Mark Turner’s Life Change Story
From Camper to Church Planter (and everything in between)
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say my life has been marked by faith, family, and FUGE Camps (and food, lots of yummy food). In 34 years, I’ve spent some portion of 18 summers at a FUGE Camp. My youth pastor took us to Centrifuge for 5 of my middle and high school summers (we don’t talk about the year he experimented with a camp that shall not be named). My college career was bookended as a chaperone at FUGE Camps. In between, I spent two life-changing summers as an MFuge staffer in Denver and West Palm Beach. As a student pastor, I’ve been bringing my students to FUGE Camps every summer. For the past five years, I’ve served as a camp pastor. Little did I know, however, FUGE Camps would be instrumental in God’s call on my life to plant a church.
Camper: Own My Faith
As a student, FUGE Camps was the first place I understood the basics of spiritual disciplines such as a quiet time, reverent worship, and authentic community. I was challenged to think about and own my faith in a personal way.
Staffer: Go with the Gospel
My two summers as a staffer instilled in me a heart for service, local ministry, and missions. I was able to take my first steps in leadership, ministry, and Bible teaching. As God was calling me to the pastorate, FUGE Camps was equipping me with the skills and giving me opportunities for God’s calling. I saw what a high quality, well-evaluated, passionate team could accomplish for Jesus. More than anything, I was wrecked by the faithful, persistent teaching of a particular camp pastor. I still remember a sermon he preached on Jonah where he showed the call of God is bigger than my reputation, my comfort, and (even) my life. This was the first time I thought seriously about what it would look like to go somewhere for Jesus.
Student Pastor: Partners in Discipleship
Sometimes a peek “behind the curtain” is disheartening, not so with Fuge. It was obvious that I was going to take my students to Fuge when I became a student pastor because I had seen the front office, coordinators, pastors, and leaders behind the scenes. In turn, Fuge has been a central component of our strategy to disciple teenagers. A week of camp each summer has proven to be a catalyst for building gospel community and equipping our students to live on mission. We intentionally use our week at camp to propel our students into a summer of meaningful ministry and discipleship growth.
Camp Pastor: People are the Mission
Normally, I trust the quality control of FUGE Camps, but somehow I slipped through the screening process and was hired as a camp pastor in 2012. The 12 year old me who revered the camp pastor at North Greenville University could never have imagined himself actually being a camp pastor. Yet there I was, preaching to hundreds of students each week, visiting ministry sites, and making lifelong friends on staff. Serving with FUGE Camps as a camp pastor (going on six years now) has been a great joy in my life. Each summer, I am surrounded by phenomenal teams that allow me to serve alongside them, and I have grown as a communicator and pastor. During a couple years of particularly hard church work, my weeks at FUGE Camps were a ministry lifeline.
Joining talented staffers each summer reinforces the value of teamwork. It’s amazing what a unified, humble, and hardworking team can accomplish. Every team I’ve served with has demonstrated the maxim of William Carey by expecting great things from God and attempting great things for God. They have carried out their ministries with quality and dedication, with a focus on the students they are serving. It is this focus that has driven my time as a camp pastor. People are the mission! Whether a meal with an awkward middle schooler, a conversation with a kid at a ministry site, or a time with an overworked youth worker, God has called me to invest in people. It is those relationships that have made my time with FUGE Camps truly life changing.
Church Planting: What Happens at Camp Doesn’t Stay at Camp
When I was hired as a camp pastor, I was placed at MFuge Philly (Eastern University). At the time, I had little idea how significant this placement would become. I married a girl who grew up in the suburbs of Philly but my connection was somewhat secondary. As God was burdening my heart for church planting, I was simultaneously put into the context of Philly FUGE. From day one, my heart was captivated by the people of Philadelphia. From the first precocious eight year old that I met at Malcom X Park, who told me I looked like Alan from the Hangover (a movie I reminded her she shouldn’t know about), to walking the streets of West Philly from Shepard Rec Center to Carroll Park, I was gripped by the beauty and the brokenness of this historic city. By the time I was offered the opportunity to preach at other FUGE Camps locations, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere but Philly. All the while, the dream of church planting had met the faces of the people to which God was calling my family.
I tell my students that camp is the beginning of a life lived for God, not the end. I ask them, what does it look like to take the lessons of camp home? What would it look like to live on mission, not for a week or two, but for a lifetime? I didn’t realize all along God was preaching to me through me. To that end, my family and our team are moving to Philly this summer to plant Redemption Heights Church, a gospel community on mission to Philadelphia and the world.
You can follow our church planting journey and subscribe to updates at redemptionheights.com.