Bringing Camp to the Caribbean

15 Winter Bringing Camp to Caribbean.jpg

Like all Young Life leaders, Sarah Starr wrestled with how to get all of her Young Life kids to camp. 

There was only one small barrier. 

The Atlantic Ocean. 

Then Starr, who is on staff on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, had a great idea. 

She wouldn’t take the kids of Eleuthera to camp. She would take camp to the kids of Eleuthera. 

“I’m in love with these kids,” Starr said. “I wasn’t willing to settle for just, ‘Oh, let’s throw a couple of hours together and call it a day.’ So we started dreaming about what it would look like to run a large-scale camp like in the U.S. We asked a lot of people to pray with us and dream with us.” 

Sarah and her husband, Ben, enlisted the help of a 25-person work crew. Each volunteer came from the United States through the Young Life Expeditions program. Together, they turned the Eleuthera Bible Training Center into a Young Life camp for a week. 

Complete with beautiful beach excursions, lovable run-on characters, field games, high-energy songs and nightly club talks, the first-ever Young Life camp in Eleuthera was a smashing success. 


A LONG TIME COMING 

It wasn’t the pink sand beaches or the picturesque blue waters that made Sarah Starr fall in love with the 110-mile island of Eleuthera. 

It was — and remains — the people. 

In 2009, Starr was a 19-year-old who had come on a mission trip between her sophomore and junior years at the University of North Carolina. When she returned to the states, a large piece of her heart stayed on that island. 

She began wondering how she could combine her love for Young Life with her love for the people of Eleuthera. A phone call from Lee Corder, the senior vice president of Young Life’s International North Division, came on the day when she had to make a decision about her future. 

“He said, ‘We know that you love Young Life and we know that you love Eleuthera. What do you think about starting Young Life there?’” Starr said, remembering back. 

Her answer, of course, was yes. 

Ten days later, Starr met with Corder and the rest of the Caribbean Young Life staff, and signed on to start Young Life in Eleuthera. 

It’s the hardest and most rewarding thing she’s ever done. 

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Starr said, admittedly. “I thought, ‘Oh, since I’ve been coming here off and on for so long, I’ll have plenty of friends.’” 

Eventually, but not immediately. 

“I cried myself to sleep for the first month,” Starr said. “I’ve never been so lonely but not lonely. I was totally away from people, totally away from my support system, totally at the mercy of whatever the Lord was going to throw at me next. And, oddly enough, the people He threw at me were teenage girls. Those were my friends until Ben and I were married a year later.” 

Slowly but surely, Young Life started to grow as well. Through trial and error, Starr found an effective time and place for clubs at several of the high schools. She was able to train leaders, and kids began coming to club. That momentum carried over to the first-ever camp on the island. 

Ben, who teamed with Starr for a hilarious “Dancing With the ‘Starrs’” run-on, thought camp was perfect. 

“I loved seeing all the kids so excited,” Ben said. “Walls were broken down, and they stepped outside of their norm as the tough guy or tough girl with an attitude and just had fun and let loose.” 


WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

Of course, it takes more than Young Life leaders to run
a camp. 

Starr was able to recruit a work crew through Young Life Expeditions, a program that utilizes short-term ministry partnerships to assist international Young
Life ministries. 

San Diego State junior Dorothy Dumitru’s initial plan to serve with Young Life fell through for the summer, but that’s when a friend told her about Young Life Expeditions. 

Dumitru made the trip all the way to the Bahamas to be part of Eleuthera’s first-ever camp. The kids were picked up and dropped off each day of camp. When the bus arrived each morning, the first thing campers would see would be the smiling faces of Dumitru and the work crew inviting the kids to participate in some type of crazy game. 

“It’s been great being able to bring joy to people in that way,” Dumitru said. “It’s amazing, just watching the Young Life kids build relationships.” 

Stephanie Dunn is a volunteer leader at Deep Run High School in Richmond, Virginia. She served as work crew boss for the week. 

Even though camp was tailored to fit the kids in Eleuthera — such as transporting kids to and from camp daily — Dunn could immediately recognize the Young Life DNA that makes camp special. 

“What I love is that we’re coming back and doing stuff that is the heart and soul of Young Life,” Dunn said. “Walls are being broken down during the day, and they are getting to hear the Gospel at night in a way that a lot of them haven’t heard before. It works because it’s the Gospel, and it works because it’s relational.”

Keith Doster is the on-the-ground missionary director for the Eleuthera Bible Training Center. He also plays a large role in Young Life flourishing on the island. Doster was impressed with Young Life’s concept of work crew. 

“This was completely different than what we do when we facilitate short-term mission teams here,” Doster said. “The campers really accepted what we were doing and understood it, even though it was different than anything they’ve ever seen. That was surprising to me. It worked out well, and it was because of the work crew we had.”


BEST WEEK EVER 

Sixteen-year-old D.J., a rising junior at Central Eleuthera High School, heard about Young Life camp on the island, and it made him curious. 

He decided to sign up and see for himself. 

And he’s so glad he did.

“It turns out that it was awesome,” said D.J., one of the best dancers at camp who loved the beach excursions. “I’m very glad I signed up. I probably would have just been home relaxing and chilling.” 

Because the kids were bused to and from camp each day, the discussions with leaders after the club talks were referenced as small groups instead of cabin time. The small group discussions were the best part of camp to Kes, an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Windemere High School. One of the highlights of camp was a spoken word piece Kes shared at the final dinner of camp. 

“I really like expressing how I feel about certain situations and seeing how other people feel about it,” the Eleuthera teenager said. 

The only thing Kes would change about camp is the length.

“I love it,” she said. “It needs to be longer. Maybe a month.” 

Starr was equally excited about the first-ever Young Life camp in Eleuthera. 

“It went way better than I could have ever imagined,” Starr said. “For us to have kids who are ready and waiting at the bus stops and don’t want to go home at night, that has never happened in the whole history of what we do. It’s not culturally something that happens. That is something I’ve never seen before, and it makes me excited for what our year will look like.” 

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