Widening the Net

Kymira Callaway recently met with one of the junior leaders in her club at a local restaurant. Sitting across the table from her friend, Callaway, urban director in Greensboro, N.C., felt a rush of thankfulness in her heart for the impact of urban outreach weekend camps.
When the student across the table from Callaway signed up for a Windy Gap weekend several years ago, her leaders knew she had the potential to be a distraction and a discipline problem on the trip. Before they left, Callaway called her to set some ground rules. That conversation, and the presentation of Christ at camp, was the catalyst to help that young woman become who she is today — a committed follower of Christ and a junior leader in her club.

“It’s their chance to see that Young Life is truly for every kid,” Callaway said of the burgeoning urban weekend camps. “Sometimes, to do that, we have to let kids be in their own cultural context. And when kids get a vision for their city, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop them.”

Many Young Life staff and volunteers working in urban areas in the Southeast have been shaped by time at a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend at Windy Gap in North Carolina. Now the net has widened to reach more lives.
Meeting the demand
Five years ago the January MLK weekend, which typically draws urban kids from Georgia and Alabama, was the only weekend option in the region for would-be urban campers. But the event’s perennial popularity made it hard for new areas to join the tradition, so the first spin-off weekends were born.

Today at least six descendants of the MLK experience offer an annual opportunity for kids to be immersed in a fun environment to hear the Gospel. SharpTop Cove in Georgia and Southwind in Florida each host MLK weekends, with Southwind campers coming from area middle schools. Areas in North Carolina have made their own tradition at Windy Gap over Presidents’ Day weekend in February, and two different events are on the calendar each year in Texas.

“Urban Young Life in the South has just grown by leaps and bounds, and it’s reflected in this camp growth,” said Jim Dyson, vice president for Field Ministries.
For hearts and minds
The original MLK weekend is distinctive from other Young Life camps because, for about 15 years, it has been conducted in collaboration with a church, the Atlanta Metro Cathedral. The content of the weekend is also unique: In an effort to penetrate the hearts and minds of urban kids, they incorporate drama, different styles of music and multimedia to challenge the kids to examine their lives in the light of the Gospel.

The spin-off weekends follow a more typical Young Life camping format, Dyson said, but their organizers also make the entertainment, music and messages appealing to kids who participate.
Because they don’t have a Young Life property that is easily accessible for a weekend trip, leaders in Texas and surrounding states organized their MLK outing at Sky Ranch, a private Christian camp in Van, Texas. The event, which draws kids from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, includes an annual flag football tournament and a talk progression similar to that at a weeklong camp.

“What we like about it is, it’s a three-night weekend,” Dyson said of the holiday dates that typically frame the trips. “You can do a whole lot more with kids. It almost feels like a mini-week at camp.”
Still meeting needs
In North Carolina urban areas, leaders have done such a good job selling weekend camping to their kids that the spin-off weekend has created the demand for another weekend. The Presidents’ Day camp, which started about five years ago for North Carolina and east Tennessee, was becoming crowded, and also the timing wasn’t good for large areas like Greensboro, which go to summer camp fewer than four months later.

So Callaway and others decided to put together another Windy Gap urban weekend in December. Callaway hopes that by providing different options for urban outreach, smaller urban areas will be able to give kids a weekend camp experience that pulls them from their routine and invites them to taste and see Jesus in the framework of familiar song.

Dennis Pete, former urban coordinator for the Mideastern Division and the founder of the Windy Gap MLK weekend, never dreamed that event — which was ambitious  — would inspire so many other outreach events. Like many movements in the ministry, this one was born when leaders saw a need for their high school friends and acted to meet it.

"We were just meeting the needs of our area and providing a camping option for our kids,” Pete said. “It just grew and expanded.”

The Lord has multiplied their faithful efforts to bring the Gospel to urban kids in an innovative and relevant way — and more weekends are undoubtedly coming soon.