When summiting a mountain, one sees the world from a much higher point of view and oftentimes gains a new perspective and appreciation for what it took to get to the top. The journey may have taken twists and turns, but the peak can serve as a place to inspire and rewire how one sees and engages with the world upon returrning home.
At Ascent, USMB Youth’s annual national high school camp, the hope is the same. Students spend four days together engaging their faith in new ways in a mountaintop experience that provides opportunities for greater intimacy with Jesus and growth as a family of believers.
The second-annual Ascent camp brought together 350 high school students, youth leaders and staff in Glorieta, New Mexico, June 10-14, 2022. Students representing 21 churches traveled from five states–California, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah–for four days of worship, learning, activities and fun.
“Everyone can look up at the horizon and see something different,” says USMB Youth chair Kyle Goings. “Camp can be a spiritual marker in someone’s journey. It could be sessions with dynamic and engaging worship, Bible studies for quiet reflection or workshops for learning and asking questions.”
Learning from Daniel
Jon Fiester, lead pastor at Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, S.D., shared from the book of Daniel with the theme, “Resilience.” Fiester shared stories about Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) and Daniel and the lion’s den. At the end of each session, Fiester gave a “Life Challenge” to encourage action. Following the Daniel 3 passage about Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah, Feister issued a challenge to campers: “Are you willing to be resilient in your faithfulness ‘even if’”?
This message resonated with camper Kara Reichel from Heritage Bible Church in Bakersfield, California.
“The most impactful thing that I learned at Ascent was the importance of being bold in your faith and following God ‘even if’ we are sacrificing everything,” Reichel says.
Each session kicked off with fun activities and games led by emcees Jenn Tarbutton from Ridgepoint Church, Wichita, Kansas, and Dalton McAlister from Crosspoint Church, Enid, Oklahom. Presence Worship returned to lead worship through music.
Representatives from partner agencies shared, including Multiply, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, Faithfront and Mennonite Central Committee. Both FPU and Tabor presented scholarship opportunities for students.
Workshops, interactive tracks
Sunday morning, students chose two workshops to attend from the seven offered. Topics included: evangelism, understanding mental health through a Biblical lens, learning how to share your testimony, worship, being empowered to serve and understanding prayer.
On Monday, students experienced a new avenue of learning in an interactive setting outside the traditional “classroom” environment of workshops. Interactive tracks sought to connect students’ hobbies and interests to the everyday Kingdom of God and included: advanced hiking, mountain stroll, writing and journaling, painting and art, photography, rock stacking, video games, basketball, disc golf and kickball.
Before breakfast each morning Students and staff could attend “J-Time”, or Jesus Time, led by Stephen Humber from Multiply. Humber offered a short passage and gave time for attendees to individually read and reread the passage then listen and journal what stood out to them about what God may be saying. Students then gathered in small groups to share and pray.
“One morning when I read Romans 8, the weight of the words hit me hard,” says camper Trudy Hein from Hillsboro (Kansas) MB Church. “The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, which is the foundation of our Christianity, literally dwells in our hearts. We are so unworthy, yet have access to the Spirit. I no longer want to lead myself.”
Free time and activities
Each day included free-time activities. Options included a mountaineering obstacle course, tree rappelling, drift trikes, a zip line with a drop, waterfront activities, sand volleyball, gaga ball, mini golf, disc golf, a super swing and more.
Each evening included a late-night activity: Coffee house and ultimate team trivia, Moonlite Madness: Foam Party, Illusionists show featuring Bryan and Karla Drake, and a talent show followed by a missions and prayer night.
New in 2022 were Rally Games, planned by organizers to build community between youth groups. Campers and staff were randomly put into different teams to compete against each other in a variety of games.
Youth worker Jayme Gooding from Heritage MB found the effort at community-building impactful.
“The mixing of churches for Rally Games was uplifting,” Gooding says. “The seating of groups with other groups at meals was refreshing.”
The descent back home
In the four days of camp, students had opportunities to see and experience new things. For many campers, camp was more than just a break in their daily routine. It was an opportunity to learn and take steps forward in their spiritual journey.
“The thing that impacted me the most were the ways that I felt the presence of the Lord, and it made me feel so free and happy,” says Chevi Leslie from Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, South Dakota. “It made me want to actually seek for his Word and learn about him, and I’ve been trying to teach my family a little more from what I know.”
Grant Shewey, youth pastor at Hillsboro (Kansas) MB Church, sees camp as a catalyst to grow and change campers’ lives that continues as they re-assimilate in their home communities.
“Camp is such a unique opportunity to get to engage in conversations with students that may not happen as easily otherwise throughout the year,” Shewey says. “Walls are broken down, and with hours upon hours of time together over the course of a few days, it’s much easier for everyone to be authentic and vulnerable with each other. I love giving students the opportunity while at camp to encourage and learn from each other. We have some incredible young leaders among us, and camp is a great avenue to build them up and give them tools to help reach their peers, schools and communities for Christ and his kingdom.”
Camper Lilly Smith from Hesston (Kansas) MB Church says Ascent provided a new perspective for everyday life: “As soon as I came home, I started a devotional and it just gave me a new hunger for the Word. I wanted to absorb everything and process it the way I was taught to at camp.”
Michael Klaassen is the digital content manager at Tabor College as well as the college photographer. He attends Parkview MB Church, Hillsboro, Kansas, where he volunteers with the high school youth group.