At camp, Mike could get away from the challenges of life.
Fourteen-year-old Mike was surprised when Tracy, one of his camp counselors, pulled him aside near the cafeteria to tell him something important. Tracy said Mike should consider becoming a leader-in-training.
"Tracy said that over the years he'd seen a lot of good qualities in me," says Mike. "Leadership was one of them."
Mike couldn't pass up the special opportunity. Sagrada Bible Camp in Lincoln, Missouri, was his second home—and a haven from the stress of having two incarcerated parents. Mike's earliest memory of camp was in that cafeteria, visiting the lunch counter for seconds and thirds. He remembers loving the food, especially the fried chicken. Kind cafeteria staff, camp counselors, and new friends uplifted him. Camp was a refreshing change from many of his past experiences.
Since their parents were incarcerated, Mike and his siblings lived with their grandparents, who used drugs and neglected the children. Then the kids went to live with their first foster family. Moving from home to home caused a sense of instability. When Mike was 8, he started going to camp, where he made fun memories and learned about Jesus.
FRIENDS BECOME FAMILY
Often, with a supportive community beside them, children and families of prisoners can thrive. Angel Tree® camping is a chance for children to get away from challenges and stress and to experience God's love in the great outdoors. Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™ partners with Christian camps by providing scholarships so that children of prisoners can attend a summer camp at little to no cost.
Now 16, Mike says summer camp created some of his most cherished childhood memories. He loved the group activities and games, the chapel services, and the community of mealtimes. He remembers how the fireworks lit up the night sky.
"Camp introduced Christianity into my life," says Mike. "I love that place. It's like a home away from home. I have good friends there [that] I actually count as family. I think about them all the time."
Between his years as a camper and now as a counselor, Mike has been going to camp for half his life. It's still something he looks forward to every year.
A PLACE TO BELONG
Every summer he serves as a leader, Mike sees young campers enjoy a lot of the same things that always made camp special for him.
Mike loves giving kids new experiences, from archery to paintball, to tubing on the lake. And even more importantly, Mike and the counselors let the kids know that God loves them.
Every day, the campers and counselors sing together, read Bible stories, and talk about what it means to follow Jesus. They share skits to illustrate lessons. For some kids, this is the most exposure they will have to "church" all year. And Mike knows how important it is to feel loved and valued.
"Some [kids] come with a whole bunch of anger issues," Mike says. "They don't know anything about God. A lot of them live in the city and don't know exactly what camping is, so it can be a new experience for them. And we try to make it as fun as possible."
A FUTURE OF HOPE
Today Mike lives with his adopted family. When he isn't at camp, he attends a Christian school and likes to play basketball. Now a junior in high school, he plans to attend college and become a physical therapist.
And for now, he's counting down the days until he's back at Sagrada Bible Camp.
"I've been through that [difficult] stuff too, and I can encourage kids to help them get through it," says Mike. "I can teach them to come to God to help them get through it."
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