Julia didn't want to be at summer camp, and she let everyone know it.
On the first day of Angel Tree® camp at Sagrada Scholarship Bible Camp, a facility nestled in the woods near the Lake of the Ozarks, Julia* wasn't thinking about kayaking, campfires, skits, or games. A 10-year-old girl with brown hair falling to her shoulders, Julia wore a permanent scowl. She hadn't chosen to attend camp. She'd been sent to camp by her grandmother, who is raising her during her parent's incarceration—and Julia was not happy about it.
AN UNHAPPY CAMPER
When the other campers stood up to give enthusiastic renditions of songs like "Father Abraham" or watched skits and Bible presentations, Julia leaned back in her chair, arms folded and anger written across every feature. Though her counselors encouraged her to participate, Julia wouldn't budge.
Camp staff asked Julia why she was so upset.
"I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God," she defiantly explained. "I don't want to be here."
"OK," responded Tracy Guppy, who was then the camp’s director. "You can be an atheist. But you can still have fun with us." Julia grudgingly agreed to try.
A CHANGE OF HEART
Over the next couple days, camp staff noticed that the grumpy little girl was starting to soften. She slowly realized that she was being welcomed and loved—not judged, as she had feared. She began to participate in activities.
Around the campfire in the evenings, she listened to others talk about how God had been working in their lives that day. The Bible verses they shared and referenced started making sense to her. And on Wednesday night, something unexpected happened. Back at her cabin, during evening devotions with the leader and fellow campers, Julia asked Jesus to come into her heart and her life.
The next morning, as Tracy greeted the campers before breakfast, Julia appeared. Her face was relaxed, and her eyes were sparkling.
"I'm a Christian," she said, "How's it going?"
"Wait—what?" asked Tracy. Tracy took Julia aside and asked her about her decision.
"I never knew that God was real in people's lives," the young girl explained. "I want that for me."
A BRAND-NEW START
Tracy encouraged Julia, giving her a booklet to help her read the Bible and learn about her new faith. She devoured it so quickly that Tracy soon had to give her another one.
"I just didn't want to stop," Julia explained.
For the rest of camp, Julia was like a different girl than the one who had gotten off the bus. Instead of scowling, she smiled. She cleared plates after meals and helped younger children with their crafts.
"Her whole demeanor and behavior changed," says Tracy.
As the week of camp drew to a close, Tracy and the camp counselors helped the kids get ready to go home. Though many of them had changed, their homes, families, and friends probably hadn't. The staff encouraged the campers to read their Bibles and go to a church on Sundays so they could grow in their relationships with God all year long.
Though sad to leave at camp, Julia was excited to go home. She couldn't wait to tell all her friends that God is real—and at work in her life.
*Name has been changed.
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