“For the whole week, I couldn’t wait to go back to my real life, you know? Now I feel like my real life is fake and camp is real.”
Last summer, I did not — much to my lingering chagrin — return to Camp Ridgecrest. Ridgecrest was that magical (though often daunting) land from the final chapters of Struggle Central. Early into 2013, I was convinced I’d return to “Struggle Central” for a second summer of struggle and redemption alike.
Alas. I did not.
The reasons for my non-return to Ridgecrest were many. But to my great surprise, God provided not one but two California camps for my employment and enjoyment.
One of those camps was a Royal Family Kids Camp — a recreational escape for foster youth. I volunteered to be a counselor through my church; admittedly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Last summer, I blogged about my special weekend with Royal Family. Months later, multiple people told me I needed to watch a certain movie.
The movie was called Camp. It was a movie based on actual events from an actual foster youth camp.
A Royal Family Kids Camp.
All too often, I’d prefer not to know the darker things of life. I’d prefer not to know about kids with divorced parents. I’d prefer not to know about kids with abusive parents. I’d prefer not to know about kids who have been totally abandoned.
I’d prefer to be ignorant, quite honestly. I just feel too much; I don’t want to feel other people’s pain. Especially if they’re poor innocent kids who never asked for all their troubles.
Last summer’s experience at a Royal Family Kids Camp started this hard personal process of awakening. Watching Camp recently has continued to unravel my heart.
Filmed largely at Hume Lake here in southern California, Camp tells the story of an abused boy who crosses paths with a well-to-do businessman — his camp counselor for the week. Royal Family operates on a 1-to-1 camper-to-counselor ratio, and Counselor Ken is often found chasing after his assigned Camper Eli.
Camp‘s acting isn’t the greatest, though it’s not quite a “campy” Christian movie either. How do you explain a Christian-themed movie with swear words and middle fingers and an abusive father? Acting aside, Camp presents a refreshing authenticity usually absent from typical “Christian” films.
While you’d think a film like Camp would focus predominantly on the neglected kids, by movie’s end, you realize the story is more about Counselor Ken than anyone else.
The movie is more about you, too.
How will Ken escape the comfort zone of his cell phone and Porsche? How will Ken confront the terrors of Eli’s abusive father? When camp ends, how will Ken change? How will you change?
The movie closes with Ken and the female camp director sitting on a dock. As they reminisce about their week at camp, Ken awakens to a difficult reality.
He admits his real life is fake and camp is real.
Ken’s quote comes in the final clip of the Camp trailer, and it’s chillingly similar to something I wrote two summers ago in my final recap from Camp Ridgecrest:
I’d gotten “out” in a dodgeball-type game, and as I sat on the floor with counselors and kids running about, smiles painted everywhere, I couldn’t help thinking that this was what it was all about.
Why didn’t I see more of this in the “real” world? What if this was the real world and everything else out there — unemployment, depression, uncertainty, hatred — was the lie?
If you’ve ever worked at a youth camp, you can probably resonate with much of this post. You would also probably resonate with much of this movie. I’d recommend Camp to anyone who works with youth especially. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.
Camp is full of heart and tender authenticity, and it’s forever motivated me to bring some of camp’s “real world” magic into my own real world longing for magic.
I don’t want my real life to be fake.
I want my life to be more like this movie. More like camp.