeks every summer young people were invited to live on campus while engaging in Bible study, and vocal and instrumental music activities. Dr. Wayne Hinds started the camp and saw them as a way to introduce the school to prospective students, and the camps provided a summer job for the school’s faculty and staff.
John King started working for LCC in 1970 and became the Director of Admissions in 1972. The attendance to the youth lectureship camp was declining, so in the early 1970’s it was renamed Encounter and was reformatted more along the lines of experiential learning and entertainment. This was the time that the youth ministers’ era was starting and teaching styles to high school students at churches were changing. For over 35 years, Encounter has been going strong and continues to shake the lives of teenagers for Christ.