Faith formation camp fuels teens to push message
“What are you going to do when you go home to better your community?” is the question posed to participants in the six-day Alive in You Catholic Conference and Service Camp.
Through service integrated with high-energy praise and worship, live entertainment, team-building activities, small faith group discussions and the sacraments, Alive in You offers faith formation for youth entering eighth through 12th grades.
Youth ministers Jim and Heather Weir founded the ministry in 2006 when they couldn’t find a camp that combined service with “an encounter with Christ in an upbeat manner.” Today, an average of 1,500-1,600 youth attend these summer camp encounters held throughout the United States.
Hurricane Katrina relief work in New Orleans provided the perfect service experience that first year, Weir said, and faith formation crowned it.
“New Orleans has a special place in our ministry,” Weir said. “It is where everything started.”
This year, a decade later, 400 students from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin established a base camp at Academy of Our Lady high school and nearby Immaculate Conception Elementary on the West Bank for the Ten Commandments-themed camp in late June-early July.
They visited 15 work sites to paint, cleanup, do landscaping and build a handicapped ramp. Each night, campers returned home for entertainment and enlightenment by guest speaker Steve Morgan, musician Steven Joubert and magician Jim Munroe and to share group experiences.
“We really try to balance upbeat fun with witness talks and faith education,” Weir said.
Munroe, who performed at all four 2016 “Alive in You” camps, used illusion to bridge entertainment and faith in his “Maze” act, showing that “everything on the surface isn’t what is seems.”
His New Orleans act involved a young lady randomly picking from a deck of cards. While initially not recognizing what the cards represented, she came to realize they numerically were her cell phone number.
“Sometimes the life you’re given makes no sense, but if you have faith, things become clear,” Weir said about the presentation.
Munroe shared with the youth a dark time in his life, saying how answers came once he realized God was there beside him.
Continues at home
Weir has seen parish youth groups bond during camp. Alive in You helps keep that fire burning when they return home by providing resources, ideas, activities and support for youth ministers.
“Each group has the opportunity at the end of each night to meet and select a team member to give witness,” he said. “A lot of the fruits of it (camp) I hear from youth ministers when they go home … It jumps tarts youth ministry at the parish level and brings more kids into it.”
Participant Joey Ellis, 17, a senior at Catholic High in Little Rock, Arkansas, and part of the 60-member Immaculate Conception Youth Group that included his sisters Emily and Abigail, gained more than he expected from Alive in You in New Orleans. His group’s service project involved tidying up gardens and painting at a low-income housing complex downtown.
“I anticipated the same stuff – going there, hearing same Jesus songs,” Ellis said. “This one was a lot different. … They brought in a magician whom I identified with … I’ve had hard times in my life, like the Maze guy. … I didn’t look for Jesus as often as I should have. That touched me how he didn’t believe in God until he was changed by God. Had I looked for Jesus sooner, I wouldn’t have had to go through as long a low time.”
He said the camp made his group closer, and he befriended several people he didn’t know previously.
“All the boys spent time together, praying together during adoration, parish time and, during free time, we hung out. I’ve gotten closer to them.”
It also showed him that small things matter.
“Just holding the door open (makes a difference),” Ellis said. “I’ve started to put other people in front of me and do small things that could affect people in a big way.”
Weir said the camp’s goal is for teens to have fun at camp but also to teach them to start looking beyond themselves to community needs.
“It is not just, ‘I went to camp, and it was fun’,” Weir said he wants to hear. “The word ‘catholic’ means mission, and the youth are charged to go out and help others. We want them to participate more in Mass and go and serve their community.”