Joe Castaneda speaking at Camp Gilead in 1999.  What do you think he's saying?

Pastor Joe Castaneda speaking at Camp Gilead at the “turn of the century.” What do you think he’s saying?

I’ve had the privilege of speaking at summer camps for each of the past 17 years. During that time I’ve spoken in camps all over the country in camps that varied in style, size and purpose. I’ve spoken to places that had 35 campers, and to programs that had more than 600 campers. My family and I have enjoyed camps in the mountains, camps with rivers, camps with lakes, camps with no trees and camps with lots of trees. Some of the camps we’ve been at have had swimming pools, others have high ropes courses, some have horses (rest in peace dear Strawberry!) and some are full of crazy adrenaline pumping adventures. I’ve been on camps that had less than 20 acres of property and some that sat on hundreds and hundreds of acres of land.

We’ve stayed in barns, sheds, trailers, busted up cabins, apartments, houses and suites. At one camp, you couldn’t open the door to our cabin more than 1/2 way before you hit the bed that took up the whole room! I can say that we have had some of the best and some of the worst food we’ve ever eaten while speaking at camps (no, I won’t reveal any names!!).

God has shown us amazing aspects of His creation in all of the diversity of these camps. We’ve enjoyed seeing bear, deer, elk, moose, porcupine and crazy psychotic squirrels with jet-black fur along with bald eagles, giant woodpeckers, huge owls, gorgeous red cardinals and one blue-topped bird I’ve never been able to identify. We’ve also been chased out of a bathroom by a poison green mamba snake, seen the beautiful animals of Africa and have viewed the stars in both hemispheres.

I love camping and love the opportunities God has provided me and my family and the youth I’ve worked with over the years. There is something so special about this unique ministry.

Despite all the places we’ve seen and been privileged to partner with, there are a few things that are true of all camps doing great ministry. And while each camp we’ve visited has unique activities and culture, it’s the constants that make these more than just memorable weeks of summer.

Fast, deep and long-lasting life change: Bible camp does something that few other ministries can accomplish — fast, powerful and long-lasting change. In a camp setting students are invited to step out of what’s normal in order to be challenged to engage God at a deeper and more profound level. Camp takes 51 weeks of investment from pastors, families, churches, youth pastors, youth groups, Bible study etc… and multiplies the increase in just 6 or 7 fast-paced days. This is one of the big reasons I love speaking at camp, I have the joy of seeing rapid fruit because I’m in the position to harvest the work of others.

As a youth pastor, I used to “hate” camp, because my students would come back and say, “Hey PJ, camp was awesome. Why don’t you teach us that stuff? Why can’t you be like [enter speaker name here]?” and blah blah blah… What I came to realize was that I was teaching those things! I was engaging them week in and week out, and the camp experience was taking my effort (and the effort of family and church and…) and multiplying the results. I came to understand that my students fast, deep and long-lasting decisions were a result of the partnership I had with camp. Camp is a powerful tool for the church and youth ministry that understands it.

Josh & Kimberly Mallory with Joe and Traci Castaneda in Antelope Oregon and Teen Leadership Conference, where he was the speaker.

Josh & Kimberly Mallory with Joe and Traci Castaneda in Antelope Oregon at Teen Leadership Conference, where he was the speaker.

Opportunity to build life-long friendships: I have friends (like Josh and Kimberly Mallory!) where our friendship was primarily built in and through camp. My friend Jeromy and I have known each other for over 20 years and the first time we met? Camp! A Christian camp is a great place to meet new people, to develop friendships and to find people who have a common passion for the Lord. At the camp where I’m working now, I can’t believe the number of people who met their future spouses here at camp. Forget eHarmony, work at a summer camp to find your soul mate!

A chance to enjoy undistracted corporate worship: There is something unique about worship at camp. I can’t explain it, but some of the most powerful moments of group worship I’ve ever experienced have happened in a camp setting. Maybe it’s because we’re typically “away” from the our normal routines, maybe it’s because most camps help you engage the God of creation through seeing His beautiful handiwork; whatever it is, camp provides the opportunity to worship God in a largely undistracted environment.

A few years ago I was speaking to around 75 students at a camp in South Africa. During our singing time, I looked around the room and I saw people from at least 7 different people groups. At that moment, I was struck by the verse in Revelation 21 that speaks of the worship of God from every tribe, tongue and language. I remember tears coming down my cheeks as I was overwhelmed by the scene before me and being all choked up as I got up to speak and share that with the campers. More than once, the corporate worship of camp has touched me in powerful ways.

Partnership with the local church: The best camps I know are working with the local church. The ones that are doing their own thing apart from a relationship with the local church, are the ones that I like speaking at the least. But when camps partner with churches, that relationship adds a layer of life-change that doesn’t exist in other ministries. When camps and churches work together, there is accountability for campers when they head home and there is encouragement for camps year-around. Camps that are working with their local churches have the strongest ministries.

Ministry to adults: Camp isn’t just for children and students, but effective camps are ministering to adults, too. Over the years, I’ve had counselors, directors and other camp speakers come up and thank me for my ministry, and I’ve done the same to many other speakers, too. The reality is that camping ministry opens up the doors to lots of people, and sometimes to people that other ministries don’t have access to. Fast, deep and long-lasting life change can be a reality for campers of any age!

I hope you are planning to be involved with camp this year. Maybe it’s summer camp for you (as a staff or camper) or making sure you dial up a Men’s retreat, a retreat for women, mom’s & daughters, fathers & sons, couples, pastors or church leaders. Give yourself the opportunity to experience significant life change, undistracted corporate worship along with the power of the church/camp relationship in a setting that will allow you to engage our amazing God.

I’ve been involved with camping ministry for over 18 years. Prior to that, I was a camper and summer staffer. I know camp has been a huge part of my life and if you’ve experienced it already, it’s been a huge part of yours, too. If not, make this the year you have a great camp experience.Joe and Traci


Joe Castaneda – Director of Communications

Lake Ann Camp –