Zip-lines and zorbing: attractions for learning deeper faith

Max Ehrman is looking forward to teaching campers and their parents a new word this summer—zorbing.

A relatively new phenomena, zorbing involves rolling down a hill inside a large, transparent ball. Erhman, director of summer ministries at Camp Arnes in Manitoba, recently ordered the camp's first shipment of zorb balls.

"We try to add something new every year to reward those campers who keep coming every summer," he says.

This year, Camp Arnes is also adding a new Frisbee golf course to its facilities, which also include a well-equipped waterfront, high ropes and horses. Well-run recreational activities can have an important role to play in building a camper's personal and spiritual development, Ehrman says. One example is the high ropes course, which has several different elements, including a zip line and climbing wall.

"One thing with the high ropes specifically is that it helps you learn to face something that you're frightened of," he says. "That's huge for building a kid's self-confidence.

"It's also a great object lesson. From day one we say, 'Right now, the rope has got you and the rope will always be there'. But then their minds will start to play tricks on them. Learning to trust the rope is a parallel for learning to trust in God, and that God will be there for them when they fall."

One of Camp Arnes' most successful activities for attracting new young people to camp is paintball. The sport has been vital in helping young people learn to trust others and work as a team. Ehrman has also seen it help some young men develop a healthy respect for women, by seeing them as equals on the playing field.

"Paintball attracts the inner-city, 15-year-old boys," he says. "That's a hard nut to crack right there. But they get so into it that they forget to put their guards back up again when they return to their cabins."

Whether recreational activities are a distraction or a support to a camp's spiritual ministry comes down to how they are handled by staff, says Dale Wiebe, executive director of Winkler Bible Camp. Winkler's facilities and activities include a 40-foot climbing wall with a viewing deck on top, a water trampoline, a petting zoo and indoor horse-riding.

"We've got good, well-maintained stuff," he says, "But we also teach our staff that the stuff doesn't really matter, unless you've got a goal and a deeper meaning behind it."

For example, he says, the camp took a long time finding the right horsemanship director for their riding ring and barn.

"We were looking for someone who 'loved God and liked horses'," Wiebe says. "Not someone who really loved horses, but only liked God. We weren't going to get the horse program going until we knew there was going to be a spiritual component driving it. Horses are wonderful. But, as a Christian camp, horses are only the means to an end. We can use horses beautifully to teach trust, respect, authority—all of which come from Scripture."

Ken Morrish has seen the pros and cons of investing in special activities from both sides. He is general manager of Guelph Bible Conference Centre, whose summer camp program includes residential, day and family camps. Just eleven acres, set inside the city of Guelph, the camp has modest but high quality facilities, including a swimming pool, gymnasium and miniature golf. However, he once worked at a much larger camp, with a waterfront, where he says it was possible to walk a dozen steps and disappear into the woods.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of camps," Morrish says. "The key is to understand your constituency and also make sure that you fall in line with the vision and purpose which God has laid out for you."

Different sizes of camps appeal to different types of families and campers, he explains. "We are small, but that has advantages too. There are parents who don't want their kids going across five or 10 acres to the next activity. Sometimes smallness gives us a better opportunity for kids and families to create solid relationships that can and do last a lifetime."

He adds that all camps, regardless of size and facilities, need to focus on building relationships, hiring quality staff, and developing solid biblical teaching. "Camp is where a large number of young people are going to make decisions for God," he adds. "It's an important ministry to support the local church."

As managing director for Camp Mini-Yo-We in Port Sydney, Ontario, Scott McGill talks to a lot of parents who are interested in sending their child to camp. He says he's never had one make their final decision based on the camp's special extras, which at Mini-Yo-We include a water-entry zip line, wake boats and real-rock climbing wall.

"When I talk to people at trade shows," he says, "they go, 'Hey, you've got a zip-line, that's neat. What's your… mission?'"

He says that while activities "look great in the brochure" what parents are most concerned about are in the intangible things—like leadership development, learning new skills, and spiritual growth.

"I think most parents want to know about the staff," he adds. "They want to know what kind of environment the kids are going to be in. They want to know how their kids are going to grow in their faith. That all comes before, 'Oh, hey, you have a flashy new boat.'

"Our mission statement at Mini-Yo-We is 'developing tomorrow's leaders through life-changing adventures and God's creation.' The core of what we're all trying to do is change lives through camp. It's about more than just having fun. It's about kids meeting God and getting to know the Lord. That's what we're all about. First and foremost."

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