Matt Giffin’s Life Change Story
More Than Just a Slogan
It can sometimes feel a bit trite to explain to other people that I experienced life change at a Christian youth camp. You can just imagine the interaction:
Me: “I experienced the Lord for the first time at this youth camp called…”
Them: “OMG! That’s so incredibly unique and obscure, a camp salvation – I’ve never heard of that before.”
Them: “Wait, what? Fudge?”
Well, take a moment to suspend your judgments and presuppositions and hear me out. LIFE-CHANGING CAMPS is more than just a byline or a slogan. It is a distinct experience infused with the gospel and the loving devotion of a whole host of crazy, Jesus-loving staff members. It is a week where youth leaders can release the reins of 51 weeks of the conundrum that we call youth ministry and trust that the gospel is being hurled at their students from all directions all day long. It is 5-6 days where the Holy Spirit is knocking at the door from dusk till dawn, just begging for students and adults alike to crack that door enough to allow His presence to flow through. It is a ministry that helped me to experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ for the first time and that I have had the privilege to serve for what will be my sixth summer here in just a few weeks. It is FUGE CAMPS.
More Than Just a Fan
In the tradition of almost every believer who formally begins to tell their testimony, I feel obligated to identify whether or not I was raised in a “Christian Home.” I was not. With that out of the way, I can begin by explaining that I was baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant. You may ask, “well then how did you end up attending/working for a Southern Baptist camp?” Good question. My family was not particularly involved in the Catholic faith or any faith at all for that matter. While my Catholic upbringing provided me with some opportunity to begin learning the Biblical basics, the buck pretty much stopped there.
It was not until my freshman year of high school that I began to personally engage with the church. Was my attendance at Fellowship Baptist Church strongly linked to a budding relationship? Signs point to yes. However, I’d be lying if I said I was not incredibly grateful that my girlfriend at the time invited me attend FUGE Camps the following summer. I only knew a few people in the youth group, but the ways in which they raved about this camp had to mean that I was in for something cool, right?
As I prepared to leave for camp, I received a packing list from our youth leader. As I read it over, I got to a particularly salient packing item for a Christian youth camp. “Bible.” I did not own one. Up until that point, if you had asked me, I would have told you that I was a Christian and would have hesitantly backed up that statement by listing a bunch of things that I did or did not do. I guess I did not consider it a necessity for a Christian to even own a Bible.
Needless to say, camp was a bit of a shock for me. My friends’ stories had prepared me for the fun parts like Rec and Track Times and Night Life, but I do not think anything could have prepared me for Jesus. I vividly remember the first night of worship in Gentry Auditorium at Carson Newman University. I had never before experienced a passion for Jesus like I did that night, and I was not really sure how to respond. Something was stirring within me that I had never previously associated with God. I was repeatedly being told, in Bible Study, in Track Times, and now by this pastor on stage, that God has an intense desire to know me personally and that Jesus’ death on the cross had been the ultimate demonstration of this dedication. Yet there I was, trying to reconcile that with the list of things that had defined my identity as a Christian up until that point. After worship, I remember my girlfriend and her cousin pointedly asking me if I were a Christian, and to save face I answered yes, but I was wrought with questions.
I woke up the next morning with the realization that I was completely unprepared to be confronted with the truth of the gospel every hour on the hour for 5 days straight but not realizing that life-change was barely a half step in front of me. That night, I’m convinced that Robert Smith, the camp pastor, was speaking directly to me as he described the difference between what it meant to merely be a fan of Jesus and what it meant to follow Jesus. And it was that night that I came face to face with the Lord and surrendered to him. While I do not know this for sure, I believe it was shortly thereafter that I knew I would return to this camp, not only 3 more times as a student, but eventually as a staffer.
More Than Just a Legacy
After my first summer of camp, I had no idea that camp would be such a huge part of my life for the next 10 years or so (so far). While I strongly resonate with the sentiment of our students that desire to return to camp for another week as we send them off on closing day, I recognize the ways in which the Lord works significantly both in and out of camp. However, as I approach my sixth summer serving on staff, I am incredibly grateful for the way in which my experience with FUGE Camps has supplemented my growing desire to engage with adolescents as a mental health counselor instead of just a summer staffer. Thanks for the life change FUGE Camps!