Young Life Winter Weekend engages high school students

Photo by Taylor Duimstra
Photo by Taylor Duimstra

On Friday, Nov. 30, 51 Calvin Christian High School students loaded onto buses and drove north to Timberwolf Lake in Lake City for Young Life’s Winter Weekend Camp.

Young Life is a non-profit organization that was started in the 1940s in order to bridge the gap between the church and the emerging adolescent subculture. It does this through volunteer leaders who spend time with the students. A primary way that the leaders reach the students is by putting on a gathering every week called “club.”

Winter Weekend is another experience that is used to connect with adolescents because leaders are able to take their students on the retreat.

Bryan Dekoekkoek, a Young Life leader at Calvin Christian, said that camp is designed so that students have a fun weekend while also learning about and experiencing God.

“Camp is student oriented and aims to engage students by both entertaining them and being genuine and real with them,” Dekoekkoek said.

Calvin Christian Young Life leader Dave VanKempen believes that Winter Weekend is a very important aspect of the Young Life program.

“Camp provides an anchor,” VanKempen said.  “During the school year it is crazy because everyone is busy and can’t come to club every week, but camp gives you more chances to build relationships.”

There were four total clubs during Winter Weekend. Every club began with singing led by Jake Ousley. Campers sang along to both top 40 hits, such as “One Direction,” and classics, such as “Sweet Home Alabama.”

The songs were intermixed with skits and games. Students and leaders participated in games on stage such as eating food out of a diaper, wrestling in sleeping bags and “name that song.”

The high-energy activities concluded with a Christian song. After this, Jake Ousley played one of his original songs.  Ousley is an up-and-coming musician who often plays for Young Life camps and events. He also gave a free full concert on Saturday night.

Ousley’s songs set the tone for the talk. This past weekend the speaker was Janie Derks, the Young Life Grand Rapids Southwest area director.

After Derks spoke, all the campers and leaders went to their cabins for “cabin time.” This was a chance for participants to reflect on Derks’ talk in smaller groups. It also gave everyone the chance to share their story.

Laura Ramaker, a junior at Calvin Christian, said that cabin time was her favorite part of the week. She loved that she was able to have real conversations with her classmates.

“Hearing people’s stories helped to show me a different perspective,” Ramaker said.

When the Calvin Christian students arrived Friday night, they joined with 77 students from Grandville High School, Godfrey Lee High School, South Christian High School, Byron Center High School and Caledonia High School to make up the Grand Rapids Southwest area. There were also groups from other areas.

“The cool thing about camp is that different people come from different places and we’re all loving the same God,” Dekoekkoek said.

The students were given a lot of free time during the weekend. Some spent it in the gym playing games like basketball, volleyball or gaga ball. There was also a game room with pool, ping pong and foosball tables. Some even ventured up a rock wall or went on a giant swing.

The generous amount of free time is intentional because Young Life wants to give students the chance to enjoy themselves and reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the weekend.

The camp is designed for the students, and what teenagers want is free time, Derks said.

Dekoekkoek said that overall the weekend was about building relationships and sharing God’s love.

“Whether students grew closer to other students, or students grew closer to leaders, or students grew closer to God, we hope lasting relationships were built,” Dekoekkoek said. “This weekend was so beneficial because it helped us all disconnect from our everyday lives and really invest in each other and in God.”

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