Christian sports camp a lesson in having fun and tolerance

The morals taught seem mainstream, something most parents would want their children to learn, but the lessons come with a churchy twist.

Some of Nakusp’s little ones played and learned about soccer, basketball, floor hockey and dodgeball recently during the Mega Sports Camp held at Nakusp’s Elementary School. Sponsored by the Saddleback Community Church of Nakusp, Mega Sports Camp is an outreach program for elementary school children designed to get kids active and learn life lessons through sport. Held during the week of July 16 to 20, a couple dozen elementary school-aged kids spent the mornings cheering, singing and playing to learn about sport and god.

Craig Savage, Lead Pastor with the Saddleback Community Church ran the camp assisted by youth and young adults who came from the Surrey Pentecostal Assembly for the week to help out. Savage got assistance with the camp from the Arrow Lakes Alliance Church, George Harding and the school board for providing the elementary school gym facilities at no cost, and a summer intern that Saddleback church was able to hire with a grant from the federal Canada Summer Jobs program. Donations of snacks and other items from parents also aided the program’s smooth running.

Each day the program started with an opening rally with the kids and the supervisors or coaches getting revved up with songs and pep talks. On the day I visited, kids danced and jumped to Christian pop rock music with lyrics like “get down, he lifts him up” and “I’m trading up, Yes, Lord.” The kids then sat down and learned about American Olympic diver Laura Wilkinson and some of the struggles she overcame to win a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics, an example of perseverance. After the lesson the full group of kids was broken into older and younger children, did some stretching, and then went off to play. Throughout the morning, breaks were taken to have a drink or snack and to discuss a lesson or topic designed to teach children Christian morals, or as is noted on the Mega Sports Camp website “help them develop Godly character.”

The sport lesson each day is presented as part of a theme. Friday’s theme was “Finish Strong” where kids are told that “doing our best helps us finish strong” and “finishing God’s way has eternal rewards.” Other daily themes included: change, endurance, rest, and teamwork. These themes have key points like “change can improve our game,” “we can’t do it alone; we need others to help us win” and “we are not alone because God is with us.” Clearly there is a very Christian influence throughout the camp. The morals taught seem mainstream, something most parents would want their children to learn, but the lessons most certainly come with a churchy twist.

Savage notes that the camp is open to children from any background and that any child would feel comfortable fitting in there even if they don’t attend church. Children pick up on things quickly and the songs words with accompanying actions are simple and fun like line dancing. Savage states that the church is very inclusive and the life lessons presented apply to children from any background. Conveying the idea to children that they are valuable, loved, important and can have a great life is something we can all benefit from. While these are great ideas, and it is very important for children to feel loved and important, the context in which these lessons are taught must be taken into account. Parents from non-Christian backgrounds may find themselves answering questions they didn’t think they would face.

My niece attended a similar camp in Revelstoke. She really enjoyed it. But she did come home with many new ideas and questions about why, in terms of the spiritual side, what she was learning at camp was the opposite of what she was being taught at home. We live in small population centres here in the Kootenays and it can be difficult to find programs to entertain your children in the summers that fit your families’ moral and ethical belief systems. Compromises are necessary, even in urban centres, and sometimes these types of compromises are necessary.

Having acknowledged that, parents must be aware that if they are not normally church-going or Christian people then their children will likely come home from the camp with some new ideas. In my experience they will begin to believe what they are being taught about god and the church from these programs and it may be uncomfortable or difficult, or perhaps just time consuming, to counter these ideas.

At the end of the week every child who participated got a certificate. As well, a few special certificates were handed out for things like fastest runner and a positive attitude. Saddleback Community Church welcomed all the parents and families of the children who participated in the camp to a short video presentation of the camp week as well as a slideshow on Sunday July 22, as well they were treated to a free BBQ lunch.